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The Neo Con

Here’s a letter that I sent to the Wall Street Journal:

Bret Stephens interprets Iraq’s recent democratic election as proof that western modernity, with all of its marvels and freedoms, is dawning in that country (“Iraqis Embrace Democracy. Do We?” March 9).  And, of course, the Great Liberator who rescued Iraqis from barbarism’s clutch is none other than George W. Bush.

Mr. Stephens is mistaken.  Democracy neither brings modernity nor is an essential element of it.  The fountainhead of the western freedoms and institutions that Mr. Stephens rightly admires was the fractured and overlapping jurisdictions that emerged in western Europe following the collapse of the Roman empire.  The happy, if unintended, result was an inability of any one authority (say, a prince or a pope) to exercise complete sovereignty over the populace.  From this fractured sovereignty the rights of man slowly sprung, and only much later did democracy as we know it develop.

Our democracy wasn’t imposed by force of arms and could not have been so imposed.  More importantly, what makes us modern and free is not that we trot off to polling places regularly to make collective decisions but, rather, that our institutions still afford spaces in which each of us, as individuals, is free to make private decisions without significant interference from either the state or any reigning superstitions.

Donald J. Boudreaux