May 7, 2006

Human Equality and Democracy in the Middle East - and in America

Harry Jaffa discusses human equality and democracy in the Middle East and connects the issues there to our own confusion in America about The Central Idea:

According to Abraham Lincoln, public opinion always has a central idea from which all its minor thoughts radiate. The central idea of the American Founding—and indeed of constitutional government and the rule of law—was the equality of mankind. This thought is central to all of Lincoln's speeches and writings, from 1854 until his election as president in 1860. It is immortalized in the Gettysburg Address.

The equality of mankind is best understood in light of a two-fold inequality. The first is the inequality of mankind and of the subhuman classes of living beings that comprise the order of nature. Dogs and horses, for example, are naturally subservient to human beings. But no human being is natural subservient to another human being. No human being has a right to rule another without the other's consent. The second is the inequality of man and God. As God's creatures, we owe unconditional obedience to His will. By that very fact however we do not owe such obedience to anyone else. Legitimate political authority—the right of one human being to require obedience of another human being—arises only from consent...The rights that governments exist to secure are not the gift of government. They originate in God.

The great difficulty in forming legitimate governments is in persuading those forming the governments that those who are to be their fellow citizens are equal to them in the rights, which their common government is to protect...

The United States is engaged today in a great mission to spread democracy to the Middle East...Under the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, the minority of Sunnis persecuted the majority Shias. It is understandable that the minority Sunnis are today resisting majority rule, while the majority Shia favor it. The Sunnis clearly believe that majority rule by Shia will be used as a means of retribution and revenge...It is inconceivable to the Sunnis that the rule of the Shia majority will be anything other than tyranny. Indeed, it is inconceivable to them that any political power, whether of a minority or a majority, would be non-tyrannical. The idea of non-tyrannical government is alien to their history and their experience...they see no other form of rule other than that of force. Our government assumes that the people of the Middle East, like people elsewhere, seek freedom for others no less than for themselves. But that is an assumption that has not yet been confirmed by experience.

Our difficulty in pursuing a rational foreign policy in the Middle East—or anywhere else—is compounded by the fact that we ourselves, as a nation, seem to be as confused as the Iraqis concerning the possibility of non-tyrannical majority rule. We continue to enjoy the practical benefits of political institutions founded upon the convictions of our Founding Fathers and Lincoln, but there is little belief in God-given natural rights, which are antecedent to government, and which define and limit the purpose of government...We, in short, engaged in telling others to accept the forms of our own political institutions, without any reference to the principles or convictions that give rise to those institutions.

According to many of our political and intellectual elites, both liberal and conservative, the minority in a democracy enjoys only such rights as the majority chooses to bestow upon them. The Bill of Rights in the American Constitution—and similar bills in state Constitutions—are regarded as gifts from the majority to the minority. But the American Constitution, and the state constitutions subordinate to it have, at one time or another, sanctioned both slavery and Jim Crow, by which the bills of rights applied to white Americans were denied to black Americans. But according to the elites, it is not undemocratic for the minority to lose. From this perspective, both slavery and Jim Crow were exercises of democratic majority rule. This is precisely the view of democracy by the Sunnis in Iraq, and is the reason they are fighting the United States.

Unless we as a political community can by reasoned discourse re-establish in our own minds the authority of the constitutionalism of the Founding Fathers and of Lincoln, of government devoted to securing the God-given equal rights of every individual human being, we will remain ill equipped to bring the fruits of freedom to others.