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Promoting Democracy vs. Promoting Human Rights:

The recently published annual State Department report on human rights notes that "democracy does not guarantee what President Bush has called a commitment to 'the non-negotiable demands of human dignity.'" It cites Russia and Venezuela as nations with democratically elected governments that violate basic human rights. Obviously, the case of the Afghan who may be executed by that nation's elected government for converting to Christianity raises the same issue. So too does the victory of the terrorist group Hamas in the recent Palestinian election. In these and other cases, democracy might conflict with other liberal values, including human rights, equality for women and minority groups, and the rule of law.

The Bush administration has focused on promoting democracy in the Muslim world, but has not given anything approaching equal attention to the cause of promoting liberal values more generally - especially in instances where doing so means constraining the powers of nascent democratic governments such as that in Afghanistan. Yet, ultimately, liberalism is at least as important to both US interests and those of Muslims themselves as democracy is. An illiberal democratically elected government may be just as likely to oppress its people and support terrorism as a dictatorship or oligarchy. And, as numerous historical examples suggest, such governments are unlikely to allow free elections in the future, especially if there is a chance that they might lose. It would be a shame if the Bush Administration succeeded only in establishing a series of "one man, one vote, one time" experiments.

I will have more to say about these issues in later posts. For now, I will note only that successful US democracy-promotion efforts in the past have usually involved extensive attention to promoting liberalism BEFORE the establishment of democratic governments. For example, Germany was not allowed to have an elected government until 1949 (4 years after WWII), and Japan not until 1951. In both cases, US occupation authorities first made sure to institutionalize liberal values and human rights, and ensured that the powers of the new government were subject to major limitations. I would not suggest that the reconstruction of Iraq and Afghanistan should follow these historical precedents in exact detail. But I do think that US policy in these countries and elsewhere should focus more on promoting liberal values more generally and less on democracy, narrowly defined.

UPDATE: As Eugene points out in his post below, the Afghan government has now dropped the charges against Abdul Rahman, the convert to Christianity who might have been executed for "apostasy." I don't think this affects my main point, as the government continues to claim the right to execute other converts from Islam in the future, and (as Eugene also notes), such executions apparently have broad support in Afghan society.

Glenn Bridgman (mail):
"institutionalize liberal values"

You make it sound so easy. Liberal values are a "thick" concept, so institutionalizing them at will is a dubious proposition. Additionally, there is a slight difference between encouraging "respect for human dignity" in germany--home of Kant--and doing so in the middle east, which has a completely different cultural heritage.
3.27.2006 5:53pm
Midgely:
I'm not really sure if Bush has spent dramatically less time focusing on human rights than on promoting democracy. It's just that Bush can to some small degree insist on democracy with bombs (and the limited power to rebuild a country afterwards). Human rights questions are just harder, require more internal meddling, and, if the rights are to be genuine and substantive, are probably more difficult to graft onto a country than the rather shallow democratic values we've inculcated so far. I think Bush talks about human rights a lot, as the State Dept report acknowledges.
3.27.2006 5:53pm
Allen Asch (mail) (www):
I wholeheartedly agree that "liberalism is at least as important to both US interests and those of Muslims themselves as democracy is." One problem with promoting this truth, however, is that "liberal" and "liberalism" have become dirty words in the US. Somehow Americans run away from "liberalism," even though if you look it up in the dictionary you find, among other things, that it means:

"a political philosophy based on belief in progress, the essential goodness of the human race, and the autonomy of the individual and standing for the protection of political and civil liberties."

Of course, the Bush Administration, has expended some effort making concerns about civil liberties themselves seem dirty too (for one recent example, see the testimony of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that questioning the NSA's warrantless wiretaps of Americans' international communications leaves terrorists "smiling at the prospect that we might now disclose even more or perhaps even unilaterally disarm ourselves of a key tool in the war on terror").

In Prof. Somin's example of post-WW II Japan, the Truman Administration had a somewhat different attitude. In 1947, President Harry Truman and General Douglas MacArthur arranged for the head of the ACLU, Roger Baldwin, to serve as a civil liberties consultant in Japan. See, e.g., this link.

Can anyone imagine the Bush Administration asking ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero or ACLU President Nadine Strossen to help with civil liberties in Iraq?

Allen Asch
3.27.2006 5:58pm
Pendulum (mail):
Judging by this post, I'll be very glad to have Prof. Somin aboard the good ship Volokh!

