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May 28, 2004

Comments

ahmed

Aha! You took the bait! Good fishie. Excellent points, your debate club would be proud.

Allow me to introduce the starved termite into the log cabin of your arguments. Those who say that the Arab world is not ready for democracy rarely explain their positions by claiming that they lack the institutions or the cultural context. Rather, we say that the dominant institution that they do have is entirely antithetical to democracy.

The difference is not semantic. A fairly intelligent gibbon has the cultural context to be supportive of a democratic system, and the examples you gave are fine evidence that plenty of individuals in various parts of the world are just as evolved. However, no viable democracy exists or has ever existed in any part of the world, among either gibbons, arabs, or anyone else, side by side with a dominant islamic culture. One can draw many conclusions, but a central one must be that Islam and democracy cannot coexist. So, to introduce lasting democratic reforms in any oasis of the vast shithole than today stretches from Indonesia to Morocco, one must wait until the islamic institutions are severely undermined or, better yet, neutron-bombed (just as one had to wait until the communist institutions were severely undermined for democracy to enter the Soviet bloc). Perhaps this is what you meant by "given half a chance".

And another thing. While today the world does revolve around the blinding luminosity of your persona, this was probably not the case several centuries prior to your birth. The Republic of the Philippines was named, to the inhabitants' present-day despair, without the clairvoyance of the future spelling of your name. So while you may try to correct the grievous error in your writings ("...The same was said of other Asian countries, of the Phillipines, of Taiwan...", I believe this is just salt in their wounds and will not soon change the contents of my atlas.

P.S.Babcock

Hi Achmed. Welcome to the blog.

You write:

---Those who say that the Arab world is not ready for democracy rarely explain their positions by claiming that they lack the institutions or the cultural context. Rather, we say that the dominant institution that they do have is entirely antithetical to democracy.---

This is what is usually meant by "lacking institutions." The argument is always that something about existing institutions is incompatible with a desired goal. Max Weber argued that Protestant culture (and institutions) was uniquely compatible with capitalism. He thought that Confucianism, Catholicism and other relgions were not well suited for capitalism. Casual empiricism seemed to support his argument, just as casual empricism seems to support yours. His argument was wrong, though. Capitalism has fluorished throughout the Asian world and in Catholic countries. Moreover, the argument was invalid even in Weber's day but he lacked the data and empirical methods to discern it. On to your argument:

<<...no viable democracy exists or has ever existed in any part of the world, among either gibbons, arabs, or anyone else, side by side with a dominant islamic culture. One can draw many conclusions, but a central one must be that Islam and democracy cannot coexist. <<

Weber drew a similar conclusion about capitalism and Confucianism. He was wrong. About 15 years ago it was argued that black athletes could not be successful quarterbacks in the NFL. There had never been any. Therefore there could not be. Something about black culture prevented it. This conclusion was wrong. Jean Kirkpatrick argued that because a communist country had never become democractic, this could not happen. The Kirkpatrick doctrine. This conclusion, too, was wrong.

All of these ideas have something in common. I would call it a belief in institutional rigidity. An institution or culture had been observed to function in a certain way. Therefore, it would always function in exactly this way.

Is there such rigidity in muslim thought and muslim institutions? I will agree that Islam confronts a challenge. The tradition is that Islam interacts considerably with the governance of a society. This makes the evolution of Islamic institutions difficult. Are these institutions somehow uniquely rigid, then, in a way that other institutions are not?

The best counterexample I can think of his Iran. Fifteen years ago, one would have thought of Iran as a hotbed of extremism. Rigidly extremist. The Islam there is not so rigid now. The pro-democracy movement there is, in my view, amazing and inspiring. Almost all of those who are part of the pro-democracy movement would call themselves muslims. An overwhelming majority of *muslims* voted against the conervative clerics and for Khatami. Reformist muslim clerics were among the first acivists for democracy, and among the first to be jailed. Here is a muslim country whose inhabitants want democracy and are taking great risks to try to get it. But these inhabitants are not renouncing Islam. A few conservative clerics at the top are holding the country hostage. But if they were removed, a new equilibrium would come about, just as it did in, say, Poland. Popular sentiment, I believe, would usher in moderation and something very close to democracy.

It looks very similar to me. Your doctrine and the Kirkpatrick doctrine. And Iran looks like Poland. Your broader point (when you called yourself Fred) was that religion itself was not very compatible with civilization, democracy, freedom, prosperity, etc. Poland is a good example here, as well. Solidarity was a largely Catholic movement, and its members were arguably the instigators of the huge transformation of eastern Europe that followed. Pope John Paul II may have been as responsible as any other single human being for the fall of the iron curtain.

Marxists and anarchists were crazy extremists in the past. (When you were Fred) you argued that these persons were also somehow "religious" in that they were passionately atheist, as opposed to agnostic. First, many of these persons were not passionately atheistic, but were, in fact, agnostic. The difference between atheism and agnosticism is not central to Marxism and its offshoots. Moreover, this argument simply equates religious faith with any kind of passionately held destructive belief. If an ambitious scientist decided to experiment on people and kill them so that he could learn new things, your definition could be used to say that his science was a relgion. The word religion has been diluted to meaninglessness. The entire discussion reduces to a sollipsism: People with bad and destructive beliefs do bad and destructive things.

As far as religious faith goes, I would offer this: The transition from autocracy to democracy is difficult. The first persons to try to make the transition, the early adopters, as it were, take great risks. It is not optimal--from the point of view of material self-interest--to be Ang San Su Chi, Benigno Aquino, or some nameless student in the Tien-a-men massacre. Often these types are killed, tortured, or imprisoned. But without early adopters, change doesn't happen. Belief in doing the right thing, regardless of the consequences to oneself, makes this kind of action possible. I would argue that most existing democracies would not have come about, but for the sacrifices of early adopters. Often, these people believed in something larger than themselves. Faith makes this type of action possible. Faith enables some persons to scarifice their lives in order to help others break out of a bad equilibrium in which the optimal self-interested act is to go with the flow.

Lastly, I regret misspelling Philippines. I would point out, though, that I spelled it Phillipines, which is not the spelling of my name. Thus, this was an error of ignorance as opposed to being an act of ignorance and vanity combined.

I can only hope that my blog, unlike a career in academia,is not the latter. (Or at least, not all the time.)

Regards,
P.S. Babcock

Jackie

Confucianism:

Confucianism and Taoism, like other philosophies, are all lovely in that they all try to promote a better society, promote love, respect, kindness, loyalty, etc. Confucianism and Taoism worked well for older feudalistic and emperoristic time. However, they don't work well in this day of age. Societies based on these philosophies tend to over emphasize a pecking order and over emphasize obedience. Practitioners are more inclined to be obedient, easier to be used and controlled, and easily fall to abusive and controlling powers. They are well intentioned, but these philosophies have costly unintended consequences and dire weaknesses. The weaknesses of these fatalistic philosophies and cultures are more destructive than their strengths.

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