Democracy on Trial

In Iraq, blood continues to be spilled in the name of democracy. Is this a worthy cause? Is it worth the lives lost? Can democracy succeed in the Middle East? Is there a better system?
From the June 2004 Trumpet Print Edition

Toppling a dictatorship is one thing. Filling the leadership void with a functioning government is an entirely different matter. By the end of this month, though, the United States plans to hand over “sovereignty” to the Iraqi people. To what extent this will actually happen remains to be seen, but the current U.S. administration is committed to replacing the former autocratic regime with—drum roll, please—democracy.

The establishment of democracy, according to George W. Bush in a May 1 radio address, is a matter of life and death. “The failure of Iraqi democracy would embolden terrorists around the globe, increase dangers to the American people, and extinguish the hopes of millions in the Middle East.”

The American president predicted that, as the June 30 deadline approaches, “[W]e are likely to see more violence from groups opposed to freedom,” but “we will finish our work in Iraq because the stakes for our country and the world are high.”

President Bush, in his self-proclaimed effort to “change the world,” is using Iraq as merely the starting point in what his administration has termed the Greater Middle East Initiative—a pledge to bring the hope of democracy to nations all over the Middle East. This initiative has been called the “most ambitious U.S. democracy effort since the end of the Cold War” (Washington Post, February 28). Including an array of diplomatic, cultural and economic measures, the campaign stands for free elections, independent media, equality for women and literacy, and would provide financial booster shots to the nations concerned.

This initiative to bring democracy to Iraq and the greater Middle East is one of the core goals of the Bush administration. The reasoning is that the world will be a better place if this greatest-of-all-governments is established in nations that presently threaten the stability of the world.

This ambition is not original with Mr. Bush. Since Woodrow Wilson’s post-World War i efforts “to make the world safe for democracy” the U.S. has been on a quasi-crusade for what it considers the best form of government. America has long believed that its “enlightened” moral system of rule is the panacea needed to bring peace, prosperity and freedom worldwide.

Is it not fitting then at this point in Middle East history to take a candid look at democracy? Is it not fitting—as this November President Bush himself will come under the eye of the very system for which he crusades today—to ask how valuable this political ideology is to the stability of the world? Can democracy work in the Middle East? Does it truly work in the U.S.? Can it really work anywhere? Is there a better way to govern the affairs of humanity?

Democracy’s Non-Western Face

Whether democracy is an enlightened form of rule or an abysmal failure, it should first be established in this context that democracy cannot retain its “Westernism” when applied to a non-Western nation. This is something American policymakers tend to minimize. And it casts an ominous cloud over the current U.S. administration’s goal to bring democracy to Arab states.

For instance, democracy is often equated with freedom and equality. But try telling that to the lowest members of India’s caste system—within a country that has both democracy and a social structure that says if you’re born a “polluted laborer,” your highest achievement in society will be that of a “polluted laborer.” Or consider, in the Republic of South Africa and its neighboring “democracies,” the millions of orphans who have no opportunity for education or even a healthy environment in which to grow. Or in Zimbabwe, where “free” elections are accompanied by intimidation and killing of political opponents. Is this freedom? Are all men treated as equals?

Another Western assumption about democracy is that it is best when underpinned by pluralism—the idea that many differing views co-existing in a government will help create a consensus that is best for the entire country. This is the principle the U.S. is proposing to implement in Iraq: Put the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds together in a three-member presidency (one president, two deputies) so any agreements will benefit citizens of all three. But this idealistic approach is not sitting well with anyone, especially the Shiites’ Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who labeled it a recipe for “partition and division” (Asia Times, March 25).

The greatest fallacy in Western minds, perhaps, is that democracy in non-Western countries will spawn pro-Western administrations. This rarely happens, as Samuel P. Huntington wrote in The Clash of Civilizations. He called this the “democracy paradox,” saying that “adoption by non-Western societies of Western democratic institutions encourages and gives access to power to nativist and anti-Western political movements” (emphasis mine throughout). Elections in Islamic countries like Algeria and Turkey have placed Islamist, anti-U.S. politicians at the helm.

