Rule of Law

Old Blog Import

In this NY Review of Books article, Tony Judt trashes a bunch of foreign policy pundits” who all think that they have some magic formula to describe the new state of the world. His only praise is reserved for a new book by Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria, about whom I’ve blogged more than once.

… as Fareed Zakaria argues in a new book, the protean qualities of democracy can be misleading. In much of the world, democracy is often the direct heir to authoritarian dictatorship and a substitute for good government. We are all familiar with the late, unlamented people’s democracies,” but even in more genuine democracies the spurious legitimacy of public elections frequently obscures infirm and corrupt institutions. The source of Western success and the basis for both free markets and international peace, Zakaria suggests, had been the distinctive tradition of representative government, protected civil freedoms, and public law that originated in northwest Europe (specifically Britain), before migrating across the Atlantic. Democratic voting rights and free elections flow from these blessings; they do not necessarily bring them in their wake. The Western model of government’ is best symbolized not by the mass plebiscite but the impartial judge.”

I believe this is an important point to keep in mind as we attempt to bomb Iraq into being a democracy. It doesn’t work like that. Although I’m not so naive as to believe that the Administration’s motives are as noble as they claim, I do think that it is a worthwhile exercise to take them at their word and to see what it would mean to bring democracy to the region. This can be criticized on three levels:

  1. The really stupid domino theory that democracy in Iraq will bring democracy to the rest of the region (wasn’t Israel supposed to do that a long time ago?)

  2. The administration’s neglect of Afghanistan.

And (3) The administration’s attempts to undermine the rule of law both internationally, and at home.

On a more upbeat note, however, it is nice to see that rule of law hasn’t totally deteriorated in the U.S.:

U.S. District Judge Michael B. Mukasey ruled again this week that suspected dirty bomber” Jose Padilla shall be granted access to an attorney, and he invoked philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889 — 1951) to explain a defect in the Justice Department’s argument to the contrary.

As one commentator explained:

Judge Mukasey took Rumsfeld et al to task for their cynical application of philosophical skepticism to circumvent the application of Padilla’s civil rights. Basically he’s telling them their half-baked argument has been considered and rejected by far greater minds than theirs.