11 April 2010

Article: Democracy Delusion

Peter Hitchens' article "Democracy Delusion" appears in the May 2010 issue of the magazine "The American Conservative". The article's subtitle or lead reads: "The West's interests aren't always best served by one man, one vote".

Already the article can be read free of charge here:


Excerpts: "I have in the past few years visited several countries where democracy will, if unfettered, favor political Islam. The supposed Cedar Revolution in Lebanon received gushing praise from Western commentators. There was even talk of genuine elections in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood would be the most likely beneficiary of majority rule. As for the Palestinian entity, the angry irredentists of Hamas undoubtedly won the democratic contest, and their control of Gaza is a clear expression of the people's will. Did the United States really want a Shia Muslim state in Iraq? [...] Pakistan has been seething with Islamic revolt. [...] Kemal and Stalin are the only modern rulers who have subjugated militant political Islam, unveiled women, and controlled the mullahs. But their ferocity would be impossible now. If there is a middle way between such repression and the return of Turkey to its Muslim past, nobody has yet found it. If they do, it may be incompatible with the 21st-century belief in the goodness of democracy and the sanctity of human rights. [...]

"But the real issue goes far deeper and rebounds on the democratic West. If our desire to establish democracy as the test of goodness succeeds, it is bound in some cases to lead to the creation of states we like even less than we liked them when they were despotic. Is it possible that we have misunderstood our own societies and wrongly thought that the exercise of majority rule through democratic vote was the key to their success? Ever since I observed Russia's tragicomic transformation from corrupt Soviet state to corrupt gangster democracy, I have wondered if elections are really quite as liberating as we imagine. [...] Democracy has in fact done Western nations few favors in recent years. It has not kept them from embarking on foolish wars. It has not restrained them from suicidal economic blunders. It has done little to empower the people's desire for less mass immigration or more effective schools. It has above all been feeble when called upon to defend established liberties. In fact, it has often been the enemy of those liberties, as demagogues have sought to win mass support for the excesses of Guantanamo, the reintroduction of torture, and the extension of intrusive surveillance. [...]

"It is striking that the war on terror has spoken so strongly about democracy and had so little to say about liberty. This must partly be because the alleged war required a suspension, even abolition, of many of the rules of liberty and demanded a new relationship between the individual and the state [...]. Manipulated democracies, 'color' revolutions – in which mob rule is rechristened 'people power' because it does what we want it to – are a good way of interfering in sovereign nations without appearing to do so. The evisceration of our own liberties is easier if it is done under a democratic label and seems less significant if democracy is identified as the main safeguard of our rights. Do those who have supported these processes really understand what they are doing or are they just homeless utopians, disappointed in all their previous longings for a better world, seduced by yet another false hope, unintentionally aiding the very cause they claim to be most deeply against? If this is the triumph of democracy, they can keep it."

Peter Hitchens is a conservative British journalist and book author.

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