Monday, December 11, 2006

Comparing Political Systems

Tibor R. Machan

Islam is not explicitly a political system but it has strong implications about political economy, as most religions do. Something will be forbidden in a human community if Islam dominates, something will be taken as acceptable by those in charge. This is so with Christianity, too, of course, as well as with any other religion. Some religions, however, do not aspire to rule everyone, not at least by coercive force. Islam, as it is understood by a great many Moslems, does consider the use of coercive force acceptable for certain vital purposes, notably the one of having people convert to Islam.

Now the real community value that we all, regardless of our faiths, ought to prize is people living a freely chosen moral life. But this is something impossible if coercive force is used in any realm of human affairs. Only in defense of liberty is the use of force justified—in that case it is not coercive but defensive force. Most Moslems do not share this priority of liberty over any other public good—they insist that the public good amounts to willing or unwilling service to Allah as understood from the Koran.

So the fight is over the importance of liberty. Those who deny its importance easily can reach the conclusion that killing innocent people, including children, is OK for certain, if rare, purposes, such as achieving religious dominance throughout the world. It is sad but acceptable, given the stakes.

This is wrong and however much those in the West may have failed at living by our own principles—some of us have been or supported coercive force ourselves—we are responsible to resist the attempt to make any religion, including Islam, dominate the world. We must defend human liberty.

Of course, a free country, one that does really honor liberty, can be either flawed or wonderful. There just is no guarantee. But such a country at least makes it possible for all of its citizens to aspire to their own best selves, their human excellence, however they conceive of this except for when the aspiration interferes with what other people choose to do peacefully in their lives. In short, a free country is open to many experiments with how the best life should be lived and even with what that best life is.

No, this isn’t utopia, a society with perfect lives lived in it, which is the political goal the imperialist religions pursue and plan to implement. (Here, by the way, is where Islam as understood by most of its current world leaders, resembles Communism as the Soviets understood it. No wonder the Left has taken its side recently.) It is however the kind of human community that is most likely to foster human excellence—everyone must decide how to live, which means those who decide correctly will have personally chosen the pursuit of their excellence. They will not merely have been coercively forced to behave right! This, ultimately, is why Western style liberal constitutional democracies are superior to what Islam and some other religions and ideologies would promote.

We can pretty much also judge a system of political ideas by considering how bad things can get while it is used to guide a country's legal order. Liberal constitutional democracies can be pretty bad; people can be pretty immoral--say, hedonistic, materialistic, or whatever other sort of malady the West is supposedly suffering from. But with all this, the West is not likely to glorify in violence, brutality, murder, cruelty, and so forth against innocent human beings. This really is a QED. When a religion’s or philosophy’s political implications can legally find such conduct acceptable, the system is has proven to be unacceptable, period.

Sure not all those who subscribe to Islam prefer—just as not all those who embraced Communism chose—to act violently, brutally, etc. There are moderate Moslems as there were moderate Communists, even Nazis. But those who went off the deep end had no systematic objection offered to their conduct from within their position, none. It is OK by their convictions to perpetrate murder, etc., no problem, even if not universally practiced.

Yes, there can be much amiss with the Western type liberal constitutional democratic idea and how it is practiced but at its very worst the position will not construe systematic violent sacrifice of children and innocent adults as acceptable in the pursuit of any goal whatsoever, not even the goal of self-defense (as evidenced by how many Westerners stand up for the rights of those who attack us). That is a very strong reason for its superiority!

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