[Click here to order Sam Francis' new monograph, Ethnopolitics: Immigration, Race, and the American Political Future]
"When a term has become so universally sanctified as 'democracy' now is," wrote the poet and social critic T.S. Eliot in 1939, "I begin to wonder whether it means anything, in meaning too many things…. If anybody ever attacked democracy, I might discover what the word meant."
Eliot would have discovered little about the meaning of democracy had he lived to hear President Bush's sermon about it last week before the National Endowment for Democracy, a federal agency devoted to spreading what the president calls "the global democratic revolution" across the planet.
"Democracy" as Mr. Bush used the term seems to have something to do with elections and competing political parties, but also with what he kept calling "liberty," yet another word he never defined.
Whatever they are, it is the business of the United States to spread them across the world, and already amazing progress toward that goal is taking place.
Iraq's neighbors just better watch out.
The cult of "democracy" as the centerpiece of American foreign policy has been snooping around the corridors of power since President Jimmy Carter jabbered about promoting "human rights" (yet another opacity).
As Mr. Bush acknowledged last week, it is a cult that President Reagan, who should have known better, helped promote, and today the cult reigns supreme as the unofficially established religion of the U.S. government.
The chief theologians of the democracy cult these days are the neoconservatives, who themselves reign supreme within the Bush administration, and as recently as September, neo-con Joshua Muravchik, writing in Commentary magazine, declared that "enthusiasm for democracy" is a distinguishing characteristic of neoconservatives.
"Traditional conservatives are more likely to display an ambivalence toward this form of government, an ambivalence expressed centuries ago by the American founders. Neoconservatives tend to harbor no such doubts." [The Neoconservative Cabal, By Joshua Muravchik, Commentary Magazine, September, 2003]
Moreover, as liberal columnist E.J. Dionne writes this week about Mr. Bush's speech, "the president embraced much of what liberal human rights advocates have been saying for years."
It ought not to be a secret, though it seems to be unknown to most self-described conservatives these days, that "making the world safe for democracy," let alone actually imposing democracy by force, is not a conservative idea. It descends from Woodrow Wilson, has grandparents in Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, and was peddled by John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson (as well as Presidents Carter and Clinton) long before it began to twinkle among the brain cells of Mr. Bush.
The reason it is not a conservative idea—and indeed why it is a profoundly stupid and dangerous idea—is that conservatives grasp what the left cannot—that what we call "democracy" in this and other Western countries is a product of centuries of cultural and political evolution.
It does not exist in nature and is not a universal.
"Democracy," if it means what I think it means, is culturally unique.
Mr. Bush last week (and the neoconservatives who write his speeches and have taught him his lines) was at pains to deny this.
"We believe that liberty is the design of nature; we believe that liberty is the direction of history. We believe that human fulfillment and excellence come in the responsible exercise of liberty. And we believe that freedom—the freedom we prize—is not for us alone, it is the right and the capacity of all mankind."[Full transcript.]
Very eloquent, no doubt, but is it true?
Not exactly. If "liberty" (which the president seems not to distinguish from "democracy," a vital distinction of classical political thought) were the "design of nature" and the "direction of history," it would be far more universal than it is or ever has been, and other cultures would be far more receptive to it than they are.
The truth is that "democracy" and "liberty" as most in the West understand them have flourished only in the West and only in fairly recent eras.
And what that means is that attempts to implant, spread, or enforce democracy where it has no historical roots and doesn't belong will not only fail but will most likely create chaos and eventually tyranny—which is why such policies are a stupid and dangerous idea.
Mr. Bush's worship of the liberal idol of "universal democracy" has already helped sink us into the murderous quicksands of Iraq.
Real conservatives—if any remain—need to resist and reject his ill-advised call for yet more global adventures with his faithful neocon companions.
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[Sam Francis [email him] is a nationally syndicated columnist. A selection of his columns, America Extinguished: Mass Immigration And The Disintegration Of American Culture, is now available from Americans For Immigration Control. Click here for Sam Francis' website.]