It is becoming increasingly self-evident that the Arab Spring and other popular uprisings taking place in the Middle East today, supposedly bringing new democratic forms of government, aren’t exactly working, despite the earlier warm reassurances from many experts in the West. The Western intelligentsia entertains high hopes for these new democratic forms of government that are supposedly replacing Middle East dictators.
In the West in general, and America in particular, we are accustomed to living in what, for the most part, are mistakenly called “democracies.” Despite excited “reports from the “frontlines,” pontification from pundits and “experts in the studios,” the truth of the matter is democracies simply can’t work in countries like Libya, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria etc., etc. (The same is true for many African and/or Central and South American countries we could name.) The reasons are relatively simple. First and foremost, the inhabitants lack a preeminent virtue necessary to sustain a democratic form of government: individual self-governance. Second, the majority of these populations have no idea of the concept of a democratic form of government. Self-governance is “the act of governing or exercising authority over one’s self.” Those countries where this perspective is not an integral part of the societal and political infrastructure are prime candidates for dictatorships, secular or religious, as history demonstrates and an objective view of almost any political map will substantiate.
The failure to comprehend the basis for freedom leads many leftist (mostly American) critics to level the “occupier/colonialist” charge at America. The foundations of the freedoms enjoyed by the West are what we know as Judeo-Christian values, an integral and essential part of self-governance. The concept that people should be free to govern themselves is an incomprehensible truth to many. Absent these Judeo-Christian values, however, there are no stepping-stones to launch a revolutionary leap to something as radical as individual self-government.
Pundits, experts, commentators and reporters who breathlessly pontificate on the Arab Spring, and forecast the dawn of a new Middle East full of democracies, completely forget or deliberately ignore the foundational concept of individual self-government. Without any factual basis, they will assume that people, who for decades (and in some case, centuries) have not only been subject to, but have in fact been active participants in, their own subjugation, will immediately begin thinking and acting like “Westerners,” who for centuries have never known anything but freedom.
The freedoms inherent in our Western forms of government are based on 1) the value of the individual and 2) responsible self-government, both Judeo-Christian principles. This implies individual responsibility and sovereignty, not of the government but of the general population. Without the diligent and consistent application of these principles, which, with the exception of Israel, are almost completely unknown in almost all Middle Eastern cultures, democracy and any variant thereof cannot survive.
It is also vitally important that those in the West understand this word that is probably thrown about more and understood less than any other word on the current political landscape – democracy.
Hopeful, warm, comforting rhetoric to the contrary, democracy is, essentially, mob rule. There are no examples of a pure democracy in existence today because, naysayers to the contrary, pure democracies simply don’t work. One of the most vivid demonstrations of this conflict of “democracy” is the French Revolution. Certainly, the French monarchy of that day cannot be defended, but neither can the wild excesses of the democratic mobs carrying out guillotine justice. The consequences of failing to distinguish between a democracy and a republic leads almost immediately to a violent crisis.
The purpose of a republic is to allow for a cooling-off period, a time to debate and consider the merits of any particular person or position. A true democracy, on the other hand, lacks this time of introspection and proceeds immediately to implementation, often by force. Absent the time for review and/or debate, a people can easily end up with a ruthless dictator in power. Herein lies the genius of the American system. Individuals, elected as representatives – public servants – are given restricted powers and limited governing powers for designated amounts of time. These public servants, in order to continue to serve, must prove their commitment and adherence to the values of the self-governing individuals who elected them.
The most effective, efficient, stable, successful form of government for the greatest number of people in the last two centuries has not been a democracy, but the American republic. The secret? A majority of self-governing individuals, freely, openly and peacefully debating the issues and, without restraint, voting their consciences and moral values. Absent that, democracy can’t work.