Michael Walzer, The Hard Questions

I’m not sure just where this topic will go. But I am sure that there are things, truths we don’t or won’t recognize or discuss in public forums such as in the Congress of the United States or at presidential press conferences. Here’s one of them, and as others occur to me during the days and weeks ahead I’ll write about them.

This particular one is not original with me (nor you’ll quickly say, is anything else) but be that as it may here is the real author, Michael Walzer, writing The Hard Questions in the New Republic of October, 1996, (was that the end or the start of Bill Clinton’s second term as our president? the end, —the election was the following month) giving us a first example of truths we don’t or won’t discuss.

Walzer writes,

The real test of democracy isn’t the first election but the second and third. And [the success of such] a series of free elections depends on two things: the right of opposition and the right of succession, [whereas too] many victors in democratic elections around the world don’t recognize either. …

This problem was once discussed chiefly with reference to Communist parties,… Now the democratic dilemma arises most often when radical Islamic parties join in electoral politics…. [But] contempt for democracy is [not confined to these Islamic groups but is] roughly equal among Muslim radicals, Christian fundamentalists, ultra-orthodox Jews and Hindu nationalists [and] doesn’t keep such groups from crafting skilled electoral appeals.

The truth is that fanatical, often extreme religious parties are using elections, that is, a prominent bit of the clothing of democracy, to by that means seize and hold power, and then to wield that power to their own undemocratic ends.

Walzer concludes  his piece with two questions:

Should such groups be allowed to compete in democratic elections? Should we encourage elections in countries where they are likely to win?

Good questions. Are we asking them? Did we ask them at the time that Walzer was writing, during the elections in Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Croatia following the breakup of Tito’s Yugoslavia? At that time didn’t Balkan voters have more in  common with “Muslim radicals, Christian fundamentalists, ultra-orthodox Jews and Hindu nationalists?” And we were going along?

Did we ask such questions before the election of Mohamed Morsi as president of Egypt in June of 2012? Did we ask them afterwards? Weren’t we rather seduced by the fact of there even being an election in the Middle East, and afterwards by Morsi himself who rode the wave of being the very first democratically elected head of state in Egyptian history?

We didn’t want to see that Egypt’s election number one had not turned out to be a step toward democratic rule.  We didn’t want to recognize that the voters in their majority had only contempt for what they held to be our own bourgeois civil liberties.

The truth is that elections are not all that important in the establishment of a true democracy. Other things such as the rule of law, a Bill of Rights, individual freedoms, the pursuit of happiness, the inclusion and protection of minorities, and much else. When is our government going to accept this and in its dealings with other nations act accordingly?

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