Lessons from Athens
Vol: 44 Issue: 26 Thursday, May 26, 2005
When asked his opinion, British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill famously replied, “Democracy is the worst form of government — except for all those others that have been tried.”
Nowhere is the truth of Churchill’s statement more evident than in the non-existent state of Palestine. After years of pressure from the United States, the EU and Israel, the Palestinian Authority finally gave in and allowed the first free elections since the mid-1990’s.
The elections were carefully monitored by every busybody organization on the planet from Amnesty International to the Global Committee to Save the Whales, and was pronounced free and fair.
The Palestinian Authority’s decision to embrace democracy represented a break between the PA and the rest of the governments of the Arab Middle East and was widely hailed as a ‘breakthrough for democracy’.
It was everything that the White House hoped for. One person, one vote, every Palestinian casting their ballot for the candidate that most closely mirrored his or her own views. After years of non-stop violence, at last, the Palestinians had a say in their own future.
The PA held its first municipal elections on May 5. The Palestinian voters gave one third of the seats on the municipal governments to . . . Hamas!
Yes, the same Hamas that carried out more than 500 attacks against Israel since September 2000. The same Hamas that killed 390 people, mostly Israeli civilians, and wounded more than 2,100 others. In free and fair elections, about a third of Palestinian voters indicated their preference for terrorists to lead them. Inconvenient.
It was so inconvenient to Mahmoud Abbas’ losing Fatah Party, that he is planning to postpone the parliamentary elections scheduled in July until he can ‘shore up’ his base.
Since neither Israel nor the United States is happy with the prospect of Hamas taking over the Palestinian Authority, they plan to look the other way. Evidently, ‘democracy’ is only the best form of government if the ‘right’ people win.
In Iraq, the United States, having droned on and on about democracy, took a victory lap after most of Iraqi voters turned out at the polls and elected a legitimate Iraqi government. But most of Iraq’s Sunni population boycotted the elections, which meant most of the seats went to Iraq’s Shi’ia and Kurdish candidates, leaving the Sunnis under-represented in government.
This was also inconvenient, since, ideally, a ‘democracy’ is supposed to ensure that all voices are represented. The architects of Middle Eastern democracy in Washington DC never anticipated what would happen if one group boycotted the election, got no votes, and then cried, “No fair!”.
Declared then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, “For the government to be representative and for the government to be effective, the transitional national assembly would certainly have to take into account the ethnic mix.”
Therefore, adjustments must be made in the newly elected parliament and the new government “to ensure adequate Sunni representation.”
Considering that a democracy functions on the principle that it represents the interests of the VOTERS and the voters had already spoken, making ‘adjustments’ to the new government sort of sends a mixed message, doesn’t it?
Lebanon, newly freed from Syrian control, is planning to hold free, democratic elections in the near future as well. Washington is in talks with Lebanon, seeking ways to ensure ‘free, fair and democratic elections’ — in which Hezbollah doesn’t win — as analysts say they would — if the elections were held today.
The word “democracy” comes from two Greek words meaning, ‘people’ and ‘power’. A more accurate rendering would be, “the power of the people to do what they see fit.”
Democracy isn’t a new concept — it was invented by the ancient Greeks. The city-state of Athens, 5th century Athens to be precise, is the inventor and first practitioner of democracy.
Athens was a democracy from 508 to 267 BC, two hundred and forty-one years — the longest-lived democracy which has yet existed. The great historian Thucydides placed the blame for the Athenian collapse on the people who chose their leaders unwisely.
Not all democracies are benign. Imperial Rome, despite its worship of Caesar, was a democracy. Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany through the democratic process. He was legitimately elected Chancellor of Germany in 1933 through Germany’s democratic process.
Historically, democracies have not lasted long. Imperial Rome’s democracy caused its collapse — historian Edward Gibbon described it as ‘bread and circuses’. To maintain power, Caesar bought votes by ingratiating himself to the people with government handouts and by entertaining them in the coliseums.
When the people discovered they had the power to vote themselves welfare out of the Roman treasury, Imperial Rome soon spent itself out of existence.
Democracy functions according to the principle that the laws of the land reflect the will of the people. No law can exist without the consent of the governed, and the governed, through their representatives, have the authority to create law as they see fit.
