Pixel Tracker

Sunday, December 16 , 2018, 1:53 am | Fair 45º

 
 
 
 

David Harsanyi: Democracy Alone Is Not Enough

What's democracy without a moral foundation, economic freedom or respect for individual rights?

Though one hates to nitpick, it seems that Middle East coverage on cable TV has been only almost perfect. You see, for some reason, a number of anchors and talking heads have made a careless habit of using the words “democracy” and “freedom” as if they were interchangeable ideas.

Former President George W. Bush once famously claimed that all of humanity is hard-wired to strive for freedom. At the very least, this notion makes emotive sense. Hey, why on earth wouldn’t everyone want to be just like us? But simply because democracy is the best way to self-determination does not mean everyone is determined to have liberty.

In fact, in his most recent book, The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life, Kenneth Minogue argues that the history of both “traditional societies and totalitarian states of the 20th century suggested that many people are, in most circumstances, happy to sink themselves in some collective enterprise that guides their lives and guarantees them security.”

Sounds a bit unsympathetic to me. Yet both the right and left regularly accuse each other of surrendering to the temptation of chasing safety over freedom — usually when they’re out of power. And who knows, maybe liberty is less intrinsic to the human experience than we would like to believe. Maybe freedom just means a range of things to different people.

How many times, after all, are we asked to surrender personal freedom for the collective good here at home? Alas, it only takes 51 percent of you to ban a stiff energy drink or a decent light bulb — a crime against not only liberty but also decent luminosity. When liberals crusade to end electoral colleges or scoff at states’ rights, they are fighting for a more direct, centralized democracy in which liberty becomes susceptible to the temporary whims, ideological currents and fears (rational and sometimes not) of the majority.

When the Tea Party members talk about returning “power to the people” — as they’re apt to do on occasion — they’re missing the point, as well. We already defer too much power to other people. If you knew the people I do, you’d be chanting “power from the people.”

Now, despite our political disagreements, we have, historically and culturally speaking, a pretty common understanding of what independence means. If we struggle with democracy, can you imagine what it means for others?

Take Egypt, where 10 brutal plagues couldn’t get the minority vote heard. Not much has changed, apparently. If we’re to believe a recent Pew poll, 54 percent of Egyptians believe that women and men should be segregated in the workplace; 82 percent believe that adulterers should be stoned; 84 percent believe that apostates of Islam should face the death penalty; and 77 percent believe thieves should be flogged or have their hands cut off.

And 99 percent of Americans — just a guess — wouldn’t want to live under that kind of democracy, even if it meant a popular national vote for president.

Don’t get me wrong; democracy is clearly a vast improvement over an autocracy. (Though, now that you bring it up, how many of you would choose to reside in one of those despotic Persian Gulf states with stipends, film festivals and casinos rather than in a democratic Haiti?) Democracy without a moral foundation, economic freedom or a respect for individual and human rights, though, has the potential not to be any kind of freedom at all.

We all wish the Muslim world the best in shedding its dictatorships and theocracies and finding true liberty. But let’s not confuse two distinct ideas. At the very least, not on television, a place Americans can typically rely on for pinpoint accuracy and untainted reporting. Not there.

David Harsanyi is a columnist at The Denver Post. Click here for more information, or click here to contact him. Follow him on Twitter: @davidharsanyi.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Email
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership
×

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >