Monday, August 21, 2006

Bolton, Peretz and Legitimacy

In reading the August 28, 2006 issue of The New Republic, I came across Martin Peretz's essay regarding John Bolton. I would love to hear Steve Clemon's reaction to this and whether this is yet another "Lieberman" moment defining the splits among Democrats on foreign policy.

But what I wanted to focus on was a point raised in the essay about legitimacy. Peretz indicates that Bolton (and, it seems, himself by extension) believes that only democracies are legitimate governments, and therefore non-democratic governments have no legitimacy nor can they be assumed to be acting with the consent of the governed.

I think this is a very dangerous conflation to make. Certainly there are non-democratic, tyrannical regimes that exist because they suppress the will of the people. But there are also plenty of non-democratic regimes that enjoy popular sanction and support.

Two examples. Let's first take the Roman Catholic Church. The Pope is not a democratically-elected figure, yet a billion Roman Catholics see him as a legitimate figure, even, I might add, prominent dissidents in the U.S. who while they might want him to ordain women or accept homosexual marriage are not going to argue that because they "didn't vote for him" he is not the legitimate leader of the Roman communion. This stands in marked contrast to what is supposed to be the practice in the Orthodox Churches, and is still carried out in Cyprus, where the primate is indeed indirectly elected by the vote of the entire Church, clergy and laity.

Or Iraq. We have democratically-elected politicians who supposedly have mandates yet can't venture out of the Green Zone yet have local leaders--sheikhs, tribal figures, clerics--who have no democratic mandate but have legitimacy as leaders. This follows up on the arguments made earlier this summer by Alexis Debat and John Hulsman in their infamous "In Praise of Warlords" piece.

The focus on the democratic process as the only conveyer of legitimacy leaves out history, culture, traditions that also serve as legitimizing factors; factors we have tended to ignore at our peril.

Is there any research being done on whether the "Mandate of Heaven" idea still has resonance in China, despite it being a "Marxist" government--and does this have any impact in legitimizing Hu Jintao?
Legitimacy derives from power.

In Islam, for example, Sunni Doctors of Religion upheld the legitemacy of tyranny since it upheld Islamic Law (the Shia consistently rejected that).

Democratic process is the US kistch; the rest of the world has to humaor her until US finds another kistch to latch unto.
I don't know if the Roman Catholic Church is a good example; yes, Vatican City is a state, but otherwise Catholics around the world are "free" to be Catholics or to ignore the pope's decrees; he has no "enforcement" power. Up here in Pennsylvania, we had women ordained as Catholic priests despite the papal ban and threat of excommunication; it's not like he can send out the Holy Office to deal with them.
Thanks for the point, conservative realist. I agree that the Roman Church is not a state but my point was to argue that legitimacy takes many different forms and that millions of Catholics who live in democracies nonetheless accept as legitimate a non-democratic process which appoints the head of their church.
While it is true that to you and I the Pope has no enforcement power, there is a subset of people with beliefs that imply the enforcement power of the Pope. Belief may in fact be more important for purposes of legitimacy then actual enforcement power. This subset of humanity usually does not attempt to set up other Popes who can then determine different standards for the administration of the enforcing powers (excommunication), although in the middle ages something like this did happen (albeit through a non-democratic process). I suppose an analogy could be made with states in that one is free to leave Catholic-istan in idea space as one is free to leave France in actual space. However, the people in Catholic-istan in idea space chose to be ruled by this centralized autocratic system as opposed to the complex feudal system of Jew-land or the representative democracy of the United Methodist -States.

The Pope, from my uneducated perspective, seems to rely on a process of indirect prerogative from a great man. He is the person chosen by the people chosen by the person chosen by the people chosen by the person chosen by… eventually going back to either Jesus or Peter (I’m not sure). This is not a process laid out in the Bible to my knowledge, and indeed seems quite independent of Christian belief as evidenced by the process existent in the Orthodox Church discussed by Mr. Gvosdev. Despite this anti-democratic process of legitimacy transferal, many have accepted the Pope as legitimate in the exercise of his capacities as the head of the Catholic religion, and do not attempt to subvert this process by appointing rival heads of the Catholic religion.