As such, democracies do not function under the rule of law; they are a law unto themselves.
The Athenian democracy survived 241 years before finally collapsing. Historians blame Athen’s fall on the people’s preference for leaders who promised rewards, played on superstitions, and otherwise appealed to baser instincts in order to gain power.
Unlike the Romans, Athenian democracy championed free speech. Many Greek notables were horrified by the freedom of speech in Athens, which permitted the comic poets to make scurrilous attacks on public figures.
Others assailed democracy more insidiously by pointing out its weaknesses in practice. The Assembly was called ‘fickle’ and ‘bloodthirsty’. Athenian politicians came from the educated and wealthy classes, and were the inventors of class warfare as a political tactic.
The Founding Fathers, drawing lessons from the history of the world’s great democracies, crafted the US as a Constitutional Republic and NOT a democracy. As we’ve seen, democracies don’t operate under the rule of law — the rule of law is as fluid as popular opinion. Our Founders had an opportunity to establish a democracy in America and chose not to.
If the source of law for a democracy is the popular feeling of the people, then what is the source of law for the American republic?
According to Founder Noah Webster: “[O]ur citizens should early understand that the genuine source of correct republican principles is the Bible, particularly the New Testament, or the Christian religion.” (Noah Webster, History of the United States (New Haven: Durrie & Peck, 1832), p. 6.)
“Blackstone’s Commentaries” have been the traditional final legal authority for Supreme Court decisions since Independence. Blackstone explained the difference between a democracy and a Constitutional Republic was the source of its authority to govern:
“To instance in the case of murder: this is expressly forbidden by the Divine. . . . If any human law should allow or enjoin us to commit it we are bound to transgress that human law. . . .”(Sir William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England (Philadelphia: Robert Bell, 1771), Vol. I, pp. 42.)
Washington is trying export ‘democracy’ to the Middle East. So far, democracy has put Hamas in power in the Palestinian Authority. It threatens to put Hezbollah in power in Lebanon. It created an imbalance of power in Iraq that could ultimately result in civil war.
And efforts to tinker with the results of the election to correct the ‘ethnic imbalance’ is seen by its opponents as evidence of the corrupt nature of Western democracy.
America’s democracy, at 229 years old, looks very much like Thucydides Athens. The principles of class warfare, buying votes by promising entitlements, playing on superstitions and otherwise playing ‘to the baser instincts’ of the population have been elevated to a form of governing called ‘partisanship’.
No matter what one side proposes, the other side accuses them of playing ‘partisan politics’ by employing one of the Athenian principles outlined in the previous sentence.
The ideological divide that destroyed Athenian democracy was the consequence of free speech taken to its ultimate limit. Rumor-mongering and false accusations destroyed the Athenians by destroying confidence in the system.
Ideological warfare at home resulted in Athenian defeat on the battlefield.
Does anybody else see a pattern here? The acclaimed 19th century philosopher Georges Santayana famously observed that, those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it. George Bernard Shaw paraphrased; “One thing man learns from history is that man learns nothing from history.”
America was founded as a Constitutional Republic and bound itself to Divine Law by placing limits on the ‘rule of the people’. Progressive liberalism has systematically whittled away at the foundations of the American rule of law until the ‘rule of law’ has become whatever the people will it to be.
You needn’t take my word for it. Neither is it my opinion. It is a fact, provable by a backward reading of the history of the past generation.
It is also provable by a forward reading of history of the LAST generation, recorded by the Apostle Paul in this second letter to Timothy.
“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.” (2nd Timothy 3:1-5)
That this is the last generation — the one of which Jesus was speaking when He said, “this generation shall not pass until ALL be fulfilled” — there can be no doubt.
America’s decline in power and prestige is directly related to its declining relationship with its Founder. Everybody preaches it, (usually to raise money) until it sounds like ‘fire and brimstone’ white noise, but it IS demonstrably true.
It’s been said that the definition of insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results. There is no reason to believe that the trend will suddenly reverse itself. Past history shows that trend is a mirror image of Athens and Rome as their democracies began to implode.
Future history says the same thing. Human government has exhausted pretty much all its options. There is only one option left.
“Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.” (2nd Thesslonians 2:3-4)
“And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.” (Luke 21:28)