Blog Junky
a group blog for the political omnivore (objective and equitable)

Sunday, March 16, 2003  

I'm reading the 2002 printing of Raymond Aron's The Opium of the Intellectuals, first published in 1955 and considered to be the "leading document" of the Cold War, presaging the downfall of the USSR and, ultimately, Marxism itself. This latest version includes an Appendix which is his response to critics, entitled Fanaticism, Prudence, and Faith. It features the following quote on what Aron calls 'doctrinairism':
By doctrinairism I mean the attribution of universal value to a particular doctrine. Doctrinairism today is characterized by two modalities. In the first, the principles of the ideal order are identified with certain institutions. For example, one decrees that the democratic principle — governors are legitimate only if voluntarily accepted by the governed — is identical with free elections according to the British or French procedures, and instead of studying hic et nunc whether or in what form you can introduce elections in the Gold Coast or New Guinea, you dogmatically require that the electoral or parliamentary customs of a country be reproduced everywhere without regard for circumstances of time or place.
This type of doctrinairism involves two errors: the democratic principle of consent is exalted to the single principle of political order, and the institutional expression in one civilization — the electoral and parliamentary institutions of the West — is mistaken for the principle itself and receives a validity equal to this principle.

I think this is, perhaps, the fatal flaw in any US plan to 'democratize' the Middle East, beginning in Afghanistan and also proposed for Iraq. Iraq does not have a long history of gradually growing liberty and freedom of expression. Accustomed to ethnic, religious, tribal and geographic loyalties, the ideal of Western democracy alone is insufficient to bootstrap the society into a truly egalitarian, modern democratic society. As shown by multiple examples in South America, disillusionment with the realities of democracy can quickly give way to tyranny and dictatorship.

You can read more about the book, here. If you would like to borrow the book after I finish, let me know.

posted by Calvin | 8:59 PM

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"The fanatic, animated by hate, seems to me terrifying. A self-satisfied mankind fills me with horror."
Raymond Aron, Forward, The Opium of the Intellectuals

"Men admired as profound philosophers gravely asserted that all animals, and with them the human species, degenerate in America -- that even dogs cease to bark after having breathed awhile in our atmosphere." - Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers

"Socialist individualists of the world unite!
You have nothing to lose but your chains
and a whole world to win!
Perry de Havilland,

"Dogmatic overgeneralizations are useless!
Except for that one."

James Lileks, The Daily Bleat