That tension can exist between 'procedural democracy' and liberalism seems to be widely understood by political scientists and laypeople - what a shame that the Bush administration has somehow managed to bungle the distinction between the two.

The fundamental characteristic of liberal society is not elections, but protection of human rights, and by extension, protection of minorities against majorities.

Considering that it took 100 years for us to abolish slavery and 150 years to grant women representation, it seems insane to expect Iraq to achieve this in anything less than a generation.

But, before the war, apparently only myself and my fellow unpatriotic, pro-Saddam, blame-America-first secular Hollywood liberals bothered to even raise these issues.
3.27.2006 5:59pm
Tom952 (mail):
The basic concept so obvious to us - "I'll allow you some freedom if you will do the same for me." just doesn't resonate over there.

I wonder sometimes if they are addicted to adrenaline.
3.27.2006 6:21pm
Humble Law Student:
Bush may be falling for "democracy" in the same way he let the debate over Iraq center primarily on WMD. Democracy is a word/symbol that everyone can rally around. It isn't complicated (relatively)- just have free elections. However, Constitutional liberalism in the words of Fareed Zakaria is much more complex and nuanced. Just as Bush didn't bother much to explain the plethora of reasons (many much better than WMD, but that is a debate for another day) for attacking Iraq, he unfortunately focuses far too much on elections as the cure for all evils. In the process, he pays short thrift to the elements that make democracy meaningful. Let's hope his focus on "democracy" doesn't follow the legacy of his focus on WMD.
3.27.2006 6:41pm
Cabbage:
"Let's hope his focus on "democracy" doesn't follow the legacy of his focus on WMD."

Correct, but gleefully undermined by American liberals?
3.27.2006 6:47pm
Christopher C (mail):
Democracy means majority rule, in most countries. Liberalism means respect for the rights of the minority ethnic or religious groups and/or for those who are otherwise without political power (e.g., women, in many parts of the world).

Bush is discovering that a democratically-elected government may not be "liberal" with regard human rights--how shocking.

I find it particularly ironic that Muslim democratic governments are now being criticized for a lack of liberalism and for ignoring supposedly universally shared concepts of liberalism, such as freedom of religion and the equality of women. These concepts are embodied in international law only in such documents as the United Nation's Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man, and in other aspects of customary international law that political and legal conservatives in the US say that American courts should ignore in construing their own standards of conduct. So, liberalism for Afghanistan, but not for the US, at least not when it goes against a conservative political agenda. This reminds of how unfaithful all supposed adherents to federalism were in the Bush v. Gore case, but I digress.
3.27.2006 7:35pm
SenatorX (mail):
Great blog. I look forward to more on the same thread! Particularly as to historical methods of instilling liberalism in foreign countries. Oh yeah, and how about THIS country?
3.27.2006 7:39pm
David Timothy Beito (mail) (www):
While I am glad that some VC bloggers are finally recognizing (as antiwar libertarians have long noted), that Bush's democratizing policy often leads to illiberalism, the hyper Wilsonianism recommended by Somin strikes me as a dead end. If actually carried out, it would increase several fold the chances of failure and negative unintended consquences.

Under the older more modest Wilsonian view rejected by Somin, the potential for blowback was a bit more contained. It was largely a matter of providing for elections and then standing back and letting the people (who were presumed to liberty loving) take charge. Under the hyper Wilsonian agenda Somin embracs, the American taxpayers and military will be obligated to undertake to endless "micro-interventions" (such as in the Rahman case) to make sure that these new democracies do not stray from human rights. Essentially, hyper Wilsonianism makes us global cop squared, or, more accurately, global micro-manager squared.

Perhaps this is a good time for VC bloggers to rediscover the virtues of the libertarian non-interventionist foreign policy approach many of them once supported. With the Hamas victory, the Rahman case, and other examples, the hyper or micro Wilsonianism recommended by Somin seems much less realistic.
3.27.2006 7:43pm
bluecollarguy:
Four years ago Abdur Rahman would have had his head cut off in the town square absent any "trial" at all. All the young girls who now attend school but didn't then and all the women who can cast a vote now but didn't then would have been compelled to observe the beheading.

But what the heck, blaming Bush for all the woes of the world and the absence of Jeffersonian democracy in the former hellhole known as Afghanistan is par for todays course.
3.27.2006 7:46pm
Luke R. (mail) (www):

Four years ago Abdur Rahman would have had his head cut off in the town square absent any "trial" at all. All the young girls who now attend school but didn't then and all the women who can cast a vote now but didn't then would have been compelled to observe the beheading.

