Good, Bad and Ugly; Democracy Still No. 1 Preference

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), September 13, 2005 | Go to article overview

Good, Bad and Ugly; Democracy Still No. 1 Preference


Byline: Tod Lindberg, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Would anybody any longer say, as Winston Churchill famously did, that "democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried"? Churchill was mounting a defense of democracy in the context of his broader view of the irreducible difficulty of politics, an undertaking fundamentally doomed in its ambition to fulfill people's desire for happiness or justice.

Now, though, Churchill's defense does not seem to go far enough. Democracy is still the best possible, yes, but more than that, it deserves to be called "good" in its own right, not just by comparison. We have, for example, the evidence of the "democratic peace": Democracies do not go to war with each other. We're rather used to that fact by now, but we ought to pause from time to time to admire it for what it is, namely, the greatest political achievement in history. To be able to adopt a form of government that eliminates the possibility of war with those nations of like government? That's a big deal.

Now, we all know that democracy has its problems, too. You have to put on qualifiers. In the first place, it's not just a matter of holding an election. Democracy doesn't work, obviously, if the people contesting for power have the view that if only they win, that's it, they can eliminate and oppress opponents to their heart's content. There's a lot of social and political infrastructure required. In the second place, Katrina: Even in a successful democracy, governments sometimes perform badly, especially in extreme tests. Still, you don't find citizens of democratic countries talking about giving up their right to vote in order to be ruled by a wise king, a council of elders or the faculty of Harvard. Democracy works for us, and that's settled.

But what about others? Well, of course, there are countries that have managed one way or another to turn themselves into democracies, and that's all to the good. But what about those that haven't? Here, the latest "Transatlantic Trends" survey of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, released last week, has some news that is good, some that's bad, and some that's ugly.

The good news is that support for promotion of democracy is quite high among our democratic European allies. In the nine European countries surveyed (including all the big ones), 74 percent of respondents agreed that one role of the European Union should be to help establish democracy in other countries, compared to 22 percent who disagreed. To the extent that the Bush administration and the U.S. government have heightened the priority of democracy promotion in U.S. policy - in his second inaugural, Mr. …

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