The modern desire for democracy and self-rule is largely a reaction against a history of oppression and exploitation following military conquest and imposed rule. World history is predominantly shaped by conquerors, yet most people desire to live their own lives and not serve as a means to someone else’s ends. While self-rule requires the overthrow of imposed rule, it is more difficult than the mere overthrow of a regime and the declaration of freedom and of rule of law. Self-rule requires self-discipline and the willingness to use force, when necessary, against foreign aggression and civil violence.
The end of colonialism and the collapse of the world’s superpowers has left a power vacuum in which much of the world initially had great hopes of freedom and self-rule, but has continually suffered anarchy as warlords, gangs, pirates, and other criminals have seized power by force or through terror. In the developed world, state bureaucracies have often been hijacked and government funds looted for special interests. Preventing the usurpation of power by criminal elements in a post-military world is a serious challenge to peace.
International peacekeeping efforts have been a poor substitute for self-rule. First of all, international troops are often seen as another form of foreign occupation. Secondly, such troops are less likely to be willing to sacrifice themselves for others, as was the case in Rwanda when peacekeepers fled and genocide ensued. Finally, foreign occupations suffer from the lack of regime legitimacy. However, the lack of domestic regime legitimacy is often the reason foreign peacekeepers are sent in the first place.
Our lead article by Waheed Khan drives home the point that political legitimacy is more important than political structure. What people most expect from a political regime is the protection that enables them to conduct their lives without fear of violence and theft. Aristotle referred to the “good king” as a desirable form of government, because good kings actually provided that security in which people could live in peace and pursue their own happiness. While democracy refers to self-rule and is everywhere being sought, he makes the point that legitimacy is more fundamental than democracy. Modern attempts by the United States and the United Nations to impose more democratic forms of government and free elections often fail because the bases of political legitimacy are absent. Regime legitimacy requires both a horizontal dimension—cultural cohesion—and a vertical dimension—trust in the regime.
While Khan’s article focuses on new states and nation-building after war and conflict, I urge readers to also consider his thesis in relation to the modern bureaucratic state. In larger countries, or empires, where cultural cohesion is not unified, can the regime involve itself in the minutiae of cultural decisions related to health care, education, and family planning? Cultural homogeneity may allow such decisions to be viewed as legitimate in countries like Japan or Norway. But in the Ancient Roman Empire, or in modern governments that cover large territories like China, the Russian Federation, the United States, or the European Union, pluralism and relative autonomy of political sub-units is necessary for social stability. However, pluralism is only considered legitimate when it creates a general environment of justice and security and allows families and communities to address the specifics of cultural issues like marriage, abortion, or care for the aged. In the absence of such devolution of power, states are delegitimized and either a police state or anarchy is likely to ensue.
Our second article by Anne Marie Baylouny discusses the fragmentation and anarchy that has developed in the Palestinian West Bank as a result of the Olso Accords that increased borders and decreased mobility. Rather than reducing violence, these changes led to increased and more decentralized violence by increasingly frustrated and independent local groups, or gangs, that arise when the citizens are unable to create self-rule and succumb to intimidation.
The short article by Richard Lappin on “Peacebuilding and the Promise of Transdisciplinarity” hints at the challenges of creating a post-colonial culture that incorporates the values generated by many disciplines and social institutions, rather than relying on the values and approaches generated by the single discipline or institution in which we are trained. “Leadership,” he claims, “needs to harness the promise of transdisciplinarity.” Yet he wonders whether modern leaders can escape the prejudices of their original disciplines. Perhaps culture has to evolve greater integral wholeness before leaders can escape from the prisons of their disciplinary and institutional lenses.
The article on “Children and War in Africa” by Margaret Angucia, and the commentary on “Combating Torture in Africa” by Gima Forje point out the depths of inhumanity that can be perpetrated in the climate of post-colonial anarchy, and grapple with ways that a civil society can stand up to it. It has been ten years since we published “Child Soldiers in Africa” by the late Elliott P. Skinner (June, 1999) and children and women continue to be the victims of anarchy.
In the absence of a generally unified national culture, created “from below” with self-sufficient citizens as was the case following the colonial rule in the Netherlands and the United States, the fear of social anarchy leads to the reluctant acceptance of military rule as a “lesser evil”—or even as a more legitimate system than democracy. Maintaining a genuine democracy or republic requires a citizenry prepared to use force against warlords, gangs, and corrupt governments for the sake of justice and righteousness. The traditional virtues of discipline, courage, honor, and patriotism have to be bred into every citizen.
When asked by a lady upon exiting the Constitutional Convention whether they had created a republic or a monarchy, Benjamin Franklin is reported to have said, “A republic, Ma’am, if you can keep it.” Unlike the prevailing culture at the time of Dutch or American independence, modern liberal culture and education tend to emphasize the softer virtues of love, harmony, and self-esteem, and downplay the traditional virtues of discipline, courage, and honor necessary for maintaining a democratic social order. As such, the modern liberal culture itself undermines the basis of democracy and allows for the rise of a bureaucratic class, which Michael Voslensky termed Nomenklatura.
In his book, Bureaucracy, Ludwig von Mises wrote that once citizens declare that political and economic problems can only be solved by experts, they have relinquished their sovereignty to the bureaucracy. Democracy means self-determination by citizens, not a bureaucracy. Citizen complacency undermines democracy and leads to rule by an elite government class.
Gordon L. Anderson