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Monday, February 14, 2011

Denial - It Ain't Just A River

And Egypt, while it may one day be a democracy, is never going to be a US-style democracy.

Let us cast our minds back to the beginning of democracies and republics, back to the civilizations on which our Founding Fathers consciously modeled the current republic which we inhabit.

In short, let us meditate on the Greco-Roman empires.

As you may recall, Greek city-states had the first known examples of democracy in the world. When we think of the democracy of Athens, our hearts warm and smiles light up our cute little faces. It stays that way as long as we aren't reminded of the details.

Out of a population of perhaps 300,000 Athenians, only 30,000 adult males - that's 10% of the population, folks - were eligible to vote. Fully one-third of the population was enslaved. Half of the population were resident foreigners. Women and children under 18 were not eligible to vote.

Strictly speaking, only men who had both trained as soldiers and who owned property had the right to vote. Although the property clause was often ignored, the soldier's life was not - this was democracy run by the army. To be a citizen, you also had to be descended on both sides from citizens. The Athenian democracy ran in fits and starts, constantly descending into oligarchy or outright tyranny, and generally not lasting longer than the life of the man who managed to impose it for a time.

Given all this, even during the height of its democracy, were the Athenians "free"?
Did Athens ever subject itself to "majority rule"?


Well, what of the vaunted Romans?
Ah, yes, the Roman Republic...

To begin with, Rome started with the rule of kings, dallied for roughly 450 years with the workings of a republic, and then, through a series of civil wars, returned to the rule of caesars (emperors). Rome's Republic looked very much like Athen's democracy. Unlike Athens, Rome granted many different degrees of citizenship, but only full citizenship granted the right to vote or hold office.

Again, roughly 40% of the population was enslaved. 90% of the population were not citizens. By the time of the Second Punic war, most of the citizens were (or had been at some time) under arms. Only about 10% of the population had the right to vote. Again, it was a democracy run by the army.

Egypt is run by its military.
It is perfectly positioned to have a Greco-Roman style democracy.

A country can have a democratic republic yet not give everyone the right to vote.
A country can have a democratic republic and not consider everyone equal under the law.
A country can have a democratic republic and still be ruled be ruled by a small percentage of the population, especially if that small segment has all the military training.

The idea that all men are created equal, with divine rights endowed by their Creator... this idea is not central to a democracy. It is central to Judeo-Christian thought, but has no necessary bearing on a republic.

The genius of the Founding Fathers was not in establishing a republic or a germinal democracy. Their genius was in wedding the idea of a democratic republic to the Judeo-Christian worldview.

American democracy is unique because it is both a democratic republic and Judeo-Christian.
Jews are uniquely wedded to the idea of God as Lawgiver, and society as a system of law. Christianity, as a child of Judaism, adds the unique idea of the equality of all men, man or woman, Gentile or Jew, slave or free, before God.

Together, the idea of equal and inalienable rights, rights inalienable by even the most powerful of governments, makes Western democratic republics fundamentally different from anything that has gone before. The United States is the oldest such democratic republic on the face of the earth, and we evangelized the world in this concept, we built it up on the back of the theological work on human rights pioneered by the Catholic Church.

By definition, countries which do not have this Judeo-Christian heritage will not be able to establish what we have.

A Muslim country cannot be an American-style democracy - it doesn't have a worldview which says all men are created equal and all are endowed with inalienable rights by their Creator. Insofar as America has successfully managed to export American-style democracy to non-Judeo-Christian cultures (e.g., Japan), it has generally been at the point of a gun against a polytheistic society.

Egypt may, indeed, get democracy.
But that chances that it will look much like ours are pretty grim.


Flambeaux said...

And we'd all be in better shape if the US had maintained a more Roman-style Republic as the Founders intended.

But I'm not a fan of republicanism in the first place. Let the political order mirror the ecclesiastical and Celestial order.

Nilk said...

Speaking common sense again, Steve. Excellent to see, and wonderfully refreshing.

Daniel said...

"Egypt...will never have a US style democracy."

Gosh, I hope not. Ours has got to be the worst in history.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Well, any democracy that could elect:

Calvin Coolidge,
Jimmy Carter,
William Jefferson Clinton,
Jimmy Carter II (aka Barack Obama)

certainly has problems.

Off the Coast of Utopia said...

Great post Steve. Some real insight there.