Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Proper Hitchens on an Important Distinction

Let us not speak ill of the dead, but can we please also stop exaggerated praise of them? Benazir Bhutto was not the saviour of Pakistan, if anyone is. Can we please also learn to distinguish between 'democracy' and liberty, and -come to that - the rule of law.

Voting is not a sacrament, conferring automatic goodness wherever it happens. The conditions under which it takes place, and the system of government in which it is to be found, are decisive. Elections can be rigged or improperly influenced by money or intimidation. And many votes are rigged or improperly influenced - yet still get approved by powerless, easily fooled international observers who see little and are powerless to intervene. Such votes prove nothing and help nobody. If only one party has any serious hope of victory, then the vote merely serves to confirm that party in power. If the votes are on purely clan, tribal or ethnic lines, then the election confirms that division and often worsens it ...

Yet, if there is freedom of speech and of the press, if there is an independent judiciary with the power to defy the government, if law is respected and observed, a society which has no 'democracy' can be remarkably free and rulers remarkably accountable ...

Democracy can often be - and often is - the enemy of freedom under the law ... I am baffled by the way so many commentators act as if democracy by itself offers much hope to any country. Britain was free long before it was democratic, and it can be argued that it has become less free since it became more democratic - and that it has survived democracy better than most because of the strength of its freedoms and its laws.

Peter Hitchens, Pakistan and Kenya