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Iraq and Democracy


Patrick is right–there’s something seriously sick in our political discourse when Ann Althouse can get a month on the most prestigious op-ed page in the country, with Tom Freidman and Maureen Dowd on full-time, while Hilzoy writes for a medium-readership blog (along with Publius, who should have Stuart Taylor’s job) :

And another was this: liberation is not just a matter of removing an oppressive government. It can seem that way when you live under tyranny. Nothing is more comprehensible than people living in apartheid South Africa, or under Saddam, thinking: if only that government were removed from power, things would be better. They would have to be. After all, how could they possibly be worse?

Unfortunately, there are almost always ways in which things could be worse.

Thomas Hobbes, who actually lived through a civil war, believed that to escape from “the war of all against all”, it was necessary to grant a monarch unlimited sovereignty, and that living under such a monarch was preferable to living in a state of war and anarchy. I am not a Hobbesian, in part because I do not believe that those are our only two choices. But I’ve never been sure that if we had to face that choice, his answer wasn’t the right one.

This is quite right. One of my biggest puzzlements with the “liberal hawk” pro-Iraq-War arguments were the blithe assumptions that razing Saddam would mean a democracy (or, at least, a substantially more liberal state.) Liberal democracy isn’t the default condition of society that appears as night follows day when a dictatorship is toppled; it’s a very complex web of institutional arrangements that can’t just be created ex nihilo. Given the particular conditions in Iraq and who was prosecuting the war, civil war and anarchy were always much more likely outcomes.

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