A long long time ago, when I had more free time in my life, I read copious quantities of science fiction (and other pulp fiction). Donald Kingsbury in The Moon Goddess and the Son had a crucial insight on democracy, which I suggest that many of us have forgotten. One of the primary threads in the book was a peaceful means to bring about (and bringing about) the fall of the iron curtain and the possible rise of a democratic in the place of the former Soviet empire (in part this was helped by a viral board/video/war game in the book). It should be noted that this book was written in 1986 some years before the actual fall of that regime.

One insight which might as well be drawn in part from our own revolutionary process is that, to embark on democracy is to fundamentally lose control.  Centralization of power is satisfying and tempting in the larger part because of the control. The (wise) leaders of a revolution (or democratic government) must, in order to remain a democracy, yield control to the (unwise) individuals. I’ll give a few examples:

  • First, in one of Ms McArdle’s essays today she writes on health care and choices. She suggests that we assume that people would prefer to spend “new money” from government grants to the poor on health care. But that is, in turn, paternalistic and somewhat dictatorial in making up their mind for them and treating them as children. If a poor man would prefer to die in 5 years with an untreated condition and instead spend the money on a fast fancy car. By what right do we insist that he spend that money on health care? [aside: Btw, I favor throwing #2 “overboard” and think the only fair method of rationing health care (demanded by #3) is ability to pay, with the caveat that certain minimum levels of health care should be available to all.]
  •  In Iraq, we say we want them to be democratic then at the same time, we complain that the choices they make are not what we would recommend. However, giving them democratic freedom means … we lose any control or ability/right to make recommendations.
  • The progressive movement often would put in place large scale structural elements to “guide us” in righteous thinking on racial and gender issues. Their centralization of doctrine and practice is their fear of the loss of control that comes with democracy. People will “misbehave” if they don’t force their hand pre-emptively. This urge is the very essence of the anti-democratic impulse. Leninism and the worst horrors of the 20th century were put upon their people, “for their own good.”

The question then, is how can we protect our individual freedoms and rights and at the same time prevent abuses that in a large measure give rise to the paternalism impulse that drives centralization?

Sharia law in the Middle East from a rights perspective is seen by the west as, well plainly said, horrible. The uneven freedoms granted differentially to men and woman (and infidel) within their society is shocking to the Westerner. It is my view of government that a state is acting within its bounds if it only takes the authority granted to it by its people. If they grant that women should be treated unevenly, then it is right for the state to reflect that. A Muslim community anywhere (including the US) might very well be within its bounds of authority, in my view is righteous.

How does one put this in practice however? What does it even then mean for such communities to overstep their bounds? Well, one might suggest that if I put you in jail unjustly it is one thing. It is another if you complain about being placed unjustly in jail but that the door is open and you can leave at any time. And that might be the key. If we allow great freedoms in the ordering of individual small communities and at the same time insist that information about the “outside” and other communities makeup and practices be available and that that “door be left open and unlocked”, that might be enough to insure your civil liberties be protected.

It might also, go a lot further to establish the sorts of civil progressive changes that the left wishes would occur. I would suggest that asking many more of us to get involved in the crafting of just law would go a lot further to internalize civil behavior than anything that might be attempted from “on high” within the beltway or the vaunted halls of the ivory tower.

Filed under: Ethics & MoralityMark O.Politics

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