Saturday, February 16, 2008

What is Democracy?

Selective Reactions to What is Democracy? edited by Richard Ketchum

Really ancient book this time, from 1955. Perhaps the amazing thing is that it somehow wound up in a public library in Japan and stayed there all these years? It's quite an eclectic volume, and it's really hard to imagine how the various topics were selected. I could list the various topics, but I feel like I'd be defying you to make any sense of the list, except that "good = democracy" and all of the good things are supposed to be somehow uniquely linked to democracy. However, one especially weird topic was the praise of radiation and the potential for nuclear power, though atomic power plants were only prototypes at that time. It's the last major topic of the book, and spans quite a few pages in the relatively small book.

Not everything is good, however. In this book "bad = communism". Many of the examples are clearly twisted and even look humorous from the perspective of 2008. However, the ones that really bothered me were all the examples of nasty things that the communists were doing that sound exactly like what the Bush administration has been doing over the last seven years. In some cases, you can argue that the communists were wholesale criminals, while the BushCo kleptocrats are only retail criminals--but sometimes its the other way around. Many of the most 'touching' examples were in the highly slanted question and answer sections at the end of the book. For example, one question asked if the Soviet constitution protected human rights. Of