When Somali’s parliament unanimously agreed two years ago to make Islamic sharia law the basis of their country’s legal system, it was a clear demonstration of democracy in action. That’s a picture of the happy vote. At the same time, it was a serious limitation on individual freedom. So which matters? Democracy or freedom?
Most people mistakenly believe that freedom and democracy are the same things. I’ve talked about this before. The U.S. government is clearly confused about the issue, though. It uses our tax money around the world to support rebellions that will supposedly bring about democracy in more and more places. But if the vast majority of people want something other than freedom — and they want to enact laws to repress other people — why is this a good thing?
The latest example of this is in Libya. The United States spent $1.1 billion over throwing the old dictator (and other western powers spent even more), but there are worrisome signs that the new people aren’t exactly interested in individual liberty. The head of the new Libyan government said over the weekend that sharia law is going to be the foundation of the new country’s law. The same was true under the old regime, but the new regime is signaling that it’s going to go even further in forcing people to behave as their version of good Muslims — or else.
Why are western governments obsessed with majoritarian systems? I think it’s largely ignorance, but I suspect it’s something else, too. You can measure democracy in a mathematical way. You can’t measure freedom so easily. The bureaucratic mind likes things that it can quantify and compare and model. You can do that with a system that allocates power across a population in numerical ways and then operates in a mechanical way. There’s a role for bureaucrats in that. They have no role of importance when the priority is to say, “Hey, don’t tell people how to run their lives.”
The ignorance is harder to explain. The Founding Fathers of this country certainly had no intention of setting up a democracy. They were adamant about that. Today, most people don’t even understand the difference between a democracy and a republic, much less the difference between democracy and freedom. My suspicion is that it is related to the takeover of the educational establishment by the progressives from the era of John Dewey forward. They believed in democracy. The didn’t really believe in individual freedom, at least not certain kinds. I think their ideas slowly came to be accepted as gospel in textbooks and in teacher training.
Sunday, a friend of mine took exception to me referring to the people of this country being brainwashed into believing they have a duty to pay taxes, but I don’t know why anyone would be offended by that. The government-run compulsory education system spends 12 or 13 years indoctrinating most children — sometimes overtly and sometimes subtly — to believe in the glories of majority rule and in supporting the current system (and its ideals). If that’s not brainwashing, I’m not sure what is.
It’s immoral to set up rules to force people to live the way you want them to live. The fact that the majority of your neighbors want it that way doesn’t make it any less immoral. Politicians don’t even think about it anymore. They just talk about democracy — and then wonder why “the people’s will” so frequently produces things that are totally anathema to us. It’s irrational, but I don’t know how to change it.