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Republicans v. Democracy: The Perpetual Cycle

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The central question that emerges–and it is not a parliamentary question or a question that is answered by meerely consulting a catalog of the rights of American citizens, born Equal–is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes–the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race. — William F. Buckley Jr., 1957

Islamists might be determined enough to run effective opposition movements and committed enough to provide street-level social services. But they lack the mental equipment to govern. —David Brooks, 2013

To expand on Read’s point, Brooks’s argument that democracy is a mere “process” that should be disregarded when it produces disagreeable substantive results is quite remarkable. Let’s consider the (largely accurate, as far as I can tell) bill of charges against Morsi — hostility to the rights of women, civil liberties violations, rank incompetence, divisiveness, disastrous misuses of the violent power of the state. So Brooks would have thought that a military coup against the second Bush administration was perfectly OK, then? (Particularly since the election of Bush was pretty shaky on the “process” metric as well.) At what point do the bad (by whose standard?) substantive results of democratic elections trump democratic procedures? Brooks lacks a clear answer, but I suspect it has something to do with the percentage of the electorate that consists of white people.

Even if we want to talk pragmatism rather than democratic theory, support for the coup is also incredibly short-sighted. Authoritarian regimes don’t exactly have a stellar record of protecting the rights of women or religious minorities either, and informing Islamists that elections they win won’t count doesn’t seem like a recipe for either political stability or more liberal regimes in the long run.

More on the, ah, empirical problems with Brooks’s argument:

Algeria is a very strange example to cite of how Islamist governments are always bad, since Algeria has never had an Islamist government. The army canceled elections in 1992 when it looked like the Islamic Salvation Front was going to win, leading to a bloody civil war.

So Brooks is really citing Turkey and Iran as his evidence that Islamist parties always and everywhere are bad news, and therefore the Egyptian coup was justified. But how much are even these two examples worth, really?

[…]

But Brooks doesn’t really know anything about Turkey or Iran, any more than he knows about Applebee’s. He’s just trying to make the point, consistent with his conservative ideology, that democracy is all right so long as the wrong sort of people don’t get elected.

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