Tuesday, December 12, 2006


[posted by Callimachus]

In Democracies of the World, Unite, Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay refine an idea they've been promoting for a couple of years now.

To meet the security challenges of the age of global politics, we need, as Francis Fukuyama has argued in these pages, forms of multilateral cooperation (whether institutionalized or not) that are both effective and legitimate. Great-power concerts, the United Nations and regional organizations cannot provide what we need. The solution lies instead in organizing the world’s democratic governments in a framework of binding mutual obligations. And precisely because the need for both effectiveness and legitimacy is so critical, by “organizing” we mean a Concert of Democracies with a full-time secretariat, a budget, ministerial meetings and regular summits. We are not proposing a photo-op bedecked gab fest.

I confess I find this appealing, though that probably marks me as a quixotic in the manner of the late and now-forgotten Clarence K. Streit. Daalder and Lindsay try to address the obvious objection to such a plan -- "how do you define 'democracy?' " -- and propose a yardstick that I don't think is necessarily about "democracy."

Although free and fair elections are necessary for Concert membership, they are not sufficient. Members of the Concert must also guarantee the rights of individuals within their countries. Citizens must enjoy both fundamental political rights (not just to vote, but also to organize and participate in government) and basic civil rights (to speak, assemble and freely practice their religion)—and those rights must be guaranteed by law. Moreover, the commitment to uphold individual rights and govern by the rule of law should be so rooted in society that the chances of a reversion to autocratic rule are for all practical purposes unthinkable.

That's all pretty hard to quantify; and it's likely that in, say, 1932, the Hoover Administration could have been excluded from such a concert on technicalities and the Weimar Republic admitted.

And we all know that Hitl- ... uh, a certain class of eliminationist, genocidal Teutonic dictators bent on world domination have wormed into power through essentially democratic systems.

Which gets down to the fundamental conundrum and, frankly, hypocrisy in just about everything I've written here, which if anybody has suspected it, no one has pin-pointed. People who hate what I say have hauled out a variety of labels and insults and silencers and tried to make them stick. They missed the fundamental flaw: I advocate democracy as the best hope for a world trying to achieve peace and prosperity. But I am deeply suspicious of it.

If you read what I write, you'll know I regard America's swerve into pure democracy from the republican balanced government of 1787 as a tragic mistake and a wrong turn, trading a better, if intellectually artificial, system for a worse, if more Darwinian, one. In an imperfect world, an idealist peddles nostrums he knows are more than half snake-oil, and factors placebo effect into his prescriptions.

So if you reject the essential worldview of the mis-called "Bush Doctrine" -- I'm talking about the playbook, not the execution -- what do you advocate in its stead? If you can, spare me the headlong rush back to Cold War Kissingerism, or the Kerryish fetish for the U.N. as a source of global diplomatic authority and "America's allies" to pick up a serious share of the military burden of enforcing it.