Muslims tend to see Western democracy as the antithesis of Islam. As one Sunni sheik in Iraq put it, “[E]verything that is happening in our country is because we strayed from our religion. We strayed from Islam and took the democracy of the infidels and the freedom of the infidels. There is no solution except Islam, and stability will never come back without it. So insist on Islam” (Asia Times, March 23). The U.S. is facing those in the Middle East who believe Islam cannot remain pure if mixed with America’s version of democracy.

As we wrote in our November 2002 issue, “The problem is that this effort to spread the gospel of democracy is predicated on one erroneous assumption—that all peoples think and act like Americans. They don’t!”

The Strength of Democracy

Though America’s historic efforts to spread democracy worldwide may seem like a lost cause, many will still argue that democracy is the best form of government that humanity has devised. Winston Churchill called it “the worst form of government, except for all those others that have been tried.”

Certainly, democracy has both good and bad points. Let’s briefly examine those. For the sake of definition, and since democracy takes different forms in different nations, we will view this from the perspective of the longest-running representative democracy in the world: the United States of America.

Some good exists in democracy; three broad principles sum it up.

First: Democracy considers and protects the interests of those governed. Abraham Lincoln defined it as government “of the people, by the people, for the people.” Because of this, a democracy like the U.S. is largely concerned with human rights—fair treatment and equality of all men and women in the country. Laws are enacted to protect the rights of all its citizens, minorities included.

Contrast this with communist socialism, which in theory puts every citizen on equal footing economically but in practice feeds the gluttony of the ruling elite. Take the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea for example (don’t let the name fool you), where over 13 million North Koreans are malnourished while President Kim Jong-Il has never lacked for a meal. Is it any wonder that citizens of Communist states like Cuba will pile onto tiny rafts and face sharks, hypothermia and drowning to sail to America’s shores—or die trying?

Second: Democracy uses a system of checks and balances—limited terms in office and separate governmental branches—as a safety valve against corruption.

When America’s forefathers framed the Constitution, they had a realistic appraisal of human nature, knowing that men were flawed and capable of enormous evil. They realized that those in power need to be checked by others, to prevent one man or group of elites from wielding absolute control over the country. Thomas Jefferson, in his Notes on the State of Virginia, warned that members of a legislative body should never be deluded by their own integrity and assume their power would never be abused. “Human nature is the same on every side of the Atlantic, and will be alike influenced by the same causes.”

Through frequent elections, the system implanted by America’s founders safeguards against a maniacal dictator rising to the top.

Through the separation of powers, officials are held accountable for their actions. Congress can rein in the president if he oversteps his bounds, and both the president and Congress must agree on who presides in the federal judicial branch.

Within this system of government are also varying viewpoints on how to carry out the functions of government—broadly defined in two major political parties, Democratic and Republican. In a democracy, opposing viewpoints are allowed to exist in order to help the lawmakers and governing executives arrive at the best solution for their constituents. Contrast this with Iraq just two years ago, when if someone opposed the autocrat’s political ideals he or she was tortured or silenced by a brutal death.

All this is intended to guard against any of the country’s governmental branches gaining too much power.

Third: Democracy allows a great deal of freedom among its citizenry—in contrast to, say, what an autocratic regime might allow. Art is allowed to flourish in a society that allows freedoms of speech and expression. Freedom of the press means that the government does not have direct control of the media, as it does in countries like China and Zimbabwe. This Western ideal is another tactic that prevents those in power from gaining too much control and also allows the free flow of varying viewpoints on varying subjects. These freedoms engender ingenuity, ideas, invention and industry. They encourage creativity, opportunity and, by extension, wealth and prosperity.

Democracy’s Weaknesses

These points present a remarkable case for democracy. But sadly, we can take the same three points and examine how democracy fails as a system of government—how it fulfills Churchill’s description as “the worst form.”

First: A nation governed “for the people” and run “by the people” sits in a precarious position. If the citizens want a leader who focuses more on domestic turmoil than outside threats, the country will elect such a leader—despite what the greater danger actually is. Likewise, if a leader makes a decision based on what is best for the country yet contrary to the general consensus, the public may opt to yank him from office, regardless of the harm this may cause.

