Sunday, February 05, 2006

The rhetoric of democracy

"A fart has no nose." Bertolt Brecht

I was listening to some Leonard Cohen the other night and it occurred to me for the first time that he was far too much of an optimist. Democracy isn't what's coming to or from the USA.

Nonetheless, Bush's apparent advocacy of democracy, his constant use of the term to describe what his regime is promulgating across the globe, however insincere and at odds with reality that description might be, is likely to have one effect that is real enough. He might well be undermining the legitimacy of democracy as a political ideal, reversing a centuries long trend.

The constant association of the rhetoric of democracy with torture, preemptive war, secret prisons, and imperial expansion threatens to poison the word itself, just as the neo-conservative advocacy of "humanitarian" intervention in the interests of empire has rendered the term humanitarian itself suspicious.

Even the free market fundamentalists over at the Economist recognize this to some degree,
One reason people on the left object to Mr Bush's "freedom agenda" is that they see it as a veil for something else: an American policy of stomping about the world deposing unfriendly regimes at will.
And now the punchline.
If such a policy existed, it would be wrong.
But it is not just "the left" that sees it this way. This is no minority view. It is how the vast majority of the world's population sees Bush's agenda. And rightly so.

While it may be true that "in neither [Afghanistanan nor Iraq] was spreading democracy his principal motive, given or real," at least originally, it is how Bush and his minions now almost invariably describe what he is intent on accomplishing there. And names have consequences.

The final note of the Economist article just serves to highlight how little they are in touch with the problem.
But whatever else people think of Mr Bush, on this one thing, the universal potential and appeal of the democratic idea, he is on the side of history.
Of course the unnoticed irony here is that Bush has done nothing to enhance the appeal of the democratic ideal. Quite the opposite in fact.

Back to you, Mr. Brecht.


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