Friday, June 08, 2007

Do They Understand Democracies?

Tibor R. Machan

Over the years of studying politics I have not been a fan of plain democracy. Just having most people prefer something holds out no hope of getting it right, nor even of giving a measure moral or political authority. And the famous lunch mob example testifies to shared sentiments about this among many of us.

Democrats, especially, on the American political scene do not appear to be all that fond of democracy because whenever the majority rejects their ideas or candidates, they consider the majority to be wrong, even corrupt. You cannot have it both ways, champion democracy but reject it when it goes against you.

On the international front there have been numerous instances when leaders of so called democratic regimes have shown that they care very little for democracy. A recent instance of this is German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s displeasure with the fact that she is not able to get a commitment from President Bush on various environmental measures, such as how much reduction of CO2 must there occur in the USA and by when. If Merkel had a clue about democracy, she would realize that in more or less democratic countries throughout the West political measures may not be shoved down people’s throats but need the approval of the majority of representatives and must go through various procedures of ratification before they can become law. Not that all that will make them good ideas, of course. But democracy means at least that the bulk of the politically active people must want something before it becomes public policy.

Already when the infamous Kyoto accord failed to gain Congressional and related American support, supporters of the accord abroad and here kept bellyaching about this. Don’t they understand that in democratic countries the leadership—like Al Gore who was VP then—have no authority to impose their policies? For leaders of other semi-democratic countries to fail to grasp this shows either colossal ignorance or serious mental disassociation.

Now of course the idea of gaining a commitment from some political leader as to what the population of a country will or will not do is very problematic. In a free society such commitments would have a very limited scope—mostly pertaining to military and diplomatic policies. The idea that George W. Bush can promise Angela Merkel that 300 million people will do this or that—stop using cars of a certain size and the like—is politically obscene. But to demand that even the democratic process be subverted is preposterous. Why is no one in the mainstream media calling Chancellor Merkel on this?

All this talk about committing the United States of America to this or that practice—using so much fuel, spending so much money on exploring alternative energy sources, etc., and so forth—is conceptually confused to start with. America doesn’t use fuel—people in this country do. The use of such language has to be seen as at most expedient—like saying that “the car hit the pedestrian.” Cars do not hit people, people do. And if folks keep in mind how words are used to take shortcuts in meaning, there is no great problem. But what kind of shortcut is to suggest that Bush commit 300 million Americans to using or even exploring alternative fuel? It’s like saying Bush can commit us all to get married or pursue a certain career or physical fitness program. Such commitments are necessarily made by individuals, not by some political leader, not at least in a free society.

Of course this is a problem of diplomacy and today that field is dominated by collectivist, even tribal, language. To try to revise the terms of discourse requires finesse and a dedication to the principles of a free country. In our day, howevere, virtually everyone in the American diplomatic corps shares the collectivist, tribal mindset.

For this reason the kind of demands issued by Chancellor Merkel must be challenged by as many rational folks as possible in the press and other forums, given that American diplomats tend to be chickenhearted about these matters, namely, on stressing the principles of sound discourse vis-à-vis public policy formation in free (or even just in democratic) countries.