A couple of things I’d been meaning to draw to readers’ attention. One, via Aaro Watch, is this entertaining take on the Scoop Jackson Society, a group of Cambridge nerds playing at being neocon intellectuals. Bruschetta Boy is onto something here with the home pub comparison, but personally their talk about aircraft carriers, EU naval bases in the Pacific and their detailed plans for Country X puts me in mind of kids playing Risk. I was always crap at Risk – while my opponents were sweeping across Europe and the Middle East, I’d be holed up in Kamchatka – but I’m fairly sure I could beat these geeks.
The other, from the Grauniad of all places, is a memorable skewering of Benazir Bhutto by the always readable William Dalrymple. This is worth pointing out because of Benazir’s high profile at the moment, and the extraordinarily easy ride she gets from English-speaking media luvvies.
It leads me on to think a little about democracy. Liberalism, and muscular liberalism in particular, do have this tendency to think of democracy as an end in itself, even a virtue in itself. This is wrong. Without wanting to get too deeply into the Debordian spectacle, it’s a confusion of means and ends. Democracy is a process, not an outcome and certainly not a standard. It may be the best available process for attaining desirable outcomes, but that’s about all you can say.
Benazir is a great example of this. She’s loved outside of Pakistan because she talks the talk about democracy, development and moderation. Also because she’s a Muslim woman who speaks fluent English and sounds modern. In this context, it seems almost churlish to point out that the Bhutto family are Pakistan’s equivalent of the Corleones; that Benazir’s elected government was guilty of corruption on a scale that would have put Roman emperors to shame; or that it was on her watch that the ISI created the Taliban.
Now consider General Pervez Musharraf, the famed diarist, talk show raconteur and occasional President of Pakistan. Whatever Musharraf’s failings, and they are many, he has led an incomparably cleaner and more effective government than his elected predecessors. I’m not advocating military rule, by the way. I’m just pointing out that “democracy” in Pakistan traditionally means the peasants get to choose which coalition of landlords robs them blind. Without a serious shake-up of Pakistan’s social dynamics, “democracy” there really is on the level of the Debordian spectacle. If you want additional evidence, just look at the House of Warlords in Afghanistan.
You can of course go closer to home. Unionists can, and do, argue that the old Stormont was democratic, and so it was in a formal sense. But it was also an instrument of sectarian supremacist power, and therefore in complete breach of any kind of social contract that might exist between government and citizenry. That does mean, though, that the process of democracy is not sufficient – you need to bring other standards to bear.
Imperialism, of course, recognises this. You can be the President of Venezuela, or Belarus, or formerly Serbia, and still get branded a dictator despite winning multiple elections. Meanwhile, a handful of NGO types bankrolled by the NED can become the “democracy movement”. This is usually justified by reference to human rights, and there is usually some truth involved – Zimbabwe really is a hellhole – but this leads us to the Cold War ideological meaning of “democratic” as “pro-Washington”. And, for all their bumming and blowing about rights and “democratic geopolitics”, let’s be honest, this is what the Scoopies are all about – obeisance to Imperial power, dressed up in the language of idealism.
Coming soon, if I can summon up the will, a glance at the latest Decentiya.