Way to completely miss the point. Abdur Rahman had a trial, yes, because we have successfully imposed the procedures of democracy onto Afghanistan. This thread is about the content of those procedures, which is woefully illiberal, and terminates in the same outcome "beheading". Abdul Rahman benefitted in this case from heavy and widespread international pressure on top of pressure from the U.S., not from the presence of procedural democracy in his country.

But what the heck, blaming Bush for all the woes of the world and the absence of Jeffersonian democracy in the former hellhole known as Afghanistan is par for todays course.

No one is 'blaming Bush' for the fact that Western liberal values are difficult to instill in non-Western, illiberal cultures. We are noting that it is (and was) widely recognized that Afghanistan and Iraq would run into this problem, and that when this was pointed out, said pointer-outers were dismissed as unpatriotic terrorist-lovers. Does that help?
3.27.2006 8:14pm
Josh_Jasper (mail):
Gee, perhaps if we hadn't been so busy screwing up Iraq, we'd have a better shot at stopping Afghanistan from devolving into a nation run by fanatical theocratic thugs.

Now, of course, Iraq stands a good chance of being run by *different* fantical theocratic thugs (Al Sadr and the millitias) too! Hey, we just need to invade Iran and screw that up, and we've got a trifecta!

You're doing a heck of a job, Bushie!
3.27.2006 8:42pm
Josh_Jasper (mail):
Is this upsetting you? Why? People are being executed all around the damn world because of arbitrary governmenal policy, some religious, some not. What's so special about this one guy? Wha't so special about this one situation? You think this is unique? It's not. It's not even unique to Islam.

Get a grip.
3.27.2006 8:45pm
Randall:
An interesting post. One major difference between our current project in the Middle East and the situation at the end of WWII is that society today is less willing to "impose" and even push the liberal values that we take for granted in Western society. After conquering Iraq the never ending criticisms and accusations of American imperial designs did not allow Bush to take 4 years (or longer as is probably required in the ME) to teach liberalism.

Bush had no choice but to accelerate the process of installing a democracy to quiet his many critics. This is not to say that everything his critics have claimed is wrong, but we need to recognize that a "go slow" approach is just not politically possible today.

As to asking the ACLU to "help" the administration in Iraq -- does anyone honestly think the ACLU would be a good faith partner with this administration? Both sides need to be willing to work together for a common cause -- something I don't see much of on the left these days.
3.27.2006 8:47pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail):
Josh, they sell some very good herbal teas over the counter now - calm you right down.
3.27.2006 8:51pm
Glenn Bridgman (mail):
"One major difference between our current project in the Middle East and the situation at the end of WWII is that society today is less willing to "impose" and even push the liberal values that we take for granted in Western society."

This is simply ridiculously untrue. I'm incredulous that anyone with even the faintest sense of history could believe this. Seriously.
3.27.2006 9:37pm
Elais:
http://volokh.com/posts/1143498871.shtml#
Block QuoteAs to asking the ACLU to "help" the administration in Iraq — does anyone honestly think the ACLU would be a good faith partner with this administration? Both sides need to be willing to work together for a common cause — something I don't see much of on the left these days.




Has Bush or the right fallen all over themselves looking to work with the ACLU? Has the right made any genuine effort to reach out to the ACLU?
3.27.2006 9:49pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Well, when our own government believes in arbitrary detention, rejects habeas corpus, claims that they don't torture but has so narrowly defined torture that the word has no meaning and is willing to violate the basic human rights of its own citizens, we aren't going to have much success in convincing other countries to respect human rights.
3.27.2006 10:07pm
Anonymous Koward:
Can anyone imagine the Bush Administration asking ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero or ACLU President Nadine Strossen to help with civil liberties in Iraq?


Can somebody please explain how to determine whether a right is or is not a fundemental civil liberty?

Looking at the right-hand column of the ACLU's main web page, they mention rights for the disabled, those afflicted with AIDS, immigrants, gays and lesbians, prisoners, racial groups, reproducers, the poor, women, and youth. Are different rights -- or civil liberties -- parceled out depending on group membership?

All I know is that they don't use the U.S. Constitution as a guide.


Putting all that aside, I don't want to dwell on constitutional analysis, because our view has never been that civil liberties are necessarily coextensive with constitutional rights. Conversely, I guess the fact that something is mentioned in the Constitution doesn't necessarily mean that it is a fundamental civil liberty."
Nadine Strossen
President of the ACLU
"Life, Liberty, and the ACLU"
Reason. October 1994.


