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The Democracy Agenda

Filed under: Philosphy

Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson has an interesting piece in today's edition entitled: "Why Fight for Anyone's Freedom?" It contains a neat discussion of the issues that animate this blog and might provide a good jumping-off point for discussion in the comments section (dozens of readers have commented on the analysis already). Gerson points out that a democracy agenda easily blurs the lines between traditional notions of what is "conservative" or "liberal" or "Republican" or "Democratic" and argues:

A conservatism that warns against utopianism and calls for cultural sensitivity is useful. When it begins to question the importance or existence of moral ideals in politics and foreign policy, it is far less attractive. At the most basic level, the democracy agenda is not abstract at all. It is a determination to defend dissidents rotting in airless prisons, and people awaiting execution for adultery or homosexuality, and religious prisoners kept in shipping containers in the desert, and men and women abused and tortured in reeducation camps. It demands activism against sexual slavery, against honor killings, against genital mutilation and against the execution of children, out of the admittedly philosophic conviction that human beings are created in God's image and should not be oppressed or mutilated.

So-called liberals, who might argue for inaction based on "respect" for another nation's sovereignty, might agree with so-called conservatives, who might argue for inaction based on preserving the status quo or isolationism. What do you think? Who is more "conservative" on democracy: Pat Buchanan or John McCain?

James Joyner over at Outside the Beltway has a lengthy thought-provoking analysis of the piece. A good focal point for discussions might be the pending vote in Congress over whether to condemn Turkey for "genocide" in Armenia. President Bush opposes the measure, while many Democrats support it. Should the U.S. take a stand on the killings? What should it be? We'd like to hear your views. A divided House Foreign Affairs Committee has now approved the measure.

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sashal says:

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007 in politics, foreign policy by Daniel Larison

"A conservatism that warns against utopianism and calls for cultural sensitivity is useful. When it begins to question the importance or existence of moral ideals in politics and foreign policy, it is far less attractive". ~Michael Gerson

In other words, conservatism is acceptable to Gerson when it doesn’t get in the way of projects that he supports, but becomes annoying when it points out the moral bankruptcy of the policies he endorses. I am sick to death of the idea that apostles of aggression and warmongering have some claim to representing “moral ideals in politics and foreign policy.” Theirs is a fundamentally immoral position through and through, and their pose–and it is a pose–of moral superiority is the most infuriating of all. It isn’t a question of idealism vs. pragmatism, but one of corruption vs. decency. Gerson is a happy apologist for the former.

Gerson self-righteously writes:

"It demands activism against sexual slavery, against honor killings, against genital mutilation and against the execution of children, out of the admittedly philosophic conviction that human beings are created in God’s image and should not be oppressed or mutilated."

What of the conviction that human beings should not be slain in wars of aggression, nor children ripped to shreds by cluster bombs (the “execution of children” is perhaps less abhorrent when the children are Lebanese or Iraqi), nor ancient communities uprooted and decimated by fanatics unleashed by ignorant meddlers? The victims of Mr. Gerson’s preferred policies are no less the children of God. Let him justify, if he can, the strange calculus by which he trades their lives and dignity for his abstract commitment to human dignity.

Gerson burbles still more:

"Without a firm moral conviction that independence is superior to servitude, that freedom is superior to slavery, that the weak deserve special care and protection, the habit of conservatism is radically incomplete."

Yes, independence is superior to servitude, which is why conservatives deeply resent the immoral infringement on the sovereignty of other nations. The weak deserve special care and protection, which is why the Machtpolitik of hegemony is abhorrent to us. The only thing worse than the arrogance of power is the presumption that the possession of that power gives one a right to dominate the affairs of other peoples. A “moral vision” is necessary, and it is high time that Gerson and his allies acquired one that did not involve the shedding of other people’s blood.

Robert Mayer says:

His article seemed so vague and empty, not to mention philosophically uninspiring. The comments left on articles like these are almost always far better than the article itself, though. And while he spends most of the time criticizing traditional conservatives, I couldn't help but think that most of his critiques actually better represent the characteristics of liberal internationalists. Perhaps the difference is that the traditional conservative will simply be wary of democratizing a tribal society whereas a liberal internationalist will also call you a racist and ethnocentrist!