If the national will or morale is in tatters, administrations will be set up to reflect this spirit. If the moral fabric of the population begins to unravel, such decline will only be exacerbated by a democratic system. A society glutted on harmful entertainment will not elect leaders who will legislate against the same. A people no longer concerned with the sanctity of marriage will elect leaders with sympathetic agendas. Citizens more concerned about their own financial troubles than terrorism will elect politicians who promise to cater to these concerns. “The people” often can be narrow-minded and selfish.

Second: The very safety valves in place to guard against human corruption actually build several inherent weaknesses into the system.

Democracy limits the effectiveness of a national leader in dealing with other nations. A limited length of term and number of terms can often transform a nation’s foreign policy—weakening its credibility and leverage in the global arena. The Islamic radicals who attacked Spain on March 11—just 74 hours before citizens went to the polls—knew this well.

Built into this system of terms and checks and balances—and a government “by the people”—is free elections. But this activity also gives democracy an unavoidable weakness: Those put in the positions of responsibility—as fallible, selfish human beings—will often seek election, re-election or higher office for themselves more than they will speak the truth, legislate or execute in a manner that is truly best for the people.

When the revolutionary European politician Franz Josef Strauss visited the Pasadena campus of Ambassador College in January 1969, just days after Richard Nixon took office, he met with Chancellor Herbert Armstrong. Mr. Armstrong recalled a question a guest asked of Mr. Strauss: “What do you think was going on in Mr. Nixon’s mind as he was taking the oath of office?” Strauss, without hesitation, responded: “How to be reelected four years from now, of course.”

Today, leading politicians wage expensive and bitter battles leading up to the November elections. Both sides labor to show the other side’s ineptitude at guiding the country; both sides are highlighting their own qualities and strengths; the presiding administration, this close to November, will avoid subjects it considers too sensitive for an election year. And why? All to get the office!

Third: A weakness in democracy, borne out of this blessing of freedom, is that our many freedoms can be taken to immoral extremes and decadence. In Anglo-American democracy, the pluralist, tolerant approach is applied to the point where “freedom of speech” protects obscenity, pornography, vulgar music and violent entertainment, and where “freedom of religion” warrants the complete removal of all religion from public society.

This makes democracy potentially the most fragile of governmental systems. Since national power resides in the people, the nation as a whole is only as strong as the individual character of its citizens. Even America’s founders knew that in order for this system to work, those being governed (i.e. those in ultimate control) had to be God-fearing, upright citizens, or the system would eventually self-destruct. In an address to the military, John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other” (Oct. 11, 1798). George Washington said, “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible” (Sept. 17, 1796).

Critical to grasping this point is the understanding that there is a devil who deceives the whole world and is the prince of the power of the air (Revelation 12:9; Ephesians 2:2). The Bible, God’s Word, shows us that Satan is constantly broadcasting corrupt thoughts, impulses and moods to mankind (see article, p. 10). All people are subject to the invisible sway of Satan the devil—and in a government “of the people, by the people,” the system becomes endangered when these freedoms go unrestrained.

We must ask, if President Bush wants to “change the world,” what is he going to change it to? Would the world be such a better place if it were cast in the image of the United States of America? Exporting our freedom means exporting our violent entertainment, our pornography, our vulgar music, and by extension our family breakdown!

Democracy, despite its strengths, is ill-equipped to bring the world the peace it so desperately needs. And America, the paragon of this ideology and governmental structure, is setting an appalling example for a nation that has it all—democracy, freedom, riches and the power to spread it around the world.

Is this what the Iraqis need? They obviously suffered under Saddam Hussein’s autocratic regime. But is democracy really the answer? Will that solve the problems of the Middle East? Do these nations need the chaos installed by what equates to mass rule? Do they need the “freedoms” that will bring them mind-destroying entertainment and decadence?

Is that what our world needs?

The Future of Government

Is it really fair to be so hard on democracy when it is, after all, far better—in the West’s opinion—than absolute monarchy, dictatorship or communist socialism?

It is more than fair! Why? Because we can state, with assured confidence, that democracy will ultimately be replaced by a far better government!

Before that government is set up, as some frightening Bible prophecies show us, democracy will come to a tragic end.

