The collapse through coup of Egypt’s democratically elected government only a year after its inception represents another unfortunate example of the disconnect of popular will and actual governance without the bond of a common set of principles that bind their success. In most discussions of what would represent modernity for so called backward or underdeveloped nations, the use of terms such as democracy, freedom, and popular consent are thrown about as if they were omnipotent tools for progress. The entry of the United States into World War I was declared to be the war to make the world “safe for democracy”. It has been suggested that the Cold War was the philosophical battle between democracies and totalitarian regimes. The term ‘democracy’ as an indicator of popular will has even led the most authoritarian regimes in the world to style themselves as “Democratic Republics”.
What of course was lost in Egypt last week was not democratic process, but rather, the rule of law. Democracy, in simple terms, is the will of the majority, and like a great shape shifter, the will of the majority that brought the Muslim Brotherhood and Mohammed Morsi to power last year in a free election, summarily turned him out of office without a whiff of legality. It turns out that like all radicals who utilize the levers of democracy to assume power, Morsi and his cadre were looking to rapidly make their ascendance permanent. The radicalization of the ruling government to destroy diversity, approve popular thuggery, and institute draconian rules against personal freedom, however, were not what brought the Morsi regime to its catastrophic end. Democracy in its purest form has little time for those in the minority who have differing views. No, the fact that he ended up having no ideas to stabilize a crashing economy, provide any hope for Egypt’s huge underclass, or even provide the basics such as food led to the rapid turn of the popular will against him. Morsi’s incredible ineptitude at governance was the fatal blow to the Muslim Brotherhood using the radical chic of democracy to achieve their authoritarian ends.
The confusion of democracy and republic, freedom and governance, rights and responsibilities are the sloppy mentations of our modern society. The founders of the American experiment in 1776 and later with the profound development of the Constitution and balancing bill of Rights, were at their essence not democrats but rather republicans, in the original context of those labels. The democracy of ancient Greece was not what they were after but rather the better characteristics of the republic of Rome. Mob majority rule did not interest them; frankly, their opinions regarding their need for severance with Great Britain always represented a minority view in America. They were instead profoundly interested in the rights and freedoms of the individual, and the need to set up a system of laws that would protect those rights against all potential assaults by a majority rule. Laws were designed to promote the individual, government was designed to be limited only to provide a means for cultivating and protecting those rights, and the passions that drove mob rule were to be deflected by an onerous, purposely deliberative system of checks and balances. An executive was to be hemmed in by the power of the people in the form of the legislature to control the monies and the judiciary to assure that governance would stay true to the principles expressed in the Constitution. Democratic voters could elect representatives to discern their will, but only within the range of principles that superseded every whim.
Democracy without these careful underpinnings of law and limitation has proved to be an irrepressible device for the radical chic to subvert freedom in the name of popular democratic “support”. The greatest example of this was Herr Hitler, who flummoxed around as a young radical anarchist fronting a group of thugs known as the ‘brownshirts” in the 1920’s, until cleaning up his appearance and message to a sufficient number of the voting public to allow him into power to permanently install himself and eliminate all other factions. The inherently brilliant maneuver on his part, upon taking power, was the declaration of war and stamping out of his own “brownshirt” thug army that brought him to prominence, to assure the population that he would be ultimately a autocrat of societal order above anarchy. For order and economic stability the democratic tide would support him no matter the severity of his vitriol against those vulnerable who disagreed.
The American radical chic has their own democracy champion in Barrack Obama. The concept of deliberative action has little appeal to him. The power of democracy to achieve permanence for his vision of America has been the great attraction. The support of massive governmental takeover of healthcare in a bill termed ‘Obamacare’ was produced in a vote in which the majority voting block admitted freely they had never read the bill or really assessed its consequences. The immigration reform that seeks to assure a permanent democratic voting majority suggests its strength will be adherence to new laws when the very need for the so called reform was the government’s unwillingness to enforce the laws already on the books. The use of the IRS to intimidate and suppress the development of alternative opinions that would be put the inevitable march toward socialism at risk. All are the usual weapons of intolerant majority rule to assure the eventual coalescence of power in the hands of a powerful few “true believers”.
Egypt has long been heading toward the rocks of failed statehood because like so many other states that have substituted the elixir of democracy for the hard work of building the institutions that protect freedom, the end is a detached populous with nothing to believe in, or hope in. Hope does not come though change, as expressed in the nonsense of the radical chic. Change without principles and institutional protections and careful vetting, are as ephemeral as rain in the desert. The next change simply brings more waywardness and drift. President Bush declared freedom was an unalienable right of all men, and all men desired most of all the capacity for liberty. Liberty and freedom, however, are not the same as immature democratic rule, and the confusions of Iraq, Iran, the Arab Spring and Egypt show how complicated the actual relationship of such at times contradictory forces can be. For the radicals of the planet, radicalism has never been about the reality, but about the predetermined outcome, and democracy without the rule of law and institutional maturity is an unsavory mistress indeed. Even in the land of the free, and the home of the brave.