One-off Democracy: When the First Election is the Last
Today is the anniversary of the first election in history in which a nation's leader was selected by universal male suffrage. On December 10, 1848, Frenchmen went to the polls for the first time in fifty-six years. For a third time, a revolution had overthrown the king, and for the second time, a republic was proclaimed.
But the French voters blew it. The surprise winner was a seedy forty-year-old adventurer who had lived in exile in Switzerland and England, except for two ignominious coup attempts. He ran on a vaguely socialistic platform of hope and change -- his first book was called Rêveries politiques, another, L'extinction du paupérisme. He'd been a carbonari in Italy, a constable in London. He had a taste for archeology, architecture, and teenage girls. De Tocqueville called him "an enigmatic, somber, insignificant numskull." Incredibly, he won in a landslide, getting 5.4 million votes, almost 75%; the favorite, a conservative general, finished second with 1.4 million.
The numbskull's name was a help. He was Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, nephew of the emperor.
The new constitution set a one-term limit on the presidency. When Bonaparte failed to get the legislature to overturn this, he staged a coup. The first presidential election was to be the last for 114 years. (Democracy returned to France in 1871, but the president was not elected by popular vote.) Napoléon III, as he now called himself, then set a precedent that would be followed by future dictators. He held a referendum on his takeover. The results were not a surprise this time. Having killed several hundred resisters on the barricades, jailed 27,000 more, censored the press, and seized the property of the former king and distributed it to unions, he won in a tidal wave: 7.8 million voted for the new regime, 250,000 against.
Corrupt, dissolute, and reckless as he was, Bonaparte, to give him his due, was a minor saint by the standards of later dictators. He revived the French economy and transformed Paris. Those who love the City of Light love the city he created, and fans of Roman Gaul are indebted to him as well.
The election that empowered Adolf Hitler in March 1933 is also instructive. In the previous election, in November 1932, the Nazis had lost two million votes. From over 37% of the Reichstag, the party's representation dropped to 33%. Hitler was also out of money. An unsavory Center (Catholic) Party politician came to his rescue. To dish a rival, Franz von Papen convinced eighty-five-year-old President Paul von Hindenburg to let him form a cabinet that included the ex-corporal as chancellor, but only two other Nazis. "We have him boxed in," he crowed. (The leading French politician had similarly called Bonaparte "a cretin whom we will manage.") The Chancellor announced a new election immediately and, armed with special emergency powers after the convenient Reichstag fire, harassed and stifled the opposition. The Nazis won over 44% of the seats this time. But more drastic action was necessary. At the first session of the Reichstag, on March 21, S.A. men prevented 107 members from attending. The chamber then passed an Enabling Act that gave the chancellor dictatorial powers. By July, the Nazis were the only legal party in the country. When von Hindenburg died the following August, Hitler assumed the office of president himself and announced a plebiscite. He was endorsed by 85% of the voters. The Führer was pleased, though other dictators would do much better.
As the euphoria over the Arab Spring is fading even among its hardcore media cheerleaders, and as we exit Iraq and Afghanistan, it's worth thinking about these two examples of aborted democracy -- and about democracy itself. We could call them the Good-Time Louie model and the Thousand-Year Reich model. In the first, the dictator, usually running on a populist-nationalist platform, dismantles the electoral system in order to enrich himself, his family, and his tribal cronies, and to ensure that all the other pleasures and prerogatives of power remain in his hands. In the second model, the coup serves a totalitarian ideology. There can be no dissent from the quasi-religion -- or the religion. Pesky voters cannot sit in judgment if the plan for the salvation of the country encounters a road bump or two. The Party and its leaders are serving God's will, or the design of History, and the end always justifies the means. (Of course, this is not to say the nomenklatura don't live well. They do.)
With the end of World War II came a slew of dubious elections, first in "liberated" Eastern Europe and then in the former colonies of the exhausted Western powers. Though in most cases they simply ratified seizures of power, there were some notable one-offers among them.
Most of the anti-colonial resistance leaders didn't bother with free elections. For the few that did, it was a one-off vote. This was the case in Kenya, Ghana, and Zimbabwe, with their British parliamentary traditions. Kenya is always held up as a model, though it took only a year and a half for Jomo Kenyatta to dissolve the opposition party and turn the ancestral home of Barack Obama into a dictatorship. In Ghana, Nkruma pulled in 89% of the vote in the first election, in 1960. This was not enough. His opponent was jailed, then murdered, and "The Redeemer" ruled for life. Mugabe was launched on his murderous career in Zimbabwe by an election victory in 1980.
