Monday, April 04, 2005

A Note To All Aspiring Democrats

Like 1789, 1848, 1945, and 1989, we are once again in an age of Democratic Revolution. In the struggle between interests groups to establish democratic government, the question of exactly how the United States survived as a democracy may come to people's minds.

One thing that stands out is that Americans of all sorts possessed the capacity for self-government. The hardy pioneers of Old West did not flee older settlements to escape the law, but, as the example of the State of Franklin (absorbed into Tennasee) shows, quickly established their own democratic institutions. For Colonial Americans, then, the method of governance was a matter of great import to almost everyone. Yet the colonists themselves were an incredibly diverse lot.

When the Mayflower arrived at a land far north of its Charter and some hot-heads announced they would leave the ship and rule themselves, their leaders responded by drawing up The Mayflower Compact establishing self-government, which almost all adult males signed and obeyed.

When the split with Britain became inevitable, America's leaders drafted and signed our Declaration of Independence. This was an unprecedented act of defiance and revolt of their lawful sovereign. Those who signed it were specially hunted by British forces during the Revolutionary War -- their only fate could be the gibbet and disembowlment, or a dispiriting reaffirmation of their allegiance to George III. Yet not one signer of the declaration ever betrayed it (although for their personal safety, the identities of some of the signers were not immediately made public.)

What made the institutions established by these documents stick? The Mayflower Compact opens with the words, "In the name of God". The Declaration of Independence invokes "God" and the "Creator" in its preamble, and ends with the stirring words, "with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."

That's it, then. "God" -- these are holy documents to the signers. They pledged their "Honor", and they did so without mental reservation. To these men, then, any violation of these documents would be a violation of their pledge to G-d as well as their fellow man.

In my opinion, aspiring democrats would do well to consider such matters when choosing leaders and drafting their own constitutions. When I told my importunant Saudi interlocutor that the U.S. did not repond to 9/11 by "invading" Saudi Arabia because that doing so would "murder our honor", this is what I meant. I cannot be as certain that leaders of democracies established upon other principles would feel the same way, whether considering themselves or the fates of other nations.

Update 4/7/05

"I swear by God the great that I will work with devotion to preserve the independence and sovereignty of Iraq and to preserve its democratic and federal system," Talabani said as he was sworn in.

Seems like Iraq is off to a fine start!

No comments: