Democracy, Henry Kissinger style.

I recently came across this quote from the former US Secretary of State, used to justify US support for Pincohet. It’s quite chilling in its rawness, but what is interesting is its interpretation of what democracy is for, that is, good government. Having lived in a country where a plurality of my fellow countrymen have constantly elected Fianna Fail governments, despite all their failures, it is reasonable to say that democracy does not always lead to good government. The Allende government in Chile was actually wrecking the country, but it was elected by the people.

So what is democracy for? Why keep it, especially in an age where voters are becoming less and less willing to grasp the complex challenges of managing a modern society? During the Lisbon referendum, I met many No voters who were voting No for sincere, well-informed and thoughtful reasons. We begged to differ on what was best for the country. But I also met people who were voting No either out of stupidity or a lazy unwillingness to actually inform themselves and instead believed nonsense from extremists. Coincidentally, it is not “patronising” or “arrogant” to tell someone the fact they believe is wrong if it is actually wrong, as has become socially acceptable to announce, any more than it is patronising to tell someone who has doused themselves in petrol that lighting a match is a bad idea.

The reason we need democracy is that it is a bulwark against dictatorship, and for that alone, it is worth its weight in gold. We may elect crooks and fools, but we can also throw them out, and for that alone, it’s worth keeping. Do some in Fianna Fail rob and steal and use the political system to give jobs to the amoral? Yes they do. Would some of them like to ban other parties? Some of them would. But they can’t, because they know that even the Irish people with all their apathy and cynicism won’t put up with that, and that’s why Kissinger is wrong about democracy and letting the people decide.   

One thought on “Democracy, Henry Kissinger style.

  1. In general I agree with you. But to Americans (and I would guess even to a realpolitik guru like Kissinger), “Communist” means dictatorship, or at least the end of democracy because of the suppression of alternative political parties. You can debate whether that is where Allende was taking Chile or not but it does raise an interesting question – what do you do if the people choose willingly to throw away their democracy? The German’s did it in 1933, and it is the argument often advanced for blocking the democratically elected Islamic governments (e.g. Algeria). Do you stand idly by or do you intervene? Personally I would tilt towards the stand back, because of the dangerous precedent you set by declaring that “we will decide what form of government you shall have”.

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