Sunday, December 25, 2005

Reforming Countries

Tibor R. Machan

Sometimes discussions get bogged down completely because the issues are cast improperly, as in the case of whether Iraq and other countries around the globe could become liberal democracies. President Bush and his defenders appear to consider it an offense to the people in such countries when skeptics question whether they are “ready for democracy.” And there is a point to finding that line of doubt offensive.

In principle, as a basic aspect of our lives, human beings can, of course, improve themselves on all levels, including the political. History is witness to this fact, as are our own lives when we change and abandon bad habits for good ones, stop being lazy or procrastinators or liars and cheats. Even the worst of our habits can be overcome with the proper measure of discipline and a little (maybe not so little) help from our friends and neighbors. The fundamental capacity for people to become better on innumerable fronts cannot, then, be reasonably doubted. And this extends to how they comport themselves in the political arena.

Yet, extremely powerful psychological and sociological forces make such reforms very hard to achieve in our lives. That’s especially so when it comes to changing massive institutional obstacles that stand in the way to making improvements in various countries across the globe. For example, when the Soviet bloc countries finally got rid of their massive fascist overlord—for don’t kid yourself, the late Susan Sontag was correct when she uttered her notorious observation in the early 1980s, “that Communism is Fascism—successful Fascism, if you will”—many were surprised that instead of fully embracing the ideals of liberal democracy and free markets, the bulk of the people in those societies reverted to their pre-Soviet era nationalisms and ethnic xenophobia. Indeed, many of them are still thinking along such lines and very, very slow to upgrade their mentality.

The various malignant political habits that human beings have embraced across the globe—not to mention all of the obstacles their political regimes have placed before them to prevent serious improvement and reform—do often pose nearly insurmountable impediments to their making improvements in their countries’ political institutions. It isn’t simply a matter of acknowledging that, yes, indeed, human beings can be ready for such improvements as a matter of their fundamental capacities. Habitual hard drug users, too, are ready in this sense, even if in their particular circumstances it may take years and years before they really kick their self-destructive habit.

President Bush and his supporters in this highly dubious policy of trying to make Iraq and the Middle East into a haven for liberal democracy need to get realistic about the hurdles that stand before such a project, even apart from the problems posed from the sheer paradox of trying militarily to impose liberal institutions on societies. And it appears that Bush & Co. are aware of this at some level since they appear to be resigned to the prospect of an inordinately prolonged effort to do this in Iraq.

Accordingly, skeptical questions raised to them ought not to be viewed as offensive to human nature but very possibly realistic concerns about whether continuing with this war is, all things considered, a reasonable plan. It just may be true that the bulk of the people in Iraq—or at least a decisive number of them—are very far from intending to give liberal democracy a reasonable chance. They may well be so wedded to the perverse political alternatives, influenced by their innumerable dogmatic and quite often grossly malignant religious outlook, that they will not come around for years and years, if indeed they ever will (especially given how the effort to impose change reinforces some legitimate objections they can also cling to).

Quite apart from whether it was ever justified to undertake the war in Iraq—and I have my own serious doubts about that and have voiced them often in the past (namely, to put it very simply, it really wasn’t our job to rectify Iraq’s problems)—there is good reason to consider putting an end to the effort. Some people will not accept even the help that’s very good for them, period. We surely know this from our personal familiarity with some of those closest to us.

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