Liberty, Not Democracy, in Iraq

Robert Garmong
Issue XIV - May 15, 2003
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The bromide, often quoted today, that we have won the war but now we have to "win the peace," is meant to remind us that we have to turn from achieving our military goals to achieving our political goals in Iraq. But what if our political goals were such that accomplishing them would obliterate the meaning of our military victory? Such is the nature of the Bush administration's stated goal of bringing "democracy" to Iraq.
        What Iraq needs is not democracy, but liberty.
        "Democracy" is the most dangerous term in the American political lexicon. It has become a vague, warm-and-fuzzy label used to evoke the whole American system of government. Yet when America's Founders overthrew tyranny in this country, they emphatically rejected the notion of replacing it with another form of tyranny. For this reason, they expressly rejected democracy.
        "Democracy," they recognized, actually means unlimited majority rule. If two men on a desert island vote to cannibalize the third, that is democracy. So it was when citizens of Athens, history's first democracy, voted to execute Socrates. And so it was when the German public voted for the Nazi Party. Democracy is not a system of liberty, but a form of tyranny: the tyranny of the majority.
        Our Founders called the American system a "republic": a representative government limited by a constitution that protects the rights of the individual. Although the citizens of a republic vote for their leaders, voting is just a means to the end of protecting liberty. No matter what the people may wish their government to do, the Constitution is clear: Congress may pass no law that violates the rights of the individual. Such restrictions are codified in the Bill of Rights, the wall that protects our liberty from the whims of the majority.
        Yet the tyranny of the majority is precisely what the Bush administration is pledging to leave behind in Iraq. Speaking to a group of Iraqi exiles, President Bush insisted that "America has no intention of imposing our form of government or culture" on Iraq. Administration officials have repeatedly stressed that the form of Iraq's new government is to be determined by the Iraqi people, with the only goal being that it is "democratic." Whatever the Iraqi majority demands, it will get.
        A hallmark of democracy is pressure-group warfare, as each group seeks to claim the status of a majority and exploit all the rest. Iraqis have already begun forming up into ethnic and religious groups, each struggling to displace other groups from its traditional territory, each demanding the right to a share of "the people's" oil money. And every day, Iranian-backed religious leaders—with support from Iraqi Shiites—are extending their power and influence, positioning themselves to control the new, "democratic" Iraq.
        It is too soon to predict the details, but we can already see in outline what form of tyranny Iraq's Shiite majority might choose. Clerics have begun strident calls for an Islamic state, and in a grim reminder of what that means, art studios and theaters have received warnings from Shiite clerics that they are to be shut down and converted to religious schools.
        Some commentators argue that the relatively secular Iraqi culture will not opt for a full-fledged theocracy like Iran's. Perhaps—but leaving the issue to be decided by unlimited majority rule could be America's most deadly mistake. Yet 62 percent of respondents to a recent ABC News poll said America should support an Islamic fundamentalist state in Iraq, if it gains power by "democratic" vote.
        Leaving such a democracy in Iraq would be a betrayal of every value we sought to gain in this war. The essential evil of Saddam's Baathist ideology was its collectivism, the view that the "Arab Nation" is supreme and that the rights and interests of the individual may be sacrificed in service to its dictates. It makes no difference, in principle, if this "collective will" is divined by the edicts of a dictator or by majority vote—so long as the rights of the individual may still be sacrificed.
        Anything-goes democracy in Iraq could be an even greater threat to American interests than the regime we have spent so much blood and money to topple. It is vitally important that our leaders make clear that they are attempting to leave behind a system of liberty, not democracy, in Iraq. It would be obscene to spend American lives to establish such a profoundly anti-American idea as the tyranny of the majority.

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Read Mr. Stolyarov's four-act play, Implied Consent, a futuristic intellectual drama on the sanctity of human life, here.