Sunday, February 27, 2011

"I don't support autocracy in your society if I don't want it in my society."

"I don't support autocracy in your society if I don't want it in my society," is the standard of reciprocity asserted by Professor William Easterly regarding efforts to establish democracy in the Middle East and cited by Nicholas Kristof as the starting point for thinking about this most pressing of crises. Kristof also quotes Prime Minister David Cameron who recently observed that saying Muslims can't do democracy is "a prejudice that borders on racism. It's offensive and wrong, and it's simply not true."

But the history of claims that people are not ready for democracy is long and, frankly, embarrassingly persistent, not to mention invariably wrong. It wasn't that long ago in this country that women were told they were constitutionally unable to participate in the political process. And just think how recently Blacks in the South were threatened with physical violence if they had the temerity to enter the voting booth. Of course, every time that right has been finally won, the calamity that was predicted never came. Extending democracy to people who have been denied it has not only strengthened democracy, it had made our country better, more representative and even more judicious.

I can't help thinking that this is one of the few cases where history is our perfect guide to the future. Extending democracy will be a struggle with many bumps in the road, but over the long haul we will all be better off. That's not some wild, speculative prediction. It's a guarantee.

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