On The Importance of Democracy vs. Constitutionalism


While New York Times, despite its liberalism, is probably the best news source in the United States and possibly the world, its comments section tend to be dominated by extremely saccarine liberals who make me feel queasy.

I mean comments such as these:

Liberals and “progressives” are needless to say not consistent on this. After all if a state such as California bans gay marriage in a democratic referendum or as in many states restricts abortion by acts of a democratically elected legislature, they will desire the courts to overturn such acts.

So would you or not agree that the most important quality of a government is not democracy but rather a constitutional regime which protects the political, personal, and economic freedoms of the people? The two are not synonymous-most ancient democracies such as Athens were essentially mob rule where people whose ideas were not liked such as Socrates were liable to be persecuted. On the other hand, while Imperial Germany was not a democracy (the monarch having the power to appoint the Chancellor), it was a constitutional regime in that basic freedoms were guaranteed to people.

This is not a thread, however, to discuss whether the Muslim Brotherhood will simply be an exponent of mob rule or will be a government that guarantees freedoms.

Poison the well much?

Liberals think anti-SSM laws violate the US Constitution. How does what is happening in Egypt violate the Egyptian constitution? The US has a long and troubled history of meddling in the internal affairs of other countries. Just because someone thinks we should MOOB, doesn’t mean they think the results in Egypt are good either for them or for the region.

In the end, you’re offering a false dichotomy. Any constitution must be democratically ratified to be legitimate. So, they’re both important.


For example the Egyptian Constitution does not require any religious tests for one to be President yet Mr. Morsi desires it to be otherwise. And even if the Constitution of Egypt did not explicitly forbid it, I’d expect activists (to rightfully) complain. After all in South Africa Apathareid was legal and constitutional in a technical sense but it was immoral.

The comments I quoted were closer to the idea that a government is good just because it was democratically elected and ignored differences between a constitutional and a democratic regime.

If a government can offer both as in the US it is great but this is not possible in countries which a majority of people don’t support rights. For example during the Reconstruction, the US military occupied Southern states to basically force them to produce constitutions that respected the rights of both whites and blacks.

The US constitution forbids religious test, and so it would be unconstitutional to try and pass a law that required one. If the Egyptian constitution has no sanction against such tests, then there is no reason they can’t pass a law requiring such.

Eh. Just because someone doesn’t condemning something doesn’t mean they approve it. As I said in the first post, it’s NOOB what the Egyptians want to do, but if we can, of course, pull back any aid we give them if we think such a move is in our best interests. We had no problem dealing with a secular dictator, so maybe it’s not so much of a problem dealing with a religious one. It’s what we do in Saudi Arabia, after all.

No, they didn’t say it was “good”. They said it was “right”, in the sense of what the people want.

The southern states were part of the US. Egypt is not. Look at a map.

In reality:

Every time I have heard the “rule of law is more important than democracy” argument invoked, it was wrong. E.g., when George Will defended the Marcos regime in the Philippines, or perhaps it was the Apartheid regime in South Africa.

And…suppose the people do make some horrible mistake and elect the wrong guy. Suppose we really blow it, and fall for some slick-speaking sly bastard who intends to sell us all to the devil. Okay…

What possible mechanism could anyone propose to “fix the problem?” What procedure do we want in place to overrule the people’s vote? Do we want a commissioner, or czar, or committee, standing around, watching over our shoulders, having the power to say, “Oops! You just elected Smith, but since he isn’t acceptable, Jones is actually now the President.”

(A rough kind of solution does, of course, exist: civil war.)

I would not agree. There are no natural and fundamental political, personal, and economic freedoms to be protected. We have to decide for ourselves what those words mean. How those freedoms are determined is the important thing. It’s not hard to imagine construing these constitutional rights in such a manner as to drive the bulk of the people into peonage. (One could argue that the modern Republicans have done just that.) Governments should be judged on results and not intent. And they should be judged by the people themselves. This is not only morally proper but also prudent. There is no guarantee that you or I or any other individual will approve of the behavior of a government. The best safeguard we have against tyranny is to spread political power as broadly as practical. Then more people will have to be convinced to acquiesce and continue to acquiesce. A self-interested cabal cannot resist public pressure to reform.

I tend to discount any argument premised on the comments following an article. Perhaps that makes me distrustful of democracy to some degree. :stuck_out_tongue: