Downloading Democracy

Downloading Democracy

Mini Teaser: History tells us that democracy should not be taken lightly. Without the proper cultural foundations, in can be a messy business indeed.

by Author(s): Robert Conquest

We cannot predict. The near future teems with urgent problems,with as yet irresoluble balances of force and thought. Thelaw-and-liberty cultures may flourish, and as yet unpromisingregions may over a period bring not merely the forms but the habitsof consensuality to their populations. Let us hope.

Everywhere we always find the human urges to preserve at least ameasure of personal autonomy, on the one hand, and to form communalrelationships, on the other. It is the latter that tends to get outof hand. To form a national or other such grouping withoutforfeiting liberties and without generating venom against othersuch groupings--such is the problem before the world. To cope withit, we need careful thinking, balanced understanding, open yetunservile minds.

And this is also why we still need to be careful about thesigning of international treaties and the acceptance ofinternational tribunals that appeal to a certain internationalistidealism, but one that needs to be carefully deployed. It is surelyright to note that the acceptance of international obligations, andnowadays especially those affecting the policies, interests andtraditional rights and powers of the states of established law andliberty, must be preceded by, at the least, negotiation that iscareful, skeptical and unaffected by superficial generalities,however attractive at first sight. Permitting international bodiesto intrude into the law-and-liberty countries also involves theinstitutionalization, on purely abstract grounds, of an as yetprimitive apparat.

A very important trouble with international arrangements of alltypes has also been that Western governments sign on to policiesthat have not been properly (or at all) argued or debated by theirpublics or legislatures. Thus these arrangements are a means ofgiving more power to their own executive branches and, of course,more power to the international bureaucracies and permanentstaff.

In particular, the UN, like the EU, approaches "human rights" onthe basis of the general high-mindedness of the ContinentalEnlightenment. Declarations are made, agreements are reached. It istaken for granted that many states--about half the membership ofthe UN--will not in fact conform. And in the regions where libertylargely prevails, the signatories find their own countriesdenounced, often by their own citizens. The result is that underabstract human rights definitions, every state in the West thatsubmits to treaties of the human rights sort lays itself open toaggressive litigation. As the late Raymond Aron, who spent so muchof his life trying to educate the French intelligentsia, put it,"every known regime is blameworthy if one holds it to an abstractidea of equality over liberty."

Essay Types: Essay