Ben Sutherland at Building a Better World harbored a suspicion that Charles Krauthammer is a prick. He seems to be open to the idea that Chucky-K isn't all bad, though. He thinks a recent Krauthammer piece discussing the "Crooked Road to Democracy" many nations must walk is a fine example of quality thought.
Ben is right to find Krauthammer's position refreshing in that it represents a deviation from the standard strain of conservative thought in an era where walking the decidedly simple party line is all too common for those who have (and shape) opinions.
If you didn't read the CK article, it boils down thusly...
The oft-expressed belief that economic liberalization will inevitably produce nations with more western forms of democratic government is a pile of hooey. Economic liberalization does improve the odds of democratization and it may even be a prerequisite, but it doesn't equate to the quick creation of a fully functioning representative system of government as we understand it. In the big picture, though, we do want other nations to be democratic (for their good and ours), we'll just have to find a way to accept the fact that the road to d-town may be long, twisted, and populated by factionalized forms of tribal representation and powerful warlords.
Ben correctly recognizes that most conservative observers would bend over backwards to avoid admitting that democratic shifts can be ugly and stupid. The Glorious Bush Doctrine of Conversion to Democracy contains vague discussions about things "taking a long time" but avoids the nuts and bolts of Palestinians electing the bad guys and Afghani warlords filling power vacuums. Your standard-issue right-wing columnist wouldn't be so ready to admit that the path to democracy may look more like the Burma road than I-70. To his credit, Krauthammer 'fesses up a little bit.
That's a good thing, but it isn't enough for me to hop on the CK bandwagon. The Krauthammer Compromise embodied in "Crooked Road to Democracy" is interesting. He's basically conceding a number of strong arguments against democratization policy while still clinging to its outer wrapper--the underlying argument that democracy is both necessary and possible. He manages to do this by redefining "democracy".
Instead of our usual vision of orderly elections and constitutional structures, Krauthammer compromises by finding evidence of nascent democratization in situations most of us would describe as tribal or chaotic. He then chooses to interpret these situations as rest stops on the road to democracy.
It's like he knows the evidence points to a conclusion far different than most of his idealogical cohorts, but that he must somehow shove the democratization square peg into reality's round hole (no, not that hole). He's ready to confront reality, but only to the extent that it will continue to fit a pro-democratization worldview. The Krauthammer Compromise is a step in the right direction, but I think it falls a bit short.
It may or may not be better to encourage economic liberalization and the replacement of despotic top-down rule with alternative structures (or lack thereof). I have no gripe with that. Democracy, as we tend to understand it, might also be a good thing. However, I don't believe the evidence suggests any strong likelihood of western-style democracy working in the world's more troubled regions. We may need to embrace a real compromise that goes beyond CK's analysis. It may be time to drop the democracy rhetoric in favor of a more realistic approach.
Ben does make an argument in response to the article with which I agree 100%. Our best bet for fostering non-oppressive and open societies (a lofty, but totally cool goal) is to live up to our own hype. He writes, "And we need our behavior, including our talk and thinking, to live up to our liberal ideals." Absolutely. At home and away.
Another thought occurred to me when reading the first few paragraphs of Krauthammer's article. He takes a moment to diss the Bhutto clan for its approach to democracy as a birthright.
He argues, "Democracy was meant to be the antithesis of feudalism. Popular sovereignty was to supplant divine right; free elections to supplant dynastic succession (a progression Americans have not completely mastered either)."
Now, if he was saying that sort of thing when Bush II was running (or re-running for a second term), that's one thing. If this criticism is only wheeled out when Hillary is on the prowl, you have to wonder if he's as smart and as willing to explore intellectual terrain as Ben now thinks. Comments like that make CK look like the kind of "snotty and vindictive prick" who's rubbed Ben the wrong way in the past.
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