Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Condoleezza Rice’s Bad Analogy

Tibor R. Machan

In the interview conducted with her on CBS-TV’s 60 Minutes program on Sunday, September 24, Condoleezza Rice, who is the Secretary of State of the United States now, made a bad analogy. She compared the condescending attitude of racists toward blacks with the skepticism of those who do not consider it realistic to attempt to implement democratic politics in the Middle East and some other regions of the globe. She said that she believes that the view that blacks cannot handle freedom and responsibility is an irresponsible, prejudiced position and so is the idea that the people in Iraq, Iran, Syria and other countries cannot now handle democracy, for the same reason.

This is a bad analogy for several reasons. The racist claim that blacks cannot handle freedom rests on a belief in their alleged racial inferiority, the idea that because they are of a certain race, this prevents them from being able to cope with the freedom and responsibility that those of a "superior" race can handle.

That view falls apart as soon as it is understood that being black doesn’t make a person mentally and morally inferior. It is vital to realize that the racist idea attributes the inability to deal with freedom and responsibility to something over which the individuals involved have no say. They supposedly cannot deal with freedom and responsibility because they are black, something over which they have absolutely no control, no say whatsoever. If this factor is found to be irrelevant to whether one can handle freedom and responsibility, the claim about blacks turns out to be unfounded, indefensible--rank prejudice.

The claim about people in the Middle East is not advanced by those who do advance it on the grounds that men and women of their race haven’t the capacity to handle democracy. Few if any attribute their supposed inability to race. If there is anything to the skepticism about those in the Middle East and elsewhere managing to live under a democratic polity, it has to do with something entirely different.

Before continuing, it is worthwhile to mention that all the talk about democracy by members of the Bush team is too loose. Simple, unqualified democracy is not a just system of politics. It is no accident that from Socrates to the American Founders many wise and prudent political thinkers had doubts about democracy per se. For what is so wonderful, or just, about a system that simply places the majority in a position of superiority, with the minority subordinate to it? If that majority is wrong, why does it matter that it is more numerous than those in the minority?

In fact, the only kind of democracy that deserves support is the classical liberal variety, one strictly limited by the individual rights of the citizenry to their lives, liberties, property, religious worship, etc. Any democracy not so limited is no better than a dictatorship or tyranny by one individual or a small group. Possibly, agreement among members of a majority would be more difficult to achieve if they were all wrong, although 50 million Frenchman can be, as the old saying goes!

But let’s get back to Secretary Rice and her bad analogy. It is perfectly reasonable to hold that some people have chosen ideas and ideals to live by that are incompatible with any kind of democratic government, liberal or not. We certainly know of people who chose to place themselves into subservience—the followers of cult leader Jim Jones come to mind, or of the Reverend Moon, or other powerful leaders of religious and other organizations. The majority of Germans gave Adolph Hitler absolute power and thereby rejected democracy out of conviction, not because of some innate inability.

Many who have been examining President Bush’s drive to bring democracy to the Middle East—and indeed the entire notion, beginning with President Woodrow Wilson, to spread democracy across the world—dispute the idea not because they are racists who think people over there haven’t got it in them to act democratically. No. The skepticism comes from the observation of a very long history of people either having freely rejected democracy or having voluntarily placed themselves under the rule of others they deem wiser and more virtuous than themselves. Or because they are too severely controlled by some elite or clergy.

Wherever a situation like this prevails, for whatever psychological, philosophical, religious, or other reasons, it is not unreasonable—and certainly not racist—to be doubtful that America can turn the place into a functioning democracy, especially via military force.

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