Whether they got in through a free election or seized power, most of the first generation of African and Southeast Asian leaders were little Bonapartes. They renamed themselves and shared Louis-Napoleon's passion for sloganeering and for grandiose building projects. But Napoleon III had encouraged free trade -- he negotiated a famous treaty with Britain -- and for all his corruption, France prospered. The dirigiste third-world regimes immediately ran into debt. Inflation and unemployment soared. The infrastructure bequeathed by the colonial powers disintegrated. The exceptions, in Africa, were pitifully few: Botswana and, for awhile, the Ivory Coast and oil-rich Nigeria. If Idi Amin was the most criminal of the African kleptocrats, Joseph Mobutu of the Congo was the most corrupt, reportedly stashing away some $5 billion in Swiss bank accounts.
But the Bonapartes did not rule forever, and starting in the 1990s, democracy began returning to some parts of Africa. In Obama Sr.'s homeland, power was transferred by voters to the newly legal opposition in 2002, though violence and fraud continued to mar elections. "Corrupt despot," however, remains the job description for a leader in most of what used to be called the third world, and fifty years after the end of colonialism and twenty years after the end of the Cold War, only besotted ideologues continue to blame the West.
In Eastern Europe, after blatantly rigged elections in Romania in November 1946 and Poland in January 1947, the Communist Party took over and soon outlawed all opposition. Bulgaria became a People's Republic after a fraudulent plebiscite in September 1946.
But Stalin, still hoping for U.S. aid, permitted free elections in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. The Communists received 17% of the vote in the first and 38% in the second. (The Reds got similarly high totals in post-war Italy and France.) In Hungary, the Communists took over the key ministries of the interior, with control of the police, and agriculture, with the power to redistribute land. Step by step, the other parties were eliminated and a People's Republic proclaimed in 1949. This was the famous salami method -- one slice at a time. In Czechoslovakia, to protest a Communist purge of the police, twelve ministers resigned in February 1948. In a parliamentary democracy, the government would have fallen. The Communist premier, however, had no intention of playing by the rules. The ministers were replaced by loyal Stalinists, and when the respected foreign minister, Jan Masaryk, jumped -- or was pushed -- to his death three weeks later, it was clear that the fat lady had sung once again.
Though the fall of the Soviet Union allowed access to grim data that showed how mistaken the assessments of Western apologists had been, it is too easy after 1989 to slip back into complacency about Communism, and to ridicule "the inordinate fear" of it -- in Jimmah Carter's infamous words. Stalin resumed his mass deportations and mass murders after World War II. Several million more were added to the butcher's bill between 1945 and Stalin's death in 1953. Among the victims were families deported from the Baltic states re-annexed by the Soviets; Jews were to be targeted next. But even after a kinder and gentler Politburo stopped shooting people, dissent was vigorously suppressed, and when Eastern Bloc leaders started liberalizing their regimes, Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest and Prague.
Before it expired in Eastern Europe, and morphed into a hardy hybrid in China, Communism killed over 90 million people. Before it was extinguished in a Berlin bunker, Nazism was responsible for at least 50 million deaths. The third religion bent on world conquest, in its unadulterated form, has not approached these achievements. It may not have to.
It's a good bet that the elections in Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt, and the coming elections in Yemen, Libya, and Iraq, will be one-off affairs. Sharia law does not allow for dissent. Once a legal system administered by mullahs and based on seventh-century morality is in place, voters who have second thoughts will be out of luck. The bloody Bonapartes and the Good-Time Louies of the Middle East are gone or tottering, and the new Thousand-Year Reich is dawning.
"Islamofascism" is the kind of neologism that makes historians wince. Fascism was a weird 20th-century hybrid of corporatist economics, hyper-nationalism, and a romantic fascination with action. The extent to which it was totalitarian varied from country to country. It's revealing that Mussolini never eliminated the monarchy, and the king eventually dismissed him from office.
Nazism has more parallels with Communism, borrowing its tactics and successfully recruiting its members. "Aryans" replaced the working class as the Chosen People, while the Jews replaced the bourgeoisie as the enemy to be liquidated. Until the final victory, a state of war existed between classes, in the one case, and peoples, in the other. Lying, stealing, and killing were fully justified, as well as strategic compromises. The struggle required a one-party state with an all-powerful Leader at its apex. Consciousness-raising was one of the leader's great tasks: the workers/the German Volk had to understand their historic mission.
