Does Democracy Cause Peace?

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Does Democracy Cause Peace?

Poll ended at Wed May 12, 2004 4:34 pm

Yes
5
24%
No
16
76%
 
Total votes : 21

Aegis

Postby Penta » Thu Apr 15, 2004 8:52 pm

'Fraid not. Yes, we vote for our MPs, and they are indeed responsible to us. But supreme power lies with the monarch, not with 'a body of citizens', and MPs have to swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen (or maybe 'the Crown'), not to us. We're not actually citizens of great Britain either, we're subjects, though we are citizens of the EU.

So in the broad sense of the term, we, and the other constitutional monarchies, are representative democracies but certainly not, unfortunately, republics. Which was the original point I was disputing -- merely in the interests of accuracy. I was surprised that someone who represents himself as an academic or scholar (academic parlor games, nerdy social science types, scholars) should make such a fundamental error.

As I said, I'm a republican.
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right,

Postby kilroy » Thu Apr 15, 2004 9:08 pm

that's why all the important decisions are made by the PM and not the queen or prince charles, eh?

if you're trying to say the queen of england has absolute authority (in the real, practical world), then i say youre a fool.
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Oh, dear

Postby Penta » Thu Apr 15, 2004 10:08 pm

if you're trying to say the queen of england has absolute authority (in the real, practical world), then i say youre a fool.


I think I might return that particular insult to sender.
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question

Postby Army_Of_One » Fri Apr 16, 2004 12:13 am

when was the last time you saw a war between two stable democracies?

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Not quite

Postby ROB » Fri Apr 16, 2004 12:46 am

Kilroy,

If you think that Penta is being foolish in thinking that the Queens still wields any real power (if she chose to) then you should take a look at what happened in Australia in 1975.

In short the Queen's representative (The Governor General) sacked the democratically elected government and installed the opposition as "care takers"

Admittedly it was not at her behest, but then again people said priot to that the GG was a ceremonial position too...
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Postby Dim » Fri Apr 16, 2004 1:17 am

when was the last time you saw a war between two stable democracies?


Army, I did a google search on this subject and found a really cool site

http://users.erols.com/mwhite28/demowar.htm
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Democracies

Postby Penta » Fri Apr 16, 2004 11:38 am

I think the key points about democracy are that there’s no one type which is ‘better’ than all the rest, no one size fits all, that they grow and develop differently according to a particular country’s history and needs – and keep on developing: there’s no point when you can say, right, that’s it, we’ve reached the ideal – and finally, that you can’t impose a democracy on a country from afar. You can create favourable conditions, and give support, advice and encouragement, but trying to stick one on top of a country that has no democratic tradition is a waste of time and effort, and probably counter-productive and dangerous as well.

There are countries that have replaced dictatorships with satisfactory well-functioning democratic systems – Chile is the prime modern example that springs to my mind, but it had a pre-existing long-standing democracy, and only now, I think, nearly fifteen years after they booted Pinochet out, are they being able to get rid of some of the anti-democratic distortions that he was able to impose on his successors.

The idea that you can invade a country like Iraq, with its history, its ethnic and religious make-up, its dire economic state after years of depredations and sanctions, followed by further mass destruction and trauma, and expect to install a compliant client government to your own taste, and that that would then have a positive domino effect on the rest of the region, is – and always was – absurd and incredible. That anyone thought otherwise is a terrifying indictment of people’s negligible grasp of history and geopolitical realities.

And I have to say that in terms of the US, I’m afraid part of that seems to be the effect of a large part of the population’s blind acceptance of the national myths they seem to be fed from birth, if some of the pronouncements I read here and elsewhere are anything to go by: the idea that the US system is the best possible of all democratic systems, which, by extension, seems to lead them to think that everything their elected government does in the world must be done at least for honourable (even if mistaken and to some extent partisan) reasons, that the US is necessarily a force for good in the world, that anyone who disagrees or criticizes is in some way malign and anti-American, that it must be a good thing that the US has overwhelming force and is the only superpower, etc. etc.