In the US we recognize the legitimacy of Supreme Court rulings despite their sometimes being in opposition to the actions of more directly elected officials. Organizations such as the AMA and ABA have certain regulatory functions and are recognized as legitimate despite their anti-democratic nature. Practically all of higher education in the US has widely recognized legitimacy despite a system nearly as anti-democratic as that of the Catholic Pope.

All of which suggests that the US should to attempt to build international legitimacy and goodwill by continuing to promote Western Liberal values even though we sometimes do not have a democratic mandate from these constituent nations (although Iraq was not the best way to do this).
TheJew makes a good point and one that needs to be made more clearly: what we want to promote is liberalism and rule of law. Whether the pope was democratically elected or not mattered less than rule of law and proper procedure for being recognized as legitimate.

Nik, you've raised in the past a key point as it relates to Georgia--where no "democratically-elected" president has ever finished his term in office and turned over power to a successor. So you've had three presidents elected but no procedure for transfer of power other than revolution and protest, which in the end undermines even democracy.

Efforts to draw a Manichean distinction between democracies and other forms of government can quickly lead to cognitive dissonance if the US policy (on behalf of which the distinction is defended) falls short of all-out war. I think that is the real problem here.

Public consent to a government that lacks any kind of public accountability would seem to me very problematical to infer from appearances. I cannot think of any important modern case where an authoritarian regime that lost power was sufficiently popular that its people freely restored it.

It is true that Sistani and the tribal shaikhs of Iraq do command a following, which is important to bear in mind if anyone thinks that a thoroughgoing social revolution is necessary to a democratic state. But whether democracy can really be sustained in a society that divides along ethnic and religious lines also remains very much to be seen.

The real problem with democracy promotion of the kind that we have pursued is the fact that the most stable democracies in the modern world have tended to be constitutional monarchies.
David Billington:

Yes, constitutional monarchies--but ones where the monarchs enjoyed respect and historical continuity. I don't know that you could put together a constitutional monarchy in Iraq by dragging up the Hashemite king, just as restoring the sultans in Egypt wouldn't help either.
Anonymous 7:28,

The success of constitutional monarchy has been the combination of (1) respect and historical continuity with (2) democratic accountability.

The Hashemite family is recognized to descend from the Prophet Muhammad and it led the Arab revolt in 1917; it does not lack historical importance and continuity. The problem is that Hashemite Iraq from 1920 to 1958 was was not a democratic state.

If the current (Sunni) Hashemite claimant to the Iraqi throne was willing to preside over a Shia majority government and promote reconciliation, it is not hard to wonder whether we might have had a better outcome than the disastrous situation we have today.

Americans too often forget that democracy and republicanism are not everywhere the same thing.
Dear David:

If the Hashemite heir had declared his willingness to assume the throne of a Shi'a majority state and to permit that to take place long before the current war, that might have worked. To try and install a Hashemite now would fail as the Shi'a would see no reason to accept him.
Anonymous 9:07,

I meant to refer to what might have been. I agree that it is too late now.
I am struck by the comments on this site that uses the word "democratic" to conflate 3 separate ideas: rule of law, a liberal polity, and a representative government.

It is work of decades to plant and foster a politically liberal polity in places such as ME, Georgia, etc.

Likewise it is work of decades to plant and foster the rule of law in places such as ME, Georgia, Russia, Romania, China, etc.

The easiest to set-up is the representative government but who is going to judge if it is sufficiently democratic?

And furthermore, in certain instances, say Singapore, a non-democracy might be able to govern more effectively than a half-baked democracy.

As long as US is not in the business of overthrowing sovereign states or materially interfering in the internal affairs of other states it really does not make any difference what form of government they have. This was a very successful model for US prior to 1914.
Nick, as some who is not a man-on-the-street liberal, but walks among them and sympathizes, I don't believe that Martin Peretz represents one side of a schism between ordinary liberal and conservative democrats. He occupies a special niche, all of his own.

His post is essentially an ideological statement, not one neccesarily reflective of the internal dynamics of the regimes he describes.

In other words, you're quite right.

Martin Peretz =, basically, Natan Sharansky, and in Israel, he's Likud.

Jordan Willcox '02
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