Overall I am not moved by large bouts of ranting rhetoric. I want to see the meat of the issue, and in the case of democratization it must be known that ideology is simply irrelevant. While he is correct insaying that certain absolute values must be enshrined, this is an age old notion that we shouldn't even have to discuss anymore. We only do so because there are idiots out there who are wishy washy, and for some reason we bring ourselves down to their levels.

The more important issue is how to liberalize and democratize different societies. They are all different. We have to look at the individual characteristics of societies, have highly-trained individuals who can identify what needs to be done and do it, and make sure that the end result improves people's lives.

Sometimes tribal differences may mean a country should be split in two. Perhaps a foreign minority controls most of the wealth, and full democracy could lead to expropriations or even genocide. Maybe it's a clean-cut case of stolen elections. Who knows? But whether or not you agree with military action, the world as you know it today would not be the same without US funding of democracy promotion efforts. It's because of those that we have democratic countries all over Central Europe, spreading eastward.

Robert Mayer says:

Oh yeah, and the Armenia resolution is pure antagonizing symbolism. The genocide was committed way before most people alive today were even born. There are also the strategic implications for the Iraq War. But most important to me? Is that it doesn't actually do anything useful.

Artfldgr says:

I will try to keep it simple from history.

Als die Nazis die Kommunisten holten,
habe ich geschwiegen;
ich war ja kein Kommunist.

Als sie die Sozialdemokraten einsperrten,
habe ich geschwiegen;
ich war ja kein Sozialdemokrat.

Als sie die Gewerkschafter holten,
habe ich nicht protestiert;
ich war ja kein Gewerkschafter.

Als sie die Juden holten,
habe ich geschwiegen;
ich war ja kein Jude.

Als sie mich holten,
gab es keinen mehr, der protestieren konnte.

thats enough reason... no?

for those that are not polyglots.. or german speaking here is the translation and the appelation

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn't a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

"First they came…" is a poem attributed to Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) about the inactivity of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power and the purging of their chosen targets, group after group.

the reason you fight for others freedom is that eventually if you dont, the forces against your freedom will be overwhelming.

what would have happened if the US did not oppose the Soviets?

what if every country in the world was Soviet, except the US... would it still be able to survive? would any country?

its amazing that today we cant even learn from the past and how it happens.

An early supporter of Hitler, by 1934 Niemöller had come to oppose the Nazis, and it was largely his high connections to influential and wealthy businessmen that saved him until 1937, after which he was imprisoned, eventually at Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps. He survived to be a leading voice of penance and reconciliation for the German people after World War II. His poem is well-known, frequently quoted, and is a popular model for describing the dangers of political apathy, as it often begins with specific and targeted fear and hatred which soon escalates out of control.

its all happening again, because we did NOT learn about it we tried to ignore it in the hopes it was a nightmare and would go away.

the parallels are so close because the original model was from cooperation of the two (russia and germany) and since they are of the same species, socialist.

all these apathetic people and useful idiots and such... dont realize that their whining and their fronts, and their movments of liberation and empowerment, and such,

are all one way tickets to communism... the question is how fast, and the whiners are the slow scenic route.

but a small bias constantly applied to a random walk will eventually end up way to one side... all ya need is to keep the bias.. and each generation thinks the slight move left is the center.

we are so far gone that free market capitalism is not even on the table any more... its only a choice between fascism, which has been the america we love since the early last century, and communism...

we would have to go farther right on the spectrum to get to small minmal government and such.

so why fight for others freedom? because freedom cant be maintained by the few or the faint of heart.

jefferson said that they gave us a republic, lets see how long we can hold on to it.

its a shame that the republic that created venice that lasted near a thousand years isnt known for the example it is. after it all that republics golden age was destroyed by napoleon.

while communism rises from the dead like some horror villian, republics never do.

so we blow this... we not only lose for us, we lose for the world.

so while we are trying to figure out the justification for protecting their freedom, they are too stupid to realize that they should be protecting americas freedom as well.

after this safer area is gone... then where will we run to?

imagine the hell of the soviet union of stalin, with the technology of today..

thats why we fight for freedom as a general principal... not just selfishly for ourselves. anything else is just waiting for the end for everyone.

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