Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
April 21, 2003
Democracy takes work, time
Democracy is not a magical process imposed from above by outsiders. If the U.S.-British conquest of Iraq shows anything, it is that if there be such a thing as a war of liberation, it is not something run by outsiders.
It is načve in the extreme to expect that one can come in, topple the local dictator and establish a system of one-person-one vote that means anything. Invasion can only create the sort of "liberation" seen nightly on our TV screens - an opportunity for looting, score-settling and other mayhem.
But if the current mayhem is of any good at all, it will be that it forces local Iraqis to take responsibility for their country and set up the structures necessary to prevent anarchy and allow human flourishing. For there is no democracy if a country is not a safe place where people can engage in normal activities of commerce, service to the community and artistic exploration, with reasonable certainty those activities can bear fruit.
Democracy must grow from local roots, from a local sense of responsibility for the common good.
It requires full and meaningful employment, free speech and control over warlords, organized crime and petty criminals.
It requires an absence of corruption. It requires a widespread desire of people to participate in creating a better society. That desire can only arise if the population is not fearful of negative repercussions for expressing their views or forming groups that aim to achieve a common purpose.
This cannot happen overnight. Trust is a key element. And trust is built up over time, often requiring considerable healing before it can take root.
Nor can there be trust without forgiveness. Without forgiveness, society can only be ripped apart by groups and individuals seeking vengeance for real or imagined wrongs.
Western nations claim to be democracies. But a close look at those nations shows that democracy can easily become distorted. Special interest groups, especially the wealthy, are wont to dominate or try to dominate over the common good.
It costs millions of dollars to run a campaign to become a mere senator in the United States. Such a necessity can only exclude the vast majority of the people.
In the Canadian political system, party discipline is so tight that minority opinions have great difficulty getting enough of a hearing to have any hope of winning over non-adherents.
The belief in God and in moral absolutes has also waned in the West, making the call for justice and right come second to the exercise of power for the sake of power.
We suffer from a centralization of power and a lack of citizen participation.
And then there is the all-too-common process of enemy formation whether the enemy be Saddam Hussein, the federal government, or secular humanists.
Having an enemy may provide a group with superficial cohesion, but it is also a sign that true community has died to be replaced by an us-against-them ethos.
Christ told us to love our enemies and do good to those who harm us. This was not advice meant only for the religiously pious, but is essential to long-term operation of any healthy community. For democracy to be real, we must remain vigilant not only against external opponents, but also against internal forces that would undermine the common good.
The road to democracy is not an easy one. It is not a road that can be walked by proxy - by outsiders who have even the best of intentions. And even when achieved, maintaining a true democracy is a perilous prospect that requires the overcoming of temptations and special interests that can make democracy more a slogan than a reality.
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