10 March 2005

Brian Micklethwait extols the virtues of democracy.  Or, at least, he appears to.  He claims that democracy is good for freedom.  Unfortunately, unless I’ve missed something, he never makes good on that claim.

What he actually says is that democracy prevents civil wars.  The implication (I don’t think he actually ever says this) is that civil wars are bad for freedom.

First of all, democracy does not always prevent civil wars.  Think Ulster, Euskadi (aka the Basque Country) and, of course, America in the 1860s.

Actually, that last example, occuring in a country in which (I think) there was a restricted franchise - and not just for slaves - does beg the eternal question of just what a democracy is.

Secondly, I am not happy with the equation: preventing civil wars = good for freedom.  Some civil wars are good for freedom eg English Civil War, the Glorious Revolution, the American War of Independence.

(The American War of Independence was, indentally, at least in part, a civil war.  Not every colonist was a rebel.)

I am also not happy with that equation because even if one accepts that civil wars are bad for freedom they are bad in a general purpose way rather than a specific way.  Civil wars are awful.  Let’s put it this way: even communists think they are a bad thing.

Hmm.  It occurs to me that by bringing up those “good” civil wars I am doing Brian a disservice.  He is making the point that where the option is available democracy is better.  Of course, in the examples I give the option was emphatically not available.

UPDATE.  Incidentally, from a “how do we promote freedom” perspective this is all rather academic.  If libertarians do badly under democracy right now then they aren’t going to do any better by taking up arms against the state.  The only real course of action is to keep on trying to spread the ideas and hope for the best.

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  1. I agree that I didn’t say much about how democracy is good for freedom, but I do say that civil wars are bad for it.  Do you disagree with that?

    More will follow from me on this topic, I hope.

    Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 11 March 2005 at 04:43pm

  2. Me again.

    I think the problem is that in that post I didn’t sufficiently distinguish between what I think and what people generally think about democracy.

    I am at least as much concerned to explain why people general lump freedom and democracy together as to explain why I think that freedom and democracy are not as totally opposed as many libertarians assume.  And in that post (the first of several that I have in mind to do - but I promise nothing) I concentrated on how democracy sucks in potential civil warriors and civilises them.

    Civil war.  Funny phrase that.

    Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 11 March 2005 at 04:45pm

  3. people IN general I mean.

    Further distinction: freedom after a civil war versus freedom during it.  I was thinking mostly of the second.

    No matter how free things are afterwards, they are pretty damn unfree for the poor bastards who died.

    Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 11 March 2005 at 04:49pm

  4. By the way I think it works better as freedomandemocracy with just the one d joining “and” and “democracy”.  Just my opinion.

    Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 11 March 2005 at 04:51pm

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