Friday, December 17, 2004

History's Judgment

Communism has been relegated to history's dustbin as a failed idea not because it is philosophically unsound, but because, in practice, it fails to take into account basic human nature: Humans are not motivated by the good of the whole but by self-interest.

Will republican democracy someday be relegated to history's dustbin for exactly the same reason? I fear that it may be.

Republican democracy works fine when it is not put under stress, as when a vast majority of the populace agrees on the issues. At those times, those looking to undermine the process through lying, cheating, and fraud have little chance of success, as they cannot tip the scales far enough to change the outcome. This is, in fact, the situation predicted by the Founding Fathers, who wrote the Constitution with the goal of protecting minorities from the tyrrany of the vast majorities they anticipated.

But republican democracy is not truly tested when things are easy and the majority is obvious. It is tested when the populace is bitterly divided and only a few votes determine the future of the nation. Unfortunately, the Founding Fathers put few safeguards in the Constitution to ensure the execution of democratic principles in such times.

And so, at the times when it is most important for democracy to succeed, those who care more about power and their own futures, ie, those who put their own self-interest above that of the whole, are able to cheat, steal, lie, commit voter fraud, conduct push-polls, and successfully ensure that the populace is unable to make an informed decision using a campaign of misinformation. If deceit by the powerful can determine the course of election and the distribution of power in a republic, in what way can we say that republican democracy succeeds any more than communism?

Simply giving the populace the vote is necessary but not sufficient to have successful republican democracy. After all, in the Soviet Union and in Iraq under the Hussein regime, the populace had the vote. But those in power simply used various methods, such as repression of opposition candidates, vote tampering and fraud, voter intimidation, and control of information to ensure that they remained in power. Are those methods truly different in kind from what has happened in the United States over the past two Presidential elections? I don't think so. They are only different in degree.

For example, is there really such a great distinction between Saddam Hussein telling the people that death squads will kill them if they don't vote for him, and Cheney telling the American people that Al-Qaeda will kill them if they don't vote for Bush? The difference is not as great as many here in the land of the free would like to believe.

Many claim that what is happening today is just "politics as usual" and no different than what has happened throughout the history of the United States and republican democracies from around the world. Even were I to accept that as true, it would only support my thesis. By making this claim, defenders of the methods of Bush and Rove are simply saying, "republican democracy has never worked, so stop complaining about it not working now."

I don't know if republican democracy is hopelessly broken and doomed. In 2000, despite my disappointment over the outcome, I trumpeted the election as a victory for democracy because no tanks were in the streets, there wasn't a coup, and there was no question of whether there would be a President, only who it would be. But I think, perhaps, I was naive. The continuation of republican democratic institutions in the absence of a system ensuring fair and valid methods to determine who the people truly wish to represent them, in a sense, is really just a sham, a way of keeping the populace quiet with the appearance of a republic when, in fact, republican democracy has been utterly thwarted. When it has failed.

Communism was never attempted in a rich nation, which is where Marx intended it to flourish. In the poor nations where it was attempted, in a bastardized version, the lack of wealth made the privations of the populace obvious and acute, and communism's seams quickly began to show. But republican democracy is a notorious failure in poor nations as well. Even in Western Europe, when Germany was reduced to poverty by the crushing reparations imposed by the Allies after WWI, the Weimar Republic failed and was replaced by the fascist dictatorship of the Nazi Party. Look at Haiti, Panama, Venezuela, Brazil, Cuba, and the rest of the poor nations of the world where republican democracy has failed time and again. Is it possible that republican democracy only survives because, in rich nations, the seams don't show as much, and a rich, well-fed populace is less likely to rise up against a corrupt government than a poor, hungry one?

I don't know.

P.S.: I am not trying to make an argument for communism here, as some might want to take this article. Communism is, in my opinion, fatally flawed. I am questioning whether republican democracy suffers from the same fatal flaw and will ultimately be judged by history as no more successful than communism.

P.P.S.: I am aware that communism is an economic system and republicanism is political system, as should be made clear by my discussion of the "democratic" system in the Soviet Union. I am not trying to make a direct "republicanism vs. communism" comparison here, as that would be comparing apples to oranges. I am merely asking whether the political system of republicanism is more successful than the economic system of communism when applied in the real world, or whether republicanism just appears to be more successful.


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