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DEMOCRACY: Which model, if any, for the world?

"Democracy: Which model, if any, for the world?" will be the theme of an important session at the WAIS conference. It is being organized by Larry Diamond, an expert on the subject.. It is most timely as the American system has suddenly become the laughing stock of the world. Mexicans are saying "It's just like Mexico." Jaqui White has forwarded to me a satirical piece about the Queen of England rescinding the Declaration of Independence and restoring order in the US. It is true that this kind of crisis could not occur under the parliamentary system which survived in Canada and which is widely admired. The Economist (November 11-17) has a cover cartoon, entitled "Thriller!" showing Gore and Bush about to shoot it out. Its lead editorial, devoted to the trial through which the American system is going, concedes "It deserves to survive the present crisis".

Adriana Camarena has forwarded a satirical piece which begins: "BELGRADE--Serbian president Vojislav Kostunica deployed more than 30,000 peacekeeping troops to the U.S. Monday, pledging full support to the troubled North American nation as it struggles to establish democracy." The problem is that the crisis is not a joke. Despite the amusement abroad, people fear that a destabilized United States would destabilize the world. as it struggles to define the kind of democracy it wants. Certainly no existing system is perfect, and that of the United States is not. Just as the belief in the inerrancy of the Constitution is a legacy of the belief in the inerrancy of the Bible, so the expression "Founding Fathers" suggests God the Father who created the universe. The first amendment to the constitution says that Congress shall not abridge the right of the people peaceably to assemble, but that presumably referred to something like the old town hall meetings, not to demonstrations which disrupt ordinary activities. Counter conventions allow the people to express dissenting opinions in a peaceful atmosphere, but street demonstrations imply a threat of force. This was conspicuously true of US college demonstrations in the sixties.

French democracy is certainly no model, since it inherited the revolutionary cult of violence, the cult of bloodshed which Francophile Jefferson expressed. Most national anthems are bombastic, but the Masrseillaise calls for bloody revolt. French workers set a bad example of the use of force, as when farmers burned alive a truckload of sheep coming from England or scattered the contents of Spanish trucks bringing fruit to European markets. The truck-drivers are the worst. They paralyzed the country by blocking the highways with their monsters, setting a bad example for many countries, including Chile, where a Socialist government is trying to stabilize the country after the backlash against the military dictatorship. The dock workers' union followed this bad example and tried to paralyze all the ports of Chile. One would think that these unions would support the reasonable socialist government, but perhaps they want the more extreme variety of Allende. That it is not secure is shown by the election of a conservative ass mayor of Santiago.

Even peaceful street demonstrations add little to the political discourse. Some parts of Spain have been devastated by floods, and the Spanish hydroelectric plan proposed by the Madrid government deserves serious consideration. Yet local politicians organized mass protests in the streets of Saragossa in which the demonstrators simply shouted "The water is ours." Interviewed on TV, they seemed selfish, ignorant and even stupid.

Parliamentary debates are sometimes more confrontational than enlightening, witness the recent exchange in the House of Commons about the financial problems of the Millennium Dome. The debaters were obviously intelligent and well-informed, but the Conservative Party was clearly to score points to embarrass the Labour government. It seemed like a re-enactment of the debates in the French parliament when the Tour Eiffel was being built. Enemies of the government denounced it in similar terms, even demanding that it be torn down. Today it is the proudest landmark of Paris.

When I survey such scenes around the world, I conclude that American congressional hearings are a bright, albeit flickering light for which we should be grateful. Yet the debate must go on. The made-in-America constitution of Germany is sometimes cited as a model, but there are others. I hope that at the WAIS conference there will be many representatives of foreign countries so that we may hear the little bells of small states to the bass bells of major powers. But let us remember that our Liberty Bell, made in England, was cracked in this country. We are proud of that crack. We love the constitution, cracks an

Ronald Hilton - 11/17/00