Iraq may very well need an Iraqi Civil Liberties Union. But then, this country needs an American Civil Liberties Union. It's just too bad that we don't have one.
3.27.2006 10:24pm
Defending the Indefensible:
The difference with Germany and Japan versus Iraq and Afghanistan is that in the post-WWII period, their former governments had initiated hostilities and been conquered in a declared war, after which they had surrendered without condition, thus they were subjected to an occupation that was accepted by the people of those countries without much resistance. It was proper under the military administration then existing to establish the ground rules (constitutional frame of government) under which elections could subsequently be held.

In Afghanistan, we supported a faction of warlords (the Northern Alliance) in a civil war to topple a theocratic government (the Taliban); in Iraq, we toppled a dictator; but we had no subsequent legitimacy in the eyes of the people of either country or the world to occupy their territories. In both cases we were and are in no position to dictate terms to them, to demand particular constitutional provisions or laws to protect liberty and property, or to limit their democratic desires.
3.27.2006 10:36pm
Donald Kahn (mail):
I love people who moan about "100 years for us to abolish slavery." Us? What do you mean, "us"? No one alive today participated in slavery. The theory of relativity implies that a displacement in time is equivalent to a displacement in space. The people who condoned slavery might as well be on another planet. The best we can do today is to do as much justice as we can.

And as to Abdul Rahman: the next step is to get him out of Afghanistan. Otherwise I wouldn't bet a nickel on his chances of survival.
3.28.2006 1:56am
Allen Asch (mail) (www):
Anonymous Koward wrote:
Can somebody please explain how to determine whether a right is or is not a fundemental civil liberty?

Looking at the right-hand column of the ACLU's main web page, they mention rights for the disabled, those afflicted with AIDS, immigrants, gays and lesbians, prisoners, racial groups, reproducers, the poor, women, and youth. Are different rights -- or civil liberties -- parceled out depending on group membership?

All I know is that they don't use the U.S. Constitution as a guide.
Exactly wrong, Anonymous Koward. And, Nadine Strossen is exactly right. As the US Constitution itself tells you (see the Ninth Amendment), not every fundamental right is mentioned in the US Constitution. In addition, some rights mentioned in the US Constitution are not so fundamental.

Have you ever heard of the doctrine of selective incorporation? That's the process the US Supreme Court uses to decide which rights are so fundamental that they are "liberties" protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. Some of the rights the Supreme Court has found fundamental are not in the Bill of Rights (e.g. the right to travel, the right to privacy, the right to vote) and some of the rights in the Bill of Rights have never been found to be fundamental by the Supreme Court (e.g. the rights protected by the Second, Third, and Seventh Amendments, plus the right to a grand jury indictment in the Fifth Amendment).

Still, just because the Supreme Court hasn't accepted the Bill of Rights as an exact list of fundamental rights, that doesn't mean "they don't use the U.S. Constitution as a guide." Just the opposite, as the Supreme Court itself has noted, "the Court has looked increasingly to the Bill of Rights for guidance." Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145, 148 (1968).

As for "how to determine whether a right is or is not a fundemental [sic] civil liberty," that's not simple. While the Supreme Court has not given a single clear definition of a fundamental right, here are several different descriptions:

From the case at this link, Hebert v. Louisiana, 272 U.S. 312 (1926):

"the fundamental principles of liberty and justice which lie at the base of all our civil and political institutions and not infrequently are designated as 'law of the land.' Those principles are applicable alike in all the states, and do not depend upon or vary with local legislation. "

From the case at this link, Palko v. Connecticut, 302 U.S. 319 (1937):

"the very essence of a scheme of ordered liberty ... that freedom one may say that it is the matrix, the indispensable condition, of nearly every other form of freedom."

From the concurring opinion in the case at this link, Kovacs v. Cooper, 336 U.S. 77 (1949):

"those liberties of the individual which history has attested as the indispensable conditions of an open as against a closed society."

From the case at this link, Rochin v. California, 342 U.S. 165 (1952):

"based on a disinterested inquiry pursued in the spirit of science, on a balanced order of facts exactly and fairly stated, on the detached consideration of conflicting claims, on a judgment not ad hoc and episodic but duly mindful of reconciling the needs both of continuity and of change in a progressive society."

You may disagree with these opinions, but this Supreme Court doctrine arguably stretching to 1897 says that we determine which rights are fundamental not by their inclusion in the Bill of Rights, but by how well they fit the definitions above.

