Why Worship Democracy?

What will happen in Egypt?  Democracy will prevail.  Why are we so happy about that?  Democracy may well mean deeper convulsions of anti-Semitic madness, not "state-sponsored" but rather genuinely popular.   Winston Churchill grabbed the nub of democracy when he said:  "It is said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others that have been tried."  We Americans invest far too much hope in the virtue of democracy. 

President Bush launched "Operation Iraqi Freedom."  Did he really mean that?  His actions seemed to support "Operation Iraqi Democracy."  Freedom would mean that the ancient Christian community could practice its faith without terror.  Freedom would mean that Kurds, who are not Arabs and who are not all Moslems, could create their own nation.  Freedom would mean that the Government of Iraq would melt away as the bazaar rebuilt Iraq into a hive of private enterprise.

The problem with democracy worship is that the "Will of the People" has no special moral authority.  The Founding Fathers knew that well.  The purpose -- the only true purpose -- of government is to preserve the rights of the individual to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  When any government fails in that single moral purpose, it loses all legitimate authority.  The Declaration of Independence was not based upon a plebiscite.  Indeed, probably a majority of Americans did not support the revolution.  No matter:  if the goal of liberty could be won best by the rough tool of democracy, then that tool was useful. 

Those who want "Power to the People!" never want power to the person.  They think like Marxists or Nazis or some other incarnation of wickedness which cannot persuade free people to buy whatever they are selling.  From this moral positioning come "People's Courts" run by "People's Prosecutors" which consign untamed consciences and minds to a hateful, dreary gulag.  We see this clearly enough when the physical costume is worn by the sadistic thug governing at our notional behest.  So when Mubarak leaves, few shed a tear at the closing of official torture chambers. 

But we miss the horror of rampant, totalitarian democracy when the channels of thinking and of feeling have been so constrained that nearly "everyone" thinks and feels the same.  So when public education and state sponsored academia colludes with other offices of government and officially licensed media to produce a single, superintending ideology with components calculated to compromise constituencies, somehow democracy is said to "work." 

Puzzle not America itself, for the moment, but ponder instead the newly "democratic" Egypt.  Already, this new system of government is drenched in grand myths.  The Coptic Christians, who are increasingly persecuted as Egypt is increasingly responsive to the street, know this well.  So too do the Jews of Egypt, once a flowering of Alexandria and now a rightly wary shrinking drop in the desert sun of Pharaoh.  Egypt is hardly a bastion of free enterprise, but who believes that democracy will bring lower taxes or less regulation or privatization of industry? 

The engine of despair in Egypt, as in most of the old, poor nations of the world are college students taught, without purpose, in hives of Marxism; the young class of officers, like Nasser, who blended socialism into Arab nationalism; and the endless stalls of bureaucrats, each of which must have his palm greased for approval or permits or whatever.  How, pray, will democracy transform these drones of officialdom into happy worker bees? 

In Egypt, as in Iran, as almost everywhere that the enemies of liberty luxuriate in the narcotics of targeted malice towards offending groups, democracy in practical terms is probably a reality.  Like Mao, like Hitler, like Stalin, and like Orwell's Big Brother, those who hold the lash can quickly cow those who create "public opinion" or "popularity."  The left in America has been doing this for decades.  Tweak the question asked, conceal salient facts or simply invent or lie, use slush funds of tax dollars to buy off whorish artists, professors and performers, turn the only democratic choices into "Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dummer" and the modest virtues of democracy in preserving liberty vanish.

What makes democracy potentially, and only potentially, a small blessing?  First, democracy is to government what juries are to justice.  The greater the number of voters in a verdict, the harder it is to simply fix the verdict.  So, too, the greater the number of voters in an election, the harder it is to buy them off.  Second, the greater the unpredictability of power -- the more elections are a throw of the dice -- and the more wary we all become with giving government too much power.  Third, voters in elections are like voters in markets.  While consumers often miss the best investments or best products, they are pretty good at strangling the worst investments and the crummiest products.

The perfect world would be a world in which choice governed instead of government.  Americans naturally tend towards that condition and it is our love of frontier society and elbow room, not any fetish for democracy, which makes us the Land of the Free.  In the Moslem world, as in the post-Christian world of Europe, democratic government may inoculate against the most loathsome diseases of humanity, but expecting more is absurd.

Bruce Walker is the author of a new book: 
Poor Lenin's Almanac: Perverse Leftists Proverbs for Modern Life