The New York Sun’s Seth Lipsky today reviews Fareed Zakaria’s book The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad. Zakaria is editor of the international edition of Newsweek, and former managing editor of Foreign Affairs; I have it from good sources that he’s a source of excellent commentary about the Middle East. Lipsky writes:

It is not an argument against democracy. “Overwhelmingly it has had wonderful consequences,” he writes, but he is concerned with democracy’s “dark sides,” with the fact that democracy doesn’t automatically equate with freedom or sensible government…Mr. Zakaria is nervous about democracy in the Middle East in general. He opens his chapter called “The Islamic Exception” with a vignette of how President Mubarak of Egypt rebuffs America’s entreaties to be more democratic. “If I were to do what you ask, Islamic fundamentalists will take over Egypt,” Mr. Mubarak likes to say. “Is that what you want?” Mr. Zakaria doesn’t seem inclined to challenge the Egyptian martinet. He does manage to avoid other common mistakes…That said, I finished the book admiring Mr. Zakaria’s reprise nonetheless. What its author is making is essentially a plea for republicanism, for constitutionalism, for checks on majority rule, and for moderation–all things that the best of conservatives and liberals favor. [New York Sun, 4/9/03]
But you can’t argue for any of these things unless you define freedom–and particularly, decisively refute the misconception that democracy is freedom. And you can’t do that properly unless you have a concept of individual rights, and understand its foundation in reality. Does Zakaria do these things? If he does, Lipsky doesn’t mention it–which argues that Lipsky, at least, does not appreciate their significance.

A report in Lipsky’s own paper today (picked up from the Daily Telegraph) wonders how it will be possible to return to the rule of law in Iraq when for so long literal gangsters have been running the country. It’s a good question. There is no avoiding the fact that freedom and self-government require a commitment to objectivity. If the law can’t be enforced impartially, it becomes just another tool of tribal warfare. Then it’s anarchy followed by another dictatorship when the strongest thugs win.

In this regard, Iraqi Kanan Makiya has an interesting entry in his war diary concerning federalism:

The Transition to Democracy report produced for the London conference of the Iraqi opposition in December 2002 proposed that federalism in Iraq be understood as an extension of the principle of the separation of powers–only this time power is being divided instead of separated. Federalism is from this point of view the thin end of the wedge of Iraqi democracy. It is the first step towards a state system resting on the principle that the rights of the part, or the minority, should never be sacrificed to the will of the majority–be that part defined as a single individual or a whole collectivity of individuals who speak another language and have their own culture. Yet this redefinition alone will not redress the mistake of Michel Aflaq, which led to Saddam Hussein’s butchery. If the constituent parts of the new Iraqi federation are defined ethnically, we will revert back to the deadly logic of “nationalism is [ethnic] love before anything else.” …The idea must be to have complete freedom of movement, of people and capital, and of property rights, regardless of the region in which one chooses to settle. [New Republic Online, 4/7/03]
He even thinks the idea of Iraq as an Arab state should be reconsidered. One can only applaud this rejection of nationalism and hope that it catches on across the Arab world.

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