To get back to democratic systems, I think a lot of Americans would be shocked to be told that one of the great stumbling blocks republicans (i.e. people who would like to change their countries from monarchies to republics) face is how to convince doubters that that doesn’t necessarily mean a presidential system on the US model, which most of us would like to avoid at all costs, and which of the various alternatives would be most appropriate for our countries and that enough of us could agree on.
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Lets pick this apart piece by peice...

Postby Aegis » Fri Apr 16, 2004 10:40 pm

Call me an American apologist, but hell, I'm an American and proud to be one, so if the shoe fits, I'll wear it...


the idea that the US system is the best possible of all democratic systems


the majority of people feel this way about their own system in any stable democracy. Don't you feel the same way about the British system? its the old "well, it isn't perfect, but its the best thing we have going" argument.

which, by extension, seems to lead them to think that everything their elected government does in the world must be done at least for honourable (even if mistaken and to some extent partisan) reasons,


I think of any nation, the US has one of the strongest strains of "never trust the government" in our political thought. Put aside the pundits, Buzzsaw (I kid, Buzz), and Ann Coulter. In Domestic issues most Americans regard governmental interference with more than a little distaste.

In foriegn affairs we tend to view things a little differently. Like most Americans I tend to feel that the people in charge are trying to do the right thing. Call it faith in enlightened self-interest.

that the US is necessarily a force for good in the world


It would be awfully fatalistic of us to see ouselves as an evil force in the world, now wouldn't it? Like I said above, everbody likes to think they at least try to do good in the world.

that anyone who disagrees or criticizes is in some way malign and anti-American


Umm... If the shoe fits...

Seriously though, when you bring up reasoned disagreements with US policy, how many times have you been accused of malignant anti-Americanism? (here, now, On the new BFC where FUG seems to have been permabanned) What gets people dismissed like that is when all they post are rants about the "evil Amerikkkans and their designs on world domination." In that case the accusation is often correct.

that it must be a good thing that the US has overwhelming force and is the only superpower


I'd rather have the proverbial gun than have somebody else hold the gun and trust him to use it on my behalf. Can you blame Americans for trusting their own government more than we trust other governments (or the UN)? Once again, on principal, wouldn't you trust the Spanish or British governments more than any other government (or the UN)?
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Postby Penta » Fri Apr 16, 2004 11:18 pm

This is getting repetitive but er ... no, and no.

the majority of people feel this way about their own system in any stable democracy. Don't you feel the same way about the British system? its the old "well, it isn't perfect, but its the best thing we have going" argument.


If this is the thread I think it is, then I would have thought I'd made it abundantly clear that I don't think the British system is the best of all possible systems (nor the US one for that matter).

In foriegn affairs ... Like most Americans I tend to feel that the people in charge are trying to do the right thing. Call it faith in enlightened self-interest.


Umm ... are you not confirming exactly what I suggested? And what exactly is so enlightened about US (or Bush and crony) self-interest in Iraq? You don't honestly believe all that crap about liberating Iraqis, providing them with the gift of democracy, being a beacon to the region, do you? Didn't I read you're a university student, Aegis? Sharpen up.

It would be awfully fatalistic of us to see ouselves as an evil force in the world, now wouldn't it? Like I said above, everbody likes to think they at least try to do good in the world.


Further confirmation.

Seriously though, when you bring up reasoned disagreements with US policy, how many times have you been accused of malignant anti-Americanism? (here, now, On the new BFC where FUG seems to have been permabanned)


You're right. Much more thoughtful discussion. It may of course be that now events are tending to bear out much of what some of us have been saying all along, some people are finding they need to think a bit more, rather than just fling insults in response.

Can you blame American for trusting their own government more than we trust other governments (or the UN)?


Well, yes, I can (or at least suggest they think a bit harder) in the face of all the evidence. Have you ever considered that it might not be anti-Americanism that persuaded the UN not to back the US (and UK) in this crazy venture, but concern that it was not the best way forward? Could be more dangerous to the peace of the region? Why not trust the UN? 150 heads (for the sake of argument. I'm not going to look up the figures) are better than one puppet of a bunch of neocon maniacs.

Once again, on principal, wouldn't you trust the Spanish or British governments more than any other government (or the UN)?


