Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The many faces of democracy: Venezuela's version

I haven't said anything much so far about Hugo Chavez, who recently won the Venezuelan election handily.

Take a look at what Fausta's written about it for some perspective. It's a sorry tale but not an unfamiliar one: demagoguery, Leftism, consolidation of power, shutting down of the opposition. Democracy in name only. And take a look at what Marc Cooper (definitely not a man of the Right), has to say about Chavez; apparently, Chavez is also a Leftist in name only.

But that's the history of Leftism the world around, is it not? Ye shall always have the rich with you.

Also please read this sad elegy for a lost Venezuela by Daniel at Venezuela News and Views. An excerpt:

Today it was quite a hallucinating day. Oh, I was not surprised. My carefully documented predictions were giving Chavez a victory by 5 points. It might be by almost 20 points when all is counted. But with Chavez it does not matter, even with a single vote majority he would go ahead and try to do as he pleases. There is no brake for him. He is not a democrat. A democrat is always aware of the rights of the minority because a democrat knows that one day he might be that minority. Chavismo has made it clear long ago that all revolves around Chavez and that there is no other option for Venezuela. Elections are a necessary ritual that is extremely expensive but a necessity to justify all sorts of other different abuses. Unfortunate Rosales was not running against Chavez, he was running against a whole state whose complete resources were at the service of the autocrat who needs a regular plebiscite to boost his ego.

And thus today the amateur historian in me realizes that he has had the privilege to witness an historical day, the day that democracy completely left Venezuela. We have lost it.

I believe that democracy is in general a good thing. I'm with Churchill when he said it's the worst form of government in the world except for all the others. However, democracy is fragile for a reason--it is susceptible to demagogues, relies on an informed citizenry, and can be undermined by tyranny if it doesn't include strong and enforceable guarantees of civil liberties.

That's why our form of government--which is actually a republic, not a true democracy --has been so stable and so unusual. Republicanism (and I'm not talking about the political party, I'm talking about the form of government: see this) is one of the greatest inventions of the human race. But that's quite a bit different from simply allowing people to vote; Republicanism (or a free and well-functioning democracy) requires institutions that prevent a takeover by the forces of tyranny:

Democracies are free only if the people know what freedom is and are consistent in their application of it. If they don't know this, or more appropriately, if a majority of the people don't know this, then a democracy could be just as tyrannical as the worst dictator...As should be plain, there is a giant difference between the two systems of government. One of the main fears at the Constitutional Convention of the United States was that the government they created would be too democratic (causing Alexander Hamilton to suggest a restricted monarchy), because it was quite obvious, then and now, that any majority could vote itself anything it wanted, be it property or executions.

That's why I always assumed that the Iraq War was going to have to include a fairly heavy-handed and lengthy occupation in order to set up the institutions that would foster the freedoms that go with democracy/republicanism. We did it in Japan; MacArthur and his staff wrote the Japanese Constitution, and it survives today without change; thirty-nine articles deal with basic human liberties. If that's cultural imperialism, I'll take it.

These guarantees are necessary, or democracy can--and most probably will--fail to be "the worst form of government except all the others;" it will merely take its place alongside all the others.

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