As for Islam, it is not monolithic and not unchanging. Piles of corpses every day testify to the Sunni-Shi'ite fissure. And once upon a time there were tolerant and skeptical sultans and emirs. But Islam resisted the great revival of classical thought that swept through Europe in the 15th century, and it was oblivious to the discoveries of Newton in the late 17th century that so excited the West. In early 18th-century England, books were published by deist bishops with titles like Christianity Not Mysterious, A Defense of the Reasonableness of Conformity and Christianity as Old as the Creation; or, the Gospel a Republication of the Religion of Nature. No such titles appeared in the caliphate.
Unfortunately, though, Islam did have a Reformation. Unlike Martin Luther's, which eventually enlarged and protected individual rights, the Muslim version revived the tribal morality of the Arabian desert. Wahhabism, fueled by petrodollars (nearly $100 billion by some estimates), has made it harder to be a bad Muslim -- that is, indifferent to the summons to jihad, indifferent to the duty to subjugate the infidel and impose sharai law on Dar al-Harb. It's likely that for many American Muslims, the engineers, doctors, and accountants some of us know as neighbors or colleagues, the attachment to the religion is largely sentimental. That may not be the case for their children, who, if they don't abandon the faith altogether, could embrace the version preached in Saudi-funded madrases.
The broad parallels of Wahhabism to the two twentieth-century totalitarian systems are striking. The faithful are the cynosure of God; the infidel is the enemy. A state of war exists between them, and all tactics are justified. Religion is not about the relationship of the individual to the Deity, but instead is a game-plan for world conquest.
There are shelves of books and articles on totalitarianism. Among the more famous is Jeane Kirkpatrick's attack on Carter's blunders in Iran and Nicaragua, and her distinction between authoritarian and totalitarian regimes. Kirkpatrick, later Reagan's foreign-policy advisor and U.N. ambassador, could not have imagined in 1979 exactly how totalitarian and how dangerous the new regime in Tehran would prove to be, or that Nicaragua would be one of only two countries in which Communists would be voted out of power. (The other is San Marino, population 32,000.)
One of Kirkpatrick's most telling points was a comparison of the refugee problem in totalitarian as opposed to authoritarian regimes. In the latter, they cope. Peasants whose ancestors have lived for generations on the same plot of ground don't uproot themselves lightly. But millions have fled the Communist dictatorships. If the country is on the water, Marxism always means boat people. The enduring symbol of Communism will always be the Berlin Wall.
So, too, Islam historically and down to the present has uprooted millions. The seven million Armenians and Greeks living in Turkey as recently as 1890 are now gone. Over 750,000 Jews left their homes in the Middle East after 1948, and more than 400,000 Christians have fled Iraq since we invaded, joining Assyrians, Maronites, Copts, Catholics, and Protestants who have abandoned their towns and villages. Over seven million Sikhs and Hindus fled Pakistan in 1947; the exodus has resumed in the remnant of the Hindu community, some two and half million, following kidnappings and killings. Meanwhile, about seven million Muslim Pakistanis have also left the country, most heading for Dar al-Kufr. No one knows how many millions of Hindus and Buddhists were killed or displaced in the Islamic invasions that began in the eleventh century. (One estimate is 80 million.) We know only that Buddhism was completely eradicated from the country of its birth.
There is still another interesting parallel between the dead and the living totalitarianisms. Heterodoxy in the Soviet Union was considered a psychological disorder. Dissidents were hospitalized. The same tactic is on display in this country. Those critical of Islam are considered to be afflicted with a neurosis -- Islamophobia. How long will it be before mandatory counseling is ordered?
In the West, Islamicists apparently don't even need an election. A stealth jihad has been underway for more than a decade under the rubric of "tolerance." If the mandarins of the left had any sense of irony, they might be amused. A supremely intolerant legal system is permitted to flourish in the name of tolerance, and a culture that has no interest in other cultures is pandered to in the name of multiculturalism.
Submission to Allah means the extinction of the West's liberties and achievements -- they go hand in hand. Devotees of the secular religion of diversity are not even bidding with each other to sell the hangman the rope that will hang them, in Lenin's memorable metaphor. They're giving it away free of charge. Judges in fifty cases in 23 states have already applied sharia law in decisions.
If a non-halal metaphor is permissible, the salami is being sliced.