That's what I think Nadine Strossen meant when she said:

"our view has never been that civil liberties are necessarily coextensive with constitutional rights. Conversely, I guess the fact that something is mentioned in the Constitution doesn't necessarily mean that it is a fundamental civil liberty. So the question becomes, What is the civil-liberties argument of those who would say we should be opposing all gun control?"

For more discussion of your Nadine Strossen interview quote, see this link: ACLU President Nadine Strossen comments on the Second Amendment

Allen Asch
3.28.2006 5:31am
sbw (mail) (www):
From Second generation creations:

Both democracy and human rights are second generation creations. Typically they are discussed as if they were first generation creations and their justification and value are all the more slippery for it. Look at the polemics and the noise that invariably follows whenever the issues come up.

By "second generation" creations we mean that democracy and human rights are not the goals, but rather the results of thinking wisely and well. When personal experience is used to project possible futures the results invariably lead to two things:
1. a sense of humility because one's mental map of reality has proven flawed
2. an appreciation of others for the skills they can bring to intellectual effort
These are codified in democracy and human rights and need not be not mutually exclusive.

Unfortunately, when people argue for second generation creations, it's ineffective -- like pushing a rope -- but that won't stop people trying.

As a mind experiment, to order your own universe -- and that is all you are responsible for -- peel back your culture, religion, politics, and social habits to ask yourself when two people get together, what is expected of the relationship. Darned little, it turns out: First, appreciating that sometimes you think you are right when you are mistaken, you want to engage others in conversation. Second, you want others to treat you as you would treat them.

Now we are in a position to manufacture second generation concepts like democracy and human rights. Democracy is a process of continuous renewal where the smallest voice is empowered to try to convince others there might be a better way. Human rights is a process of reciprocity where consideration of others is tempered according to how others treat you.

It is so much easier when people don't push the rope -- arguing for democracy and human rights, but, instead, help others deduce them for themselves.
3.28.2006 8:44am
Houston Lawyer:
When we defeated both Germany and Japan, we set up an occupation of indefinite duration. We still have large numbers of troops in those countries 60 years later. If we were to put a half million men in Iraq for 50 years, we could change their culture much more significantly.

We are not at all willing to invest the resources necessary to transform a backwards culture to a liberal democracy. Some of the rules the left would insist on (such as abortion rights) would lead to such blowback in the rest of the Muslim world as to be completely counterproductive.

The primary purpose of installing a democracy is to create conditions that will tend to reign in those prone towards promoting terrorism. Everything else is just gravy.
3.28.2006 10:23am
Aidan Kehoe (mail) (www):
The Aga Khan, an influential and powerful Muslim leader who is culturally very Western, has been saying something similar to what I understand Ilya as saying for years. Cf. this, from his website, http://www.akdn.org/news/2006Feb12_pr.htm :

"Modern societies must improve the rigour and relevance of their educational curricula, strengthen the institutions of civil society and build a strong ethical framework of tolerance and respect if they are to be stable and secure democracies, able to protect the interests of their citizens, His Highness the Aga Khan said today."

An execution like that planned for Rahman would be a symptom of the rule of law combined with unversal suffrage. Just as, were the US to execute Cory Maye, it would be symptomatic of the same thing. And they would both be barbaric. Democracy isn't a panacea.
3.28.2006 10:37am
JohnA (mail) (www):
"Article 21.

(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.

(2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.

(3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures." - UN Declaration of Human Rights...

So democracy is a human right?
3.28.2006 1:11pm
Bezuhov (mail):
Just because you're not listening doesn't mean Bush hasn't been advocating.

The corruption by the left and subsequent demonization by the right of liberalism is indeed a particularly bitter tragedy.
3.28.2006 7:50pm
markm (mail):
A certain respect for individual rights is necessary for democracy to work well. The integrity of elections may be are compromised by rights violations such as:

1. Restrictions imposed upon political speech by government officials, who may be running for re-election or reporting to elected officials. E.g., the McCain-Feingold campaign finance laws...

2. The executive having the power to arbitrarily arrest and hold citizens incommunicado, without an independent judicial review. Say, by declaring a citizen found unarmed on our own territory an "enemy combatant".

3. The government spying on it's own citizens without oversight.

Bush doesn't seem to be aware of any of those dangers domestically, so it's not surprising he is not emphasizing getting such things straight in Afghanistan and Iraq...

OTOH, where Democrats run the local governments, they seem to be dead set against preventing election fraud, in the form of fraudulent voter registration and voting more than once...
3.29.2006 12:08pm