Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Can we make Iraq more democratic?

George F. Will, writing an article beyond his usual op-eds (it’s about seven pages) in the latest issue of the City Journal, has trouble sleeping because Woodrow Wilson’s spirit still stalks the world. And that troubles his sleep. This article is worth reading slowly even though his style wants you to be quick about it, and you should not let him force you. Aside from the general argument which is very much worth considering, there are some wonderful stories and amusing lines; typical of Will. Here is a quick characterization: In the first part he beats up on Wilsonn in 1919, who insisted on dogmatically and imprudently wanting to "teach" everyone the meaning of self-determination. Second, Will blasts contemporary European elites for believing that "Europe’s nations are menaced by their own sovereignty." The EU elites want to establish a constitution of more than 400 articles (which Will richly mocks) that would put "as many important matters as possible beyond debate. Beyond the reach of majorities. Beyond democracy." Third, he reflects on the American Constitution and why it is good, as well as our political connection to the nation-state, or understanding of self-government (which he attributes to our cultural superiority) Fourth,(because of the the tension within point three) he chastizes both Bush and Blair for misunderstanding the important things (and even acting in a self contradictory way) and therefore saying they can build a nation out of Iraq. I am, no doubt, oversimplifying. Yet, it is something like that. Read the whole thing.

Do I agree with it? Not just so. But I do like its tone, its purpose, and almost everything he says. Yet, I would suggest that he does not quite understand the basis of our self-government and our constitutional habits. The emphasis he places on nation rather than state, and the lack of emphasis on the attempt our state (via the Constitution) to preserve natural rights is what is missing. Our constitutional goals are what’s important, and that is connected to our moral purpose, and our great virtue. What that has to do with Iraq is not irrelevant, but not the central point. Let’s try to establish something like a constitutional (i.e., limited) state there based on something that approximates the rule of law, for the purpose of something like self government, through the Iraqis consent. Tough work, that, and odds are that it will fail. Yet, some of it may take, and prudence dictates that we try it not only for the sake of the Iraqis, but because it will serve both some of our interests and not only move them toward better purposes. Read the Will piece with four good cups of Turkish coffee.    

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