Revolutions are only democratic means toward authoritarian ends

From an Arab Spring to a Muslim Winter

- Daniel Greenfield
Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Communists wanted to turn every country in the world into communists, the Muslims want to turn every nation Islamic, and we want to turn them all into Democrats. Our national passion for democracy long ago overshot baseball, football, horse racing and billiards. Lately even our wars have turned into perverse democracy crusades. But the tonic of democracy does not cure all ills. And like most medicines, it is quite poisonous when used against the doctor’s instructions.

Lately some of us have gotten caught up in the idea that the Arabs have finally become just as passionate about democracy as us. But where we have come to value democracy as an end, their passion is for democracy as a tool of change, a means, not an end. Even the most devout Mahmoud, his scraggly beard caught in the pages of the Koran, blesses democracy as Halal, so long as it ushers in the rule of the devout. What matter if the Caliphate of the 12th Imam comes by way of a lottery, inherited monarchy or the ballot box—so long as it comes.

Democracy for most Americans means the ability to rule over their rulers, to fire their political bosses, hook a thumb behind the ear and a knee in the ##### of the boys in the big white buildings with the shiny domes. The balance of popular will and constitutional law maintained the widest possible decentralization of power, from the government to the people, and from the people to the laws that governed their untouchable freedoms. The people limit the power of government and laws limit the power of the people over each other. But systems of government abroad that dabble in democracy rarely duplicate the American experiment.

To do that they would have to believe in democracy for its own sake. The decentralization of power is a difficult creed. Most of the congressmen, aides, aides to aides and lobbyists who swamp Washington D.C. have long ago lost faith in its tenets. In their swarming masses, suit and powersuit clad, they have built up an oligarchy, buttressed by bureaucracy, immune to the people and the law. If our own leaders have lost faith in the peculiar notion that it is better to have a country run badly by the people, than a country run scientifically by its highly paid elites—what should we expect of a region where there are special police forces in charge of hunting down witches.

Our Johnny Appleseed act doesn’t have a good history, and why should it, when each time we go in acting as if democracy is functional, rather than cultural. As if it’s something you practice, rather than believe. You can teach people to count ballots, but you can’t teach them to understand why they count. They have to learn that for themselves. Otherwise they’ll start miscounting the ballots or shooting everyone who doesn’t vote the right way.

Revolutions are only democratic means toward authoritarian ends

Most revolutions like to call themselves democratic, because democracy is disruptive to the old order. But their revolutions are only democratic means toward authoritarian ends. The ultimate victory of one faction or another. And they typically have as much use for democracy, as the Muslim armies who captured Alexandria had for its library. As Caliph Omar, successor of Mohammed, and a bookburner of far greater fame than Terry Jones, said of its books, “If they are in agreement with the Koran, then we have no need of them; and if they are opposed to the Koran, destroy them.