"We must either breed political capacity or be ruined by Democracy, which was forced on us by the failure of the older alternatives," said Bernard Shaw. "Yet if Despotism failed only for want of a capable benevolent despot, what chance has Democracy, which requires a whole population of capable voters: that is, of political critics who, if they cannot govern in person for lack of spare energy or specific talent for administration, can at least recognize and appreciate capacity and benevolence in others, and so govern through capably benevolent representatives? Where are such voters to be found today? Nowhere."
Shaw’s insight is so sad, and regrettably, so true.
History itself offers the best evidence that democracy is no guarantee against the rise to power of extreme rightwing movements. After all, in 1933 one small German city gave its whole majority vote to the Nazis.
The triumph of extremism is not inevitable of course, but to avoid an outcome like that of Germany in 1933, citizens of democratic societies must vote — in a big way. Nothing renders nominal democracy more vulnerable to decay than an apathetic electorate.
Take the current U.S. administration as a measuring yardstick. Then we must ask ourselves: Would we Canadians want to vote for someone like George W. Bush in the coming federal election on January 23? Or instead vote for candidates who hold opposing views?
In a mid-December speech just before the Iraqi elections, Bush said, "We can not – and we will not – leave Iraq until victory is achieved." But what is victory? According to Bush, "victory" will be when extremists and Saddam loyalists are no longer a threat to Iraq’s democracy, when Iraqi security forces are self-sufficient, and when Iraq is no longer a "safe haven" for terrorists.
But this is a victory which can never be realized, because all three criteria on the president’s list are too vague to implemented, let alone defined. Bush knows it and so does his administration. But how can you tell that to an extremist?
Bush staunchly defends a war against Iraq in which more than 2,000 Americans and more than 30,000 Iraqis have been killed. (As these are American figures, they are most likely under-reported… for both sides).
Iraq has become nothing less than a very expensive killing field, in which every death — whether Iraqi, American, or Coalition forces — has cost U.S. taxpayers more than 2 million dollars. That’s 2 million, per person, totalling 200 billion dollars so far. But how can you tell that to an extremist?
Yes, George Bush did finally accept responsibility for relying on "wrong" intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. But that was long after U.S. media had published repeated pre-war assertions from French and German sources that American intelligence reports were flawed, or outright false. But how can you tell that to an extremist?
Bush has also stated that he would pre-emptively attack another country if he deemed it necessary; observers believe he is hinting at Iran and Syria as his next victims. In other words, the death, destruction and human misery so far inflicted on the Middle East through the American-led "war on terror" have not and will not weigh on this leader’s conscience. But how can you tell that to an extremist?
And what do we make of the claim that Bush reportedly heard the voice of God, guiding him to attack Iraq? How did he know it was God and not the Devil? or maybe one of his advisers — Bush advisers, that is?
Meanwhile, Bush’s latest unrepentent admission is that he ordered spying on Americans at home. Instead of acknowledging it was a mistake, he called the disclosure of his spying orders a "shameful act" and asserted it was lawful for him to secretly order the wiretapping of phone calls made to and from the United States; this despite a 1978 law banning such interceptions without special court authorization. He stopped just short of calling those who "leaked" this scheme traitors.
He further tried to justify his illegal action by saying, "We know that a two-minute phone conversation between somebody linked to al-Qaeda here and an operative overseas could lead directly to the loss of thousands of lives." Once again, how can you tell that to an extremist?
Recent accounts from detainees at GuantÃ¡namo Bay, as reported by Human Rights Watch, reveal that as recently as last year the U.S. operated a secret prison in Afghanistan where detainees were subjected to torture and other forms of mistreatment. Other reports show that the CIA kidnapped people and flew them halfway across the world for pre-interrogation torture. The American Army official responsible for Iraq’s notorious Abu Ghraib prison admitted recently to the Al-Jazeera television network that torture was routinely inflicted, in obedience to orders received from higher up in the chain of command; she further stated her belief that torture is an ongoing sanctioned activity.
But the question remains: How can you tell all this to an extremist — especially to one who does not see himself in that ugly light? First, you must tell him to his face, regardless of diplomacy; and then you must inform the whole world, despite knowing that he is more powerful and can hurt you.
The best way of course, is not to have to face down a political extremist at all. In a truly healthy democracy, he would not attain such deadly power. That is why it is so important to take the proactive longterm view and vote for the alternatives to extremist government. By watching, listening, learning, speaking up — and voting — citizens of any democratic country can deny power-hungry extremists the forum they crave. But vote you must.