Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Liberal Democracy: Invincible? 

[cross-posted at The Shotgun]

A column yesterday by Doug Saunders, Zimbabwe's land nationalization, and today's success of Venezulan democrats in securing enough petition signatures to vote on Hugo Chavez's presidency raise a very important question:

How easily does a liberal democracy slide into authoritarianism?

There's the classic example of Hitler being voted into power in Germany, and the more contemporary example of Robert Mugabe's stronghandling of existing constitutional structures in Zimbabwe into irrelevance. But at what point do we notice the slide? Is it too late at that point?

Conservatives have been railing against the mob tactics of Chavez for some time, but the mainstream media brush it off as part of GWB's evil plans for global domination (Chavez the populist vs Bush-Cheney-Haliburton-whatever). I must admit that the US's bungling of the weird one-day coup of 2002 didn't help the image, but the point remains that Chavez has always been trying to bypass legal restrictions on presidential powers. Thankfully, it seems that the trend might be reversible in this case.

In the Western world, we like to think of ourselves as immune from these sorts of threats to our freedoms. But the European Union is barreling into a constitutional process that is dominated by bureaucrats instead of citizens. Witness the decay from the concessions won by Denmark when it first voted against the Maastricht Treaty, to the "Vote No? Try Again" approach when Ireland originally voted down the Nice Treaty. Does anyone seriously think that things will improve this time around?

Meanwhile, many of us here in Canada and the United States have complained that judges seem to be have more legislative powers than our elected parliamentarians.

This is no mere academic debate: democratization in the Middle East is a current US policy and its feasibility is directly tied to our safety. Personally, I don't agree with the American neoconservative view that democracy is inevitable, but I feel that democratization is necessary to ensure that the Middle East will not be a threat to global security. But can one or two democracies in the Middle East survive being surrounded by authoritarian/yet-to-be liberated neighbours?
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