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History And Logic

Said Bush, we know by “history and logic” that “promoting democracy is the surest way to build security.” But history and logic teach, rather, what George Washington taught: The best way to preserve peace is to be prepared for war and to stay out of wars that are none of the nation’s business.   

“Democracies don’t attack each other or threaten the peace,” said Bush. How does he then explain the War of 1812, when we went to war against Britain, when she was standing up to Napoleon? What about the War Between the States? Were not the seceding states democratic? What about the Boer War, begun by the Brits? What about World War I, fought between the world’s democracies, which also happened to be empires ruling subject peoples?

In May 1901, a 26-year-old Tory member of Parliament rose to issue a prophetic warning: “Democracy is more vindictive than Cabinets. The wars of peoples will be more terrible than the wars of kings.” Considering the war that came in 1914 and the vindictive peace it produced, giving us Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini, and Hitler, was not Churchill more right than Bush? ~Patrick Buchanan 

Even more worrisome than Mr. Bush’s comical invocation of “history and logic”–two subjects few would confuse with Mr. Bush’s strong suits of bluster and assertion–is his channeling of classic Marxist-Leninist language, as I have noted before. 

The faith of these democrats, these democratists, in the power of democracy is like almost nothing I have encountered in my lifetime.  It is its own kind of political-religious fanaticism, as Mr. Buchanan suggests with his citation of Schumpeter’s description of Marxism as an ideological system the promises immanentist deliverance and salvation, a solution to man’s ills and a (more or less) self-contained and coherent account of the entire structure of the world.  In this way, it is a modern gnostic doctrine. 

Like the jihadi slaughtering on behalf of Islam to bring the world into submission, the democratist cannot rest so long as there is one inch of territory that does not bow to the supremacy of Demos.  The ambition of democratists and jihadis is similarly global; the former happen to have the preponderance of political and military power behind them.  Which band of fanatics really troubles you more?  Those who demand your submission, or those you come to “liberate” you?   

Any crime is ultimately permissible if committed in service to the democratist dream: if civilians in an enemy state are killed, it was incidental or they had it coming because–and only a democrat could think this way–they supported the government that our government is fighting (some of the more chilling apologists for Allied war crimes in WWII repeat this rubbish as a way to evade the moral problems of incinerating tens and hundreds of thousands of noncombatants).  Thus even in nondemocratic states “the people” are held responsible for actions of a government to which they may not have consented.  Total wars, wars of “unconditional surrender,” collective punishment, genocide and mass warfare are all the necessary corollaries of democratic politics.  Democracy feeds off of totalitarian impulses, and in turn encourages the same impulses.   

Democracy for the democratist is not just a type of regime that vests sovereignty in “the people” and provides for, in its representative forms, elections and, in its liberal forms, guarantees against arbitrary government treatment; it is a kind of moral stance, a political purity and innocence that insists that democracies have never, will never, can never do anything really wrong or evil.  They can never be guilty.  By their very existence as democracies, by their very popular nature, they legitimise every evil committed in the people’s name.  They are always innocent, always put upon, under siege, attacked by various and sundry “authoritarians” or “fascists” or “dictators.”  That this is not always true will have no bearing on the democratists’ convictions: for them, every war that a democracy fights is a war against tyranny or fascism, for the simple reason that they literally cannot conceive of any other kind of democratic war but an ideological one.  There are, in fact, no “small” or “minor” wars, but simply engagements in long, running battles between Democracy and Tyranny.  It is, of course, no use reminding them that almost everyone who has given the problem any thought has considered democracy ripe for becoming a tyrannical regime and is in many ways one of the least stable and least good.     

In perfect certainty the democratist can declare that democracies do not fight each other, because no real democracies would ever do such a thing.  If there are wars between two or more democratic governments (and modern history is fairly littered with them), the democratists’ escape will be found in some undemocratic element of one side or the other.  Thus a democratist will say that the constitutional monarchy of King-in-Parliament was insufficiently democratic (they have a king!); he will say that the Confederacy wasn’t a “real” democracy because of slavery (Hanson’s supposed hatred of “aristocracy” comes in handy here); he will say that you must blame the imperialist wars of Britain on something, anything except the fully enfranchised mobs who cheered on the aggression against the Afrikaners; obviously the mass, universal suffrage of Germans and Austrians–like that of their counterparts in the Entente nations–cannot have had anything to do with whipping up the nationalist war fever in 1914.  Because democratic peoples don’t want war, and people who want war aren’t democratic peoples–the faith in democracy is so blind, so completely mad, that no appeal to either history or logic will suffice to break it. 

The democratist ideologue will focus on the imperfections of the far more developed, more successful and stable Wilhelmine political system of constitutional monarchy, but in the same breath will praise–apparently without irony–the rise of real democracy in Iraq.  Pay no attention to the sectarian death squads behind the curtain in Iraq, but instead reiterate that WWI was fought against the forces of autocracy and absolutism.  It will make you feel better–and one suspects that feeling better about the decidedly mixed record of democracy is essential for those who wish to inflict this type of regime on others. 

As the doctrine of an ideological empire, democratism does not have to accord with reality, so long as it facilitates policy.  If Hizbullah has both a political party that competes in democratic elections and an armed militia, the latter cancels out the democratic credentials of the former, while if SCIRI has an armed militia it remains a legitimate participant in democratic politics.  This might seem inconsistent or the result of the application of a double standard, until you realise that the administration is the one that decides what constitutes real democracy–and real democracy does not exist anywhere except where it decides it exists.  Thus, without any sense of contradiction, the democratist can tell you that some elected foreign leaders–such as, say, Ahmadinejad–are not really democratic leaders in any sense at all, because they espouse the wrong kinds of policies, but the sham democratic politics of Pakistan–a thin veneer covering up military rule–will be praised as robust and admirable.        

Even when democratic states attack other states without real cause or provocation, they are not violating the general peace, you see, but upholding the peace of the world–not because that is what is actually happening (obviously it is quite the opposite), but because that is the only thing that democratic states can ever do.  In a pinch, they can always be “liberating” someone, whether or not that has anything to do with the conflict in question, which is the great escape clause for all democratic warmongers–just as it was for the communists.  That liberation may not be the result and that it may simply be a euphemism for domination does not trouble the democratist: just as democracies are peaceful, they obviously only go to war in self-defense or to liberate others.  Therefore, if there is a war and a democracy is involved, there has to be some kind of liberation.  It is unavoidable. 

When Mr. Bush says, “democracies are peaceful,” he is not describing reality, nor is he even really attempting to describe reality (though he might tell you that he is), but stating an axiom taken straight from the catechism of liberal, democratic faith.  It is exceedingly difficult to have faith in a type of regime that in fact encourages all the worst passions in men and which is subject to the power of demagogues and popular enthusiasms; mass hysteria, particularly nationalist mass hysteria, is a powerful danger that all democratic states face.  This deeply troubled side of democracy, which has been on full display for the past five years, cannot be admitted by the democratist.  After all, to spread this sort of dangerous, chaotic regime to other parts of the world would be mad, regardless of whether the recipients were even remotely prepared for it.  It is therefore essential that everyone keep parroting the line that democracies are stable and peaceful, do not seek the most dangerous weapons and, of course, never ever use them.  Unless you need to pre-emptively nuke those “Islamic fascists” in Iran along with all their people, in which case they had it coming anyway, right?  And if you begin to doubt the justice of what you are doing, remember that “history and logic” have confirmed you in your path and told you that History is tending ever upwards towards the universal freedom of man–and all those who get in its way will be crushed.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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