Those who speak of the weaknesses of democracy often note its historically short-lived nature. Even America’s forefathers were aware of this.

The Bible prophesies of the eventual downfall of the Anglo-American nations of our modern world (request your free copy of The United States and Britain in Prophecy for more). This will spell the end of democracy in these nations!

As for democracy in Europe, the Bible prophesies the rise of a European superpower, called the “beast,” ruled by one dictatorial political leader and one religious leader (Herbert Armstrong’s free booklet Who or What Is the Prophetic Beast? explains this). European countries will soon shed their democracies to be steered by these charismatic autocrats.

Paradoxically, all this will be a sign that good news is just around the corner—that a government far better than democracy or autocracy will take the reins of global rule!

The Bible prophesies the return of Jesus Christ to smash the power of this beast. Daniel 2:44 shows that God’s government—His Kingdom—will “break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.”

Democracy is enjoying only a few more years of glory before it is erased from the planet for good! And though it means a temporarily dark time for world history just before Christ returns, it signals the greatest news we could ever hear! This is the “good news” that is the gospel—the message Jesus Christ preached concerning the literal “kingdom of God” (Mark 1:14) to be set up on Earth!

There is a better form of government! And it will rule all nations!

God’s Governmental System

We must then briefly look at God’s system of government and why it is the best system for the management of human civilization. We will examine it using the same three points we discussed for the good and bad of democracy. We shall see how it boasts the strengths of democracy without succumbing to its weaknesses.

First: God’s system considers the best interests of those governed. His government respects the “inalienable rights” of every man, woman and child of every race. These rights were, in fact, endowed by Him as Creator of mankind. His law and government consider the best interests of those being ruled. Imagine a world where every citizen of every nation has opportunity and equality!

But note this key difference! The government will be “for the people,” but not “of the people, by the people.” It will be by the King of kings, Jesus Christ. He will be in ultimate control. But unlike any selfish, power-hungry man, Christ will rule in a way that truly benefits those being ruled. Unlike today’s human leaders, Christ cannot sin (1 John 3:9).

Second: God’s government will have safety valves in place against human corruption—but not the way democracy has today. Those guards against human corruption will be that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 15:50). Daniel 2:44 states that “the kingdom shall not be left to other people.” Those governing in God’s Kingdom will include Jesus Christ at the head, assisted by those saints who qualify in this life to rule with Him. They will have proven their loyalty to God’s government now—so they can be trusted when changed to spirit members of the God Family.

Imagine a world ruled by holy, righteous spirit beings with Jesus Christ at the helm! Human corruption will be eliminated—as will government gridlock and political competition. No more elections—no more need for elections! Imagine political harmony and productivity, not only nationwide but worldwide!

Christ will not serve four years or a limit of two terms (Isaiah 9:6-7), nor will His saints under Him be subject to these restrictions; God’s Kingdom will rule forever. Christ and the saints will not covet higher positions or rule with self-interest—but with outflowing love for the good, happiness, welfare and eternal salvation of those governed.

God’s way of governing is loving and unselfish. Man will be able to experience that way undiluted in what Mr. Armstrong always called the “World Tomorrow.”

Third: The noble but inadequate freedom that democracy offers will exist in pure, godly form in the World Tomorrow. Yes, it will be a freedom that engenders ingenuity, invention, industry, opportunity, creativity, prosperity and wealth. But it will be a different “freedom” from the one of today that removes the loving restraints of God’s law—His Ten Commandments.

The Bible refers to this law as the “perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25). This is the only way we can have true freedom. Imagine a world where everyone worshiped the one true God. Imagine a world where no one lied, stole, killed or committed adultery. Imagine a world without cheating, theft, murder, rape or divorce. Imagine being able to walk the streets in any neighborhood without fear of mugging or assault! Imagine homes and vehicles without locks or security systems. That is true freedom! And that is what God wants for humanity.

President Bush was right about this one thing in his April 13 press conference: “[F]reedom is the Almighty’s gift to every man and woman in this world.” What he and his administration have yet to understand is that this gift will not come about through democracy—but through the establishment of God’s perfect, benevolent government ruling this Earth!