June 29, 2009

The Democracy Regime and Honduras

The left wing president of Honduras has been ousted and President Obama has shown “deep concern.”  Venezuela and Bolivia have condemned the coup.  “The West,” such as it is, has condemned it.  Hugo Chavez has been making some rumblings about military action.  The reaction is about what would be expected, the usual song and dance about democratic norms and the furrowed brows of the Great and the Good that result when the gun that lies behind all political power is briefly viewed from behind the curtain.

However, as the Wall Street Journal reports, there is more here than just another military coup in Latin America.  Jose Manuel Zelaya was executing a fairly blatant power grab.  He was opposed by both the courts and the congress, and the constitutionally designated second in command took power, pledging to hold the regularly scheduled elections. The country is not in chaos and the new regime seems fairly united.  From where I sit now in this extremely early stage, it looks less like a coup and an attempt to set up a junta than it does like a law enforcement action. 

We can expect the usual moans about democracy and the military staying out of politics.  The discomfort with the situation in Honduras is an outgrowth of the usual clich?s that allow the velvet glove to slip over the mailed fist of managed democracy.  Perhaps I am just cynical, but as we have seen in the advanced democracies of Europe, referendums and elections are only respected when hoi polloi reach the correct decision as defined by the political class.  When they don’t, the vox populi is gleefully ignored or openly scorned, the chosen representatives are banned or marginalized, and sometimes the voters are openly insulted.  Even if there is a formal choice, it is one increasingly meaningless, as the media (sometimes run or funded by the state) manipulates the facts to benefit chosen candidates, legal obstacles mysteriously appear against certain parties and movements,  and mass immigration and the welfare system create an ever growing class of state dependents on income transfers, special privileges, and general government meddling.  The term democracy, used the way it is today, is not a system of government distinguished by popular elections, certain constitutional or human rights, and representative governments.  It is a system of left wing orthodoxies holding together and granting legitimacy to a huge redistributive state apparatus.  It is hard not to be cynical when the likes of Chavez, Castro, and Clinton all join forces to bemoan its fall. 

While the democracy regime is a huge topic in its own right, let?s look at the limited example of Honduras.  If we accept for the moment the claim of the new government that they were protecting the constitution, what was the politically correct alternative they should have taken?  More petitions?  Protests ?  Judicial verdicts that the president would ignore?  Democratic means hold no answers when the supposedly democratic regime can ignore any check from within the system.  The military therefore had to take action from outside the system to protect the constitution.  However, the international norm, and certainly the norm in the United States, is for the constitution to be treated as the ?goddamned piece of paper? that serves as the window dressing for the people who think there is any limit on the power of the state.  For my own part, I see no reason why a leader who breaks the law should be protected from consequences because of the mystical power conferred by conning his way into office, particularly considering that he seems to have little support for his actions now.

This obviously has theoretical implications for us.  Our own military takes an oath to no leader, but to the Constitution.  It is no stretch to imagine that American military officers hold their oath to the Constitution more sacred than most politicians.  The danger from a politicized and alienated military in America has been the subject of an award winning essay within the military, alluded to in best selling books, and even a facebook group with thousands of members where military members are taking pledges not to enforce certain hypothetical laws.  At the same time, since Washington put on his spectacles at Newburgh, Americans are rightly uncomfortable with the military in any kind of a political rule. That said, the ideal of the neutral, professional military Samuel Huntington described in the “Soldier and the State” seems to require a responsible ruling class or at least a ruling class not actively at war with its own country, something missing in much of the Western world.  If such a regime were to take power in America and was fortified in office through “democratic” means, how could republican government be restored except by action on the Honduran model?   

The march of the Left through Latin America has hit an unexpected roadblock.  In the past, the United States was all too willing to violate the independence of our southern neighbors to beat down Communist insurgency (and to be fair, make the world safe for United Fruit).  It will be interesting to see if President Obama and his Secretary of State renew the American tradition of interventionism and political pressure, this time to force the return of the “democratic” leader, regardless of the seeming wishes of the Honduran people.  If they do, it will reveal the threat that the Honduran precedent poses to the lie that freedom and modern “democracy” are the same thing.

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