Monday, 3 March 2003

Managed democracy versus the swinging pendulum

At the end of Special Report with Brit Hume this afternoon, Brit had the usual roundtable of talking heads (or at least two-thirds thereof): Morton Kondracke, Fred Barnes, and a woman from NPR whom I'd never laid eyes on before and whose name completely escapes me (apparently filling in for the third white guy who normally sits there). The contrast in the level of cooperation the U.S. has received from Turkey and Pakistan was on prominent display, and the panel largely attributed this difference to the fact that Turkey is a democracy while Pakistan isn't.

At some level, this is a gross simplification, at least in the Turkish case. While Turkey does have a popularly-elected government, the self-appointed guarantors of republicanism and secularism in the National Security Council and Constitutional Court keep Turkish democracy on something of a tight leash, not unlike the control of the Iranian majlis by its Assembly of Experts, albeit to much different ends. Yet clearly Turkey is moving in the direction of consolidating democracy, while Pakistan's situation is much more murky, having lurched back and forth between democracy and dictatorship since partition from India (and through the secession of Bangladesh). While modern Turkey has seen its authoritarian excesses, they pale in comparison to Pakistan's. On the other hand, the secularist impulses of the Turkish guardians often are excessive: notably, their obsession with headscarves, their requirement of Islamist parties to disavow Islam, and the seemingly arbitrary bans on popular political leaders.

So, one might ask: is managed democracy a viable system? More to the point, is it democratic? Even the “best” democracies have relatively unaccountable bodies that sometimes interfere with the will of popular representatives; the United States Supreme Court, Germany's Constitutional Court, and Britain's Law Lords to name just a few. How different is Turkey's National Security Council? Is it better to have Turkish-style stability or Pakistani intermittent democracy?

I'm not sure there are right answers to these questions, but they ought to weigh heavily on us in deciding how post-war Iraq will be governed. Do we go for the full Madison or Bagehot, and risk collapse in the medium to long term? Or do we settle for Ataturkism, and hope it eventually evolves into something better?

Saturday, 8 March 2003

Turkish managed democracy

Colby Cosh considers the same question I considered here: is a transition to full-blown liberal democracy likely to produce a stable regime. He concludes:

If it takes an army to protect my most basic liberties, I'm comfortable with that, irrespective of what the rabble thinks. Would majoritarian democracy, free of army constraints, be the best thing for Turkey? Don't ask me: I'm not a Turk. I don't think there's much question about whether it would be good for Europe (no) or for international order generally (nope).

In a more general vein, Daniel Drezner discusses “illiberal democracy” worldwide, talking about The Economist's review of Fareed Zakaria's The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad.

I can't add much to either account, although I will say that generally upholding the rule of law is much more important to preserving liberty than the mechanisms of democracy. One of the sure signs of erosion of liberty in Hong Kong has been the gradual increase in arbitrary meddling from Beijing, while the undemocratic nature of the SAR government has had relatively little to do with it (for even in a democratic Hong Kong, there would still be plenty of levers for Communist Party meddling from outside the SAR).