Monday, March 7, 2011

Democracy and Freedom

In an age of social upheaval in the Middle East and Africa, many are asking a typically Western question: can democracy spread to other parts of the world? The question is misguided in its approach, since it equates democracy and freedom. The two are not the same. Democracy may follow from freedom, but freedom does not follow from democracy. Freedom follows from the Rule of Law, a tradition whereby all laws are themselves subject to general principles agreed upon by nearly all the society which submits to a common government. Freedom requires that a society adopt the traditions which we in the West have enjoyed for centuries: each individual is respected as such, and no one is authorized to interfere in an individual's personal sphere unless it is according to some procedure already anticipated by the general public and in accord with a long-standing public moral conscience.

In a free society, the right to vote may actually be the least valuable freedom an individual has. So long as he has the means whereby he can support himself and his family and pursue his interests, a man has no need to feel empowered by voting. Every year we hear complaints from idealists about "voter apathy," meaning they feel we should be more excited about the electoral process. This is symptomatic of an unhealthy view of democracy which elevates the "will of the people" above the value of the individual. This is precisely the kind of democratic thinking which we should not want to see spread to other parts of the world. This can only lead to more conflict between large factions vying for democratic dominance. The tyranny of the majority is all too easily manifest in countries with a long history of civil unrest.

It seems fashionable these days to decry Western individualism as the source of many social and economic problems. In reality, it is precisely this individualism, rooted in a strong moral tradition which sees inherent value in human beings, that has made the West and America in particular a great civilization. There is no reason why similar ideas should not be able to take shape in other parts of the world; but it will take far more than an elections process to make it happen.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I love to hear feedback!