Saturday, August 20, 2005


Bay on Democracy

COL Austin Bay is making quite a name for himself. His analysis is first rate, his writing crisp, and he brings a depth of experience to matters military and political.

In a post up at both Tech Central Station and Strategy Page (and his own blog as well), COL Bay reports that he’s reading Paul Woodruff's book, "First Democracy: The Challenge of an Ancient Idea" (Oxford Press). COL Bay summarizes the premise of Woodruff’s book, that “controversy and danger are innate characteristics of democracy.”

Woodruff makes some pretty remarkable statements that at first read sound almost heretical. "If it is not controversial, it is not about democracy," Woodruff writes. "If it is not dangerous, if it does not ask us to consider changes that frighten the establishment, it is not about democracy.”

Much has been made by opponents to the War in Iraq about whether we can help create democracy in Iraq (some might argue that’s already been achieved), and if achieved, what kind of democracy we think we’ll end up with.

First off, we won’t end up with whatever gets created there, Iraqis will. The world may experience the after-effects, but as we’ve already seen in Lebanon, there is much reason to remain optimistic that the effects can be positive. A more important point is that democracy, true democracy, has certain qualities that almost inevitably improve the chances a country will be a good world citizen and regional neighbor.

As related by COL Bay, Woodruff posits "seven ideas" that a Democracy will try to express:
-- freedom from tyranny;
-- "harmony";
-- the rule of law;
-- natural equality;
-- citizen wisdom;
-- "reasoning without knowledge";
-- general education.
Woodruff’s book contains a chapter each to these ideas. When Woodruff uses the term “harmony,” he means to suggest “wanting together” or sharing common desires. “Natural equality relates to the idea that all citizens share governance regardless of status or stature. As COL Bay relates, Woodruff says Athenians taught that "reasoning without knowledge depends on working out what is most reasonable to believe. What is most reasonable to believe is the view which best survives adversary debate ..."

COL Bay properly highlights the important insights contained in this book, and upon his recommendation I intend to read it.

Needless to say, there isn’t much of a basis for ideas 2 through 7 if you can’t achieve idea number one: Freedom from Tyranny.

If the new government in Iraq exhibits and celebrates these ideas, then regardless of the level of residual violence, we will have achieved some very important goals for Iraq, and by so doing, further advance the cause of Democracy and “democratic ideas” in a world desperately seeking them.

Links: Basil's Blog

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