17 August 2006

Predecessors to Democracy

Democracy doesn't just emerge once a tyrant has been overthrown. Rather, the history of the West suggests that it requires particular predecessors, certain conditions, in order to emerge. For instance, a critical mass of the people have to believe that religious belief is best personally defined by the individual, not defined by the community for the individual. That is, church is made a tool of the individual and not vice versa.

Because if the community believes that certain people (whether they be popes or imams) speak on behalf of God and that the individual is responsible to obey that word, there is no space in the public discourse for democracy. What does the voice of the people matter if one has access to the voice of God?

Why does this matter? Well, it matters because it has a very real impact on policy options. The Reformation preceded Democratic Revolutions in the West. The church was reformed before political tyranny could be reformed. It is not obvious that democracy can flourish in a community that has not already gone through such a religious transformation. Martin Luther's cry "All men are priests!" preceeded Thomas Jefferson's "All men are created equal" by about 250 years.

The reader likely needs little guidance in thinking about what our own Western history suggests about the Middle East today. At a minimum, it suggests that attempts to create democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq without addressing these issues of religion is, at best, optimistic.

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