Quote of the Week: Free Speech, Democracy, and Authoritarianism

It is a paradox that every dictator has climbed to power on the ladder of free speech. Immediately on attaining power each dictator has suppressed all free speech except his own.

-Herbert Clark HOOVER
31st President of the United States (1874-1964)

This, indeed, is one of the paramount challenges faced by democratic systems.  Democracy cannot exist without freedom of expression.  And yet how can it safeguard from demagogic populists who once in power may seek to dismantle democratic systems? Nowadays it is fashionable to criticize democratization efforts in the Middle East – after all, look at what Hamas is doing in Gaza, and what is going on in Lebanon with Hezbollah, and the rise of salafis and fatalists wherever any openness is shown. 

There are three keys to a successful democratic system:

  • Security By A State Accountable to the People – so people can act on their beliefs without intimidation or coercion, and so militias cannot enforce their will and bully others – think of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine;
  • Freedom of Expression and Thought – so all arguments can be truly exposed to scrutiny and thought
  • Repeat Election Cycles – so if people make mistakes as they are apt to do, they can undo those who governed badly in the next election cycle – as they did to Hamas the sole time that the people saw them govern and had a chance to vote again; this is the big achilles heel to democracy in the Middle East, as Bernard Lewis commented that fundamentalists had used democracy as "one man, one vote, one time" – and once in power done away with future free elections; this is the problem in Iran, but also in places like Chavez’s Venezuela, and of course Gaza and Lebanon.
  • and to be fair in the analysis, a variation of the problem also exists in the West Bank; on one side those in control of the PA

  • - Prime Minister Fayyad and President Abbas – are extraordinarily enlightened people whose only commitment is to their people and who wish for peace and prosperity and are not interested in "power" but in advancing the creation of a vibrant democratic Palestinian State; but on the other side, elections also did not take place for 10 years between 1993 and 2003, and the people were restless and upset at Fatah’s corruption and stagnation, and thus chose the opposition; this is another example confirming that lack of repeat election cycles create animosity and bring eventual harm to the people; but now what is one to do in the PA, where there are no viable alternatives or means to guarantee that if the keys are given to another party, there would be a transition to elections again in a defined cycle?
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  1. The Two Middle Easts | Daniel Lubetzky said:

    [...] from Iran’s religious "rule of the just jurist" system. Rather than rejecting militant fatalism as anathema to democracy or freedom, the "progressive" writer’s prescription is for Hezbollah to "[point] the arms [...]

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