Your vote or your life

Quico says: Just recently, Javier Marías wrote this thought-provokingly quasi-reactionary little screed in The New Republic presenting a “defense” of democracy startling for its frank avowal of its shortcomings:

Few people would deny that, however imperfect, democracy is still the fairest, most acceptable and most reasonable system of government. Not so much because the voters always choose the right candidate (in fact they rarely do–one has only to look at the United States, Venezuela, Iran or, until very recently, Italy, where voters kept Silvio Berlusconi in high office for years), but because the citizenry as a whole is prepared to put up with the results, however crazy or pernicious they might seem.

The important thing about democracy is not who emerges from it as leader (remember, Hitler reached power via a combination of the ballot box and pacts made with other parties), but the fact that the population agrees that those chosen by the majority to govern will be allowed to govern without further argument. Those of us who are appalled by the majority decision will not attempt to foment rebellion; instead, we’ll either go into exile or be patient and try to persuade the majority to vote differently next time.

Democracy guarantees only two things: that we renounce force as a way of gaining power and that we renounce force as a way of ousting a government, even if many people believe a government has acted wrongly or against the interests of the country. What it never guarantees–and this is something we should be quite clear about–are fair and honest leaders.

Words to ponder as we consider Chávez’s increasingly repetitive, dark hints that, if he loses an upcoming election, “war” will ensue. Already last year he’d mused publicly about how much he’d relish taking up guns and fighting his way back into power from the hills.

It’s an attitude that pretty much sums up the guy’s view of “alternability”: you can alternate between voting for me and fighting me.

What strikes me is the way Chávez manages, with this kind of rhetoric, to wipe out even the barest, most cynically stripped down defense of his government’s democratic credentials. Even if you jettison all the pretty talk about popular sovereignty, even if you bracket the entire Western philosophical tradition on equality and human dignity and you follow Marías into a wholly cynical defense of democracy as simply a mechanism for the prevention of civil wars, you can no longer describe Chávez’s government as democratic.

“Do as I say or face my violence,” is his (now explicit) message. It’s the kidnapper’s logic, pure and simple. Is it any wonder the guy can’t quite grasp why everyone’s so upset about FARC’s tactics?