dimanche, mars 26, 2006
Losing my religion? Democracy as revival meeting
When I stroll the historic streets of Philadelphia's Society Hill, I gape like a fan who happens upon into his or her favorite movie star downing an espresso at a New York City cafe. With its red-brick Federalist facades, cobblestones and barely visible gardens seen through latticed ironwork and wooden gates, the whole area is a living tapestry of recollection and respect. Frankly, it gives me chills to think that Jefferson, Madison and Franklin paced the same streets, deep in thought or argument. While I have no stomach for the Constitutional fundamentalism of an Antonin Scalia or a Clarence Thomas, I do have a deep reverence for the intellectual foundations and legacy of the thinkers who created the framework for our country. So it is with some sadness that I have come to consider democracy an ideology like any other ideology, rather than a projection of manifest destiny or intelligent design. Crafted to evoke nobility and draw upon our deepest aspirations, it can be dangerous in the wrong hands. If the United States of America is the leader of the council of democratic nations, its credibility at modeling "democratic" ideals should not depend upon someone like President George Bush, who confuses the duties of overseeing American interests with the pulse-thumping excitement of a Christian revival meeting. Good in one corner. Evil in the other. If you aren't for us, body and soul, then you must be...on the other side. One can picture the conspicuously non enthusiastic Fathers shuddering in horror. Perhaps copies of the Declaration of Independence, not to mention the Constitution, should come with a warning label: handle with care. One of the lessons of our Iraq adventure is that you can't blithely sail into another country and impose the ideology of democracy on a country which has little, if any experience or indocrination in respect for individual rights. It's tough to cobble together a viable government in a nation where there has been a huge ethnic and religious imbalance of power under the iron hand of a dictator. It is particularly risky, not to say a little mad, to attempt to create a democracy in a land previously composed of various tribes held together by a warlord or thug. Can we come up with one place where that has worked? More to the point, is it our God-given responsibility to make it work? On a more pragmatic level, one would have thought that the guardians of our prestige here and abroad had learned something about the dangers of dismantling an oppressive system by watching Yugoslavia after Tito rent by nominally religious zealots, or by viewing the convulsions of democratic movements in some of the nations of the former Soviet Union. If we truly believed that democracy was God's gift to humanity we'd be aiding democratic movements where people have already expressed a strong desire for a change of government! Yet the allure of trying to forge a democratic state in the smoking ashes of a dictatorship is addictive. It has kept many normally sane pundits and journalists on board with the Bush express train even as it careened over the cliff's edge. What good a "free" society if the people who will profit by it are prisoners in their homes, or at each other's throats, or dead in the streets? It is possible that our highly rational Founding Fathers would be appalled to see their passion and and intellectual capital so roundly betrayed by zealots. It is almost certain that it will be a while before we have the muscle, or the hubris, to try to remake another nation in our image again.