Once again, no. Trust Tony Blair? Or Jose Maria Aznar?
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Well...

Postby Aegis » Fri Apr 16, 2004 11:51 pm

Out of curiosity, what DO you believe in? Who DO you trust? Do you even believe in national identity?

And I'm fully aware of the fact I was confirming a lot of your beliefs. My purpose was to provide reasons for why we are the way we are, not necessarily to refute you.

You don't honestly believe all that crap about liberating Iraqis, providing them with the gift of democracy, being a beacon to the region, do you? Didn't I read you're a university student, Aegis? Sharpen up.


not all of it, no, but some of it (whether all of it is "crap" is debatable"). Its enlightened-self interest in that we are serving OUR purpose (ousting Saddam, for whatever reason) and hopefully helping the Iraqis as well (ousting Saddam, hopefully setting up a stable democracy and opening Iraq up to world markets, which I do believe would be a positive outcome). For the record, I was against the war. But now that we're there our courses of action are limited by that reality, and I imagine I'm not the only person who is growing tired of the amen chorus of "I told you so" while people are dying.


Well, yes, I can (or at least suggest they think a bit harder) in the face of all the evidence. Have you ever considered that it might not be anti-Americanism that persuaded the UN not to back the US (and UK) in this crazy venture, but concern that it was not the best way forward? Could be more dangerous to the peace of the region? Why not trust the UN? 150 heads (for the sake of argument. I'm not going to look up the figures) are better than one puppet of a bunch of neocon maniacs.


The UN also has a long history of inactivity when action has been most desirable and necessary; Rawanda springs to mind. Besides, in my opinion 435 elected heads (congress) are better than 150 appointed heads. Its just ridiculous that those 435 heads voted overwhelmingly to give the "puppet of neocon maniacs" carte blache on affairs in the Middle east.
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Postby Penta » Sat Apr 17, 2004 3:33 pm

I think that educated people with democratic freedoms have a responsibility, where possible, to keep themselves informed about what is being done in their name and do what they can to hold their governments to account. In times of war and major international crises, this is even more essential in the case of citizens (or subjects ;)) of the countries most involved.

I think world powers have analogous responsibilities: it’s not good enough for their policies to be based on crude self-interest. Good government takes account of the interests of the rest of the world, both countries and peoples, and pays special attention to the needs of people in countries where they do not have those democratic freedoms (in other words, it’s not good enough either to say you’re taking into account the views and interests of corrupt elites in charge of autocratic or otherwise totalitarian regimes, even more so if those regimes were installed or otherwise kept in power by and in the interests of the world powers). That is enlightened self-interest. It’s in everyone’s interest (apart from arms manufacturers and related interests) for the world to work towards the greatest good for all. I’m sure I don’t need to spell out the contrary effects of war, terrorism, gross inequalities etc. They’re not hard to see.

The United Nations and other international institutions, for good or ill, are the bodies we have that best represent the nations of the world (with all the caveats about how they represent the governments and not necessarily the people, and how some are massively skewed in favour of the major powers) and should not be sidelined or ignored. There is even less justification for powerful countries to refuse to consider themselves bound by their decisions, since they hold so many of the levers – and as we found in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, are quite prepared to abuse them.

Declaring that the members of congress of one country should have greater say over matters of international law than the international body supposed to oversee that law is to misunderstand completely the concepts of law, justice, fair play – whatever you want to call it. What is good for the United States, especially when only short-term interests are being considered is not necessarily good for the world as a whole.
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Postby Aegis » Sat Apr 17, 2004 6:44 pm

I think that educated people with democratic freedoms have a responsibility, where possible, to keep themselves informed about what is being done in their name and do what they can to hold their governments to account. In times of war and major international crises, this is even more essential in the case of citizens (or subjects ;)) of the countries most involved.


No argument here.

I think world powers have analogous responsibilities: it’s not good enough for their policies to be based on crude self-interest. Good government takes account of the interests of the rest of the world, both countries and peoples, and pays special attention to the needs of people in countries where they do not have those democratic freedoms (in other words, it’s not good enough either to say you’re taking into account the views and interests of corrupt elites in charge of autocratic or otherwise totalitarian regimes, even more so if those regimes were installed or otherwise kept in power by and in the interests of the world powers). That is enlightened self-interest. It’s in everyone’s interest (apart from arms manufacturers and related interests) for the world to work towards the greatest good for all. I’m sure I don’t need to spell out the contrary effects of war, terrorism, gross inequalities etc. They’re not hard to see.


It can be argued that the US at least tried to do these very things in Iraq. In theory, its not just the wealthy elite in Iraq (and the US) that would benefit from a successful ouster of Saddam and a the rebuilding of Iraq into a stable, western style state. The Average and poor Iraqis would be better off as well as foriegn investment (and the jobs that come with expanding industry) came into the country, and the world as a whole would benefit not only from the opening of Iraq to trade, but also from having a liberal democracy in the place of a stalinesque despot. In fact, one of the biggest gripes a lot of Americans had with the war was that aside from the executives of Haliburton and a few munitions manufacturers, very little of the gain for this campaign will ever be seen here in the US.

Not that I necessarily believed in all of this, but that is largely the rational we were fed here in the states (at least those of us who weren't satisfied with the OMG SADDAM HAS WMD AND IS HAVING AN HOMOSEXUAL RELATIONSHIP WITH OBL line). Its clear that IF that was the rational actually behind the operations then things have gone terribly awry.

The United Nations and other international institutions, for good or ill, are the bodies we have that best represent the nations of the world (with all the caveats about how they represent the governments and not necessarily the people, and how some are massively skewed in favour of the major powers) and should not be sidelined or ignored. There is even less justification for powerful countries to refuse to consider themselves bound by their decisions, since they hold so many of the levers – and as we found in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, are quite prepared to abuse them.


I can't help but draw parallels to the League of Nations. Not that Saddam=Hitler, nor the converse Bush=Hitler, but that the UN is not presently able to do the very purpose for which it was originally formed: that of mediating diputes between nations, or even more disturbing, that of enforcing its decisions in these disputes (I know, I know, Israel has violated plenty of UN resolutions as well, with US support).

The US was at least ostensibly operating within the bounds of UN resolutions regarding Iraq. Many Americans find it more than a little disurbing that the UN has failed to enforce those resolutions and to act in other dire situations over the course of the last decade. The US shares part of the blame for these instances of inaction, but its increasingly clear that when the UN runs things very little gets done, and lives are often lost for this lack of resolve.
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Postby Dim » Sat Apr 17, 2004 7:11 pm

I don't think anyone would disgree that the UN needs major reform. There are some obvious issues (oil for food bribes, France has a seat on the Security Council while Germany/Nigeria/India don't, the population of New York despise the UN officials ect).

None of these are really going to be solved by the current SG - I believe his term expires next year.

There has yet to be an SG from North America or Oceania - it's widely rumoured in New Zealand that our current Prime Minister has her eye on the job.
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Aegis

Postby Penta » Sat Apr 17, 2004 9:06 pm

It can be argued that the US at least tried to do these very things in Iraq. In theory, its not just the wealthy elite in Iraq (and the US) that would benefit from a successful ouster of Saddam and a the rebuilding of Iraq into a stable, western style state. The Average and poor Iraqis would be better off as well as foriegn investment (and the jobs that come with expanding industry) came into the country, and the world as a whole would benefit not only from the opening of Iraq to trade, but also from having a liberal democracy in the place of a stalinesque despot. In fact, one of the biggest gripes a lot of Americans had with the war was that aside from the executives of Haliburton and a few munitions manufacturers, very little of the gain for this campaign will ever be seen here in the US.

Trouble is, Aegis, none of it was being done for their benefit or with their permission or approval: the privatisations of all the utilities, for instance. Everyone knows that when one of the giant private water companies gets hold of your water supply, the price goes up and the quality and availability is not necessarily improved, and the disastrous results especially for the poorest people in a lot of third world countries are very well documented. After all, private companies are there to make a profit; state or municipally owned utilities are there to provide a service. And in the middle east, in particular, ownership or control of water is the root cause of most of the wars that have happened there for millennia. An occupying power is not even legally allowed to make such changes to a country's political and economic structure. As far as your average Iraqi is concerned, it's foreigners coming to steal their natural resources, not foreign investment.

The 'opening of Iraq to trade' is another way of saying providing a captive market for US goods and corporations: that's never been in the interests of anyone but the corporations concerned and the US economy.

A 'stable, western style state' and a 'liberal democracy' are another way of saying a US client state: putting crooks like Chalabi, seen as US stooges, in charge of their lives. They were never intending to promote a genuine liberal democracy -- if the Iraqis had a free choice, they'd vote in a Shiite government, which would really put the wind up other countries in the region, especially Bahrain, and would never agree to whatever it is they're building -- 14 major military bases, is it, with 120,000 troops to be stationed there and the biggest US embassy in the world?

The US was at least ostensibly operating within the bounds of UN resolutions regarding Iraq.

Only because Blair insisted as the sine qua non of his support, because otherwise he couldn't sell it even to his own law officers, let alone the British people. And they couldn't get the second resolution they needed, even with very heavy-handed arm-twisting (and illegal bugging) of the 6 temporary security council members who weren't already bought off, because most people and most governments in the world could see it would be a disaster and totally counter-productive. And most of those same people thought that resolution 1441 did not give them legal authority, because when passing it they'd made very clear that that is not what they meant.

I agree the UN needs reform. Since the end of the cold war, it needs to reflect current realities, one of those being the fact that there are no permanent African or Arab or Oceanian representatives on the security council, another current US imperial ambitions. But for now, it's what we've got, and if we all abided by its decisions and didn't seek to undermine it at every opportunity (of which you must admit the US is the worst culprit), it might be able to do a better job.
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Postby xflowers1 » Sat Apr 17, 2004 11:23 pm

Interesting thread.

How do you create a democracy?

1. I think it would be hard to find people who would NOT chose a system of government that allows them to vote for someone who represents their interest. The nub of the problem, however, is that it is much more difficult to find someone or even a group who represents everyones interest. Think of how long it has taken the U.S. to work through this thorny problem, and it is on going. We've now got gays who want the same rights as straights in regard to marriage or something like marriage, but we've also got a majority opposed to this for all kinds of reasons. Thus, we are always grappling with minority rights that may run counter to majority opinion, but generally the U.S. works through this peacefully, with the exception of the Civil War.

2. The example of the Civil War brings up another very important point. For a representative democracy to work its citizens, particularly those who have their own power base, have to be willing to work through the democratic processes rather than just take power to have their own way. I think the temptation to take power is a hard one to overcome, particularly if taking power rather than being given power by voters has had a long tradition up until the present. Everyone's, including the power brokers, commitment to democracy would have to be greater than their desire to take what they want. What would bring about such a commitment. Maybe it is the recognition that in the long run you and everyone else will do much better and have a much happier life as a result of democratic commitment. In other words, everyone understands that the best way to guarantee their own freedom is to guarantee the freedom of others and that peace and stability is likely to result in greater happiness and economic well being. This recognition allows people to put up with a certain amount of crap while they go about the process of change, and it convinces people in the long run to embrace greater tolerance of others as they begin to see that by doing so they ensure their own rights and right to be respected. Didn't Dr. Martin Luther King say something like that?

So I would say that where there is a commitment to real democracy, and not just something called democracy because they have sham elections, that does bring about peace in the sense that people within a country would be less likely to engage in civil war. At the same time, however, because real democracy asserts greater rights to its people in principle if not always in law, there are ongoing struggles as people, particularly minorities, work to change those laws. Their might be fewer of these struggles in a dictatorship because minorities could not hope to bring about change peacefully. Instead, there is repression an ultimately war as one power attempts to take power from the oppressor. It is the only way to do it in a dictatorship.

So I guess the answer to the question depends on what you mean by peace. Democracy increases struggle as people work to make change. While these struggles are usually nonviolent, they are not always peaceful. But by having a system that legitimizes such struggles, democracies decreases internal war and government repression. Maybe we shouldn't reålly want peace in the absolute sense because that kind of peace might indicate a public that has gone to sleep, and how could democracy survive that?
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