What They Deserve: A Response to "The Warlords of Democracy"
If people, as the old saying goes, get the government they deserve, then it
explains the failings of some new democracies
By Gord Gekko
posted November 1996
Microsofts Slate magazine published an article a few months ago
by Paul Goble, Assistant Director for Broadcasting at Radio Free Europe.
"The Warlords of Democracy" argued quite correctly that the
democracies that came about after the fall of various Communist governments
are having a difficult time because of various factors, including the
reemergence of ethnic tensions, adjustment to capitalist economies,
old geopolitical rivalries (Moscow-Berlin being given as the sole example),
and the rise of nationalistic leaders.
Among the other various reasons that someone could think of, the main
ones that occur to many are the fact that many of these countries have
been historically collectivist through much of this century, and because
of this, the people of these nations have relied on government for many
things. Old habits also die hard, and these countries are continuing to
spend much more money than they raise perhaps in an effort to keep the
populations from revolting again. Finally, it may be the height of folly
to allow the men and women who rose through ranks of communist or other
totalitarian governments to run these democracies. Boris Yeltsin is the
most palatable of the Russian leaders, but his first response to the October
1993 attempted coup was to assault the parliament buildings.
I view those factors as symptoms, not the actual cause of the problem.
Democracy is undergoing a difficult time in many countries precisely because,
in our and their rush to promote the benefits of democracies, we forget
to tell the populations that they would need several important philosophical
tools to be able to make a go of freedom successfully. Without these philosophical
tools, these nations will fall back into some collectivist nightmare,
once again enslaving their citizens and threatening the world.
The populations of these countries must be educated about the free market.
In their clamor for political freedom, many activists forgot that the
market that a country has must also be free. Unused to the concepts of
private property and competition, capitalism is under attack by those
suffering under a bastardized version of it, and from governments who
are used to laying out money for public projects.
The populations of these countries must be taught that "Capitalism
is a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including
property rights, in which all property is privately owned." (Ayn
Rand, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal), that capitalism rewards
productive ability, that it banishes force from the domain of human interaction,
and that it gives people the right to disagree. In addition, capitalism
destroys those forces who are in opposition to freedom, and it rewards
those who act rationally. Capitalism is a moral system and must be presented
as such to those people.
The history of collectivism in these countries has also done much to destroy
the concept of the individual. Without the dominance of this creed, no
nation can hope to remain free. It is the collectivist ideals that are
the dangers in these nations. Witness people like Vladimir Zhirinovsky
and Aleksandr Lebed of Russia, the unholy trinity of Slobodan Milosevic,
Franjo Tudjman and Alija Izetbegovic of what used to be Yugoslavia, and
Levon A. Ter-Petrosyan of Armenia among others, promote a tribalistic
collectivism, one where all citizens are of uniform culture and creed.
Note also that all of these men, and their ilk, have employed or called
for force to further their aims.
Without respect for the individual, the cornerstone of any society, these
new democracies will fail and collapse back into chaos, as Yugoslavia
did. Society has no rights except those that the individual has. A group
of people has no new rights, only those that their individual members
enjoy. First and foremost, these nations must safeguard the individual
against any impeachment of their rights. These nations must recognize
that they cannot deny the concept of the individual and expect to be a
The troubled democracies in the world often had large collectivist governments
in the past and have carried that into their semi-democratic governments.
With an unnatural fondness for a government that did nearly everything
for them, including robbing them of their liberty, their populations clamor
for their government to continue to provide services at the expense of
These people must understand the proper role of government. Government
is instituted by people to protect their rights. The government does that
by protecting the citizenry against external threats by means of a military.
It protects citizens from internal aggression by means of a police force
and the judiciary. Finally, the government protects citizens during civil
disagreements with the judiciary. Anything else must be financed by voluntary
means, such as government lotteries, guarantees provided for contracts,
Outside of the guarantee of the protection of rights, government has no
function. While we would do well to implement it in our democracies, those
in support of freedom should urge those citizens to pass constitutional
amendments to insure that the government make no laws that infringe on
free trade and property rights. They should be urged not to rely on government,
but instead themselves. The fostering of a small-government mindset is
vital. Government is a barely necessary evil, one that if it grows too
elephantine inevitably infringes on its citizens rights, and therefore
must be kept as limited as possible.
Goble also makes the assertion that it is the democratic countries that
are sometimes the most warlike, but astonishingly fails to provide any
examples. He is correct though, when he states that democracies are sometimes
less willing to fight "until the last man", making some conflicts
more violent than usual.
As Rand points out in her 1966 essay "The Roots of War" though,
"Statism needs war; a free country does not. Statism survives by
looting; a free country survives by production." A quick look through
the history of this century shows that democracies have almost never initiated
war without just cause. Since capitalism bans violence in its interaction,
it is the only system that is fundamentally opposed to war. Peoples
economic interests are not served by conflict since it inevitably costs
them the money to finance the war. Long term profit can only
be had in times of peace, and it must be noted that it is government that
starts wars, not the men and women of productive output.
Goble was right, democracy does celebrate ourselves. It celebrates peace
and the intellect. "Our conviction reflects a widespread belief that
the people are basically good and pacific, while governments are fundamentally
suspect and aggressive." Individuals cannot start wars and regulate
economies, only governments can. Individuals cannot destroy the concept
of rights, but governments can and are doing so. The new and unstable
democracies of the world can only survive by understanding that their
long term prosperity will come only when they institute a true free society,
one where individuals are free to pursue their interests. One where governments
role is reduced to only that which is necessary. One where people have
the philosophical tools to understand that they alone are responsible
for their prosperity
Admittedly it is a hard sell. Today we hear people in Russia call for
a return to Stalin-style communism because of the uncertainties of transition.
We saw hundreds of thousands slaughtered in what was Yugoslavia. We see
democracys teetering on the edge of statist, nationalistic and collectivist
precipices with the ambivalent support of their populaces. The idea that
we can make world safe for democracy is illusory at best. It was attempted
in both world wars with laughable results. What the stable democracies
of the world can do is promote the idea of peace, freedom and prosperity
through democracy by action. Democracy flowered in Eastern Europe because
we provided the model for success. While successive leaders raped their
countries to preserve the appearance of strength, we produced our strength
through freedom. While they starved their populations to drag their countries
forward into what was barely modern, we acted and it was done. They looted
from the weaker while we continued to produce. Perhaps there is no better
way to promote democracy and freedom
by simply being what we are.
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