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The Backward Strategy of Democracy

This January, the Islamic terrorist organization, Hamas, won the Palestinian elections by a landslide. It now effectively controls Parliament. President Bush responded to the election by complimenting the democratic process. “You see,” he said, in a line quoted by Time Online, “When you give people the vote, give them the chance to express themselves at the polls and they’re unhappy with the status quo, they’ll let you know…I like the competition of ideas. I like people who have to go out and say, vote for me, and here’s what I’m going to do. There’s something healthy about a system that does that.”

There is nothing healthy about Hamas.

Since 1989, Hamas has orchestrated knife attacks, shootings, kidnappings, and suicide bombings against the Israeli populace. In 2002, they killed 30 and wounded 140 more when they bombed a hotel in Netanya. Their covenant reads like the street-corner rantings of a religious maniac, or a verse from the Old Testament. To quote just a few lines: “The hour of judgment shall not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them, so that the Jews hide behind trees and stones, and each tree and stone will say: “Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.'”

In case the world thought Hamas might soften its policies on assuming power, Hamas Political Bureau head Khaled Mash’al disabused us of that fantasy on Al-Jazeera television a month after the elections. He declared that the election victory had instilled Hamas with strength. With its new position of power, Hamas would force the world to “respect” it.

The grave implications of the Palestinian elections cannot be overlooked simply because those elections were democratic. The elections illustrate democracy’s harms–that is, the harms of a system that subordinates individual rights to majority whims. Democracy is a system of oppression: an Athenian majority can vote to put Socrates to death for his crime of teaching Athenian youths to think. A German majority can elect a racist dictator who promises to purge the nation of Jews. An Afghani majority can sentence Christian convert Abdul Rahman to death, for rejecting Islam. An Iraqi majority can ratify a constitution that institutionalizes Islam as the standard for justice. Democracies can vote to silence free speech, to enslave minority populations, to murder political dissidents. Democracy is the end of freedom.

The political system that truly implements freedom is one that protects individual rights. America is such a system. America was founded, not as a democracy, but as a constitutional republic: a representative government that writes its laws in accordance with the life, liberty and property of its citizens, not public caprice.

President Bush bases his foreign policy on his stated desire to spread freedom to foreign nations. From his 2006 State of the Union address: “Abroad, our nation is committed to a historic, long-term goal – we seek the end of tyranny in our world…Every step toward freedom in the world makes our country safer, and so we will act boldly in freedom’s cause.”

Even by his own standard, Bush has failed. He has betrayed his mission to spread freedom abroad. This is not because of the reason that liberals cite: that Bush has disrespected Iraqi culture. It is because Bush needed to eradicate that culture, and replace it with one that values freedom. Instead, he has allowed the majority to determine the shape of Iraqi government. The majority has ratified a constitution that institutionalizes religion and religious oppression. Bush has sold out freedom in Iraq–in the name of democracy.

Bush’s approach in Iraq reflects the idea that democracy, implemented by free elections, is identical to freedom. This isn’t so. A free election simply serves to establish whatever system the majority prefers. In Iraq, as in Palestine, the system the majority prefers is a theocracy.

If America is going to spend resources on a war in Iraq, and if it is going to concern itself with the future of the country it has defeated, it would better guide its actions by the truth that the protection of rights is the basis of a free society.

In Iraq’s case, this should mean writing a rights-based constitution, and mandating that it be followed. The Iraqi culture is not friendly enough toward free government for any other method to be successful.

In a country that is friendlier towards freedom, and has a better understanding of the rights-protection that it requires, encouraging elections may in fact be the best means of encouraging freedom. This may, for example, be the best strategy in the Ukraine, Belarus, and other Eastern European countries. Elections are part of a free society–just not the essential part.

For an election to promote freedom, the candidates must fundamentally agree on the nature of free government, though they disagree on implementation. That requires a society in which the nature of freedom is widely understood and valued. Ultimately, it is philosophy that protects a free society, namely the philosophic belief that the individual’s life is inviolate, and that the actions he must take to preserve his life constitute the rights sanctified by government. Only when the philosophy of rights permeates a culture will that culture be willing to preserve a system that protects rights in action.

The belief that the democratic will is sacrosanct prevents America from properly condemning Hamas’ electoral success. With public will as the standard of good government, Hamas must be evaluated positively. But the idea that Americans should cheer when terrorists are elected to power is insane. It is the first sign that something is wrong with the standard Bush has asked Americans to adopt.

America’s policy of approving and seeking democratic elections, regardless of their results, has allowed Hamas that much more leeway in its jihad against Israel, and ultimately, against America. Hamas now has a country behind it. While the United Nations continues to bicker about whether to stop sending its millions to Palestine, Hamas will continue to use those millions to undermine the peace and security of the West.

The more Bush spreads democracy, the more he threatens freedom–abroad and on American soil.

Rebecca Knapp is a senior at the University of Chicago. She is studying classics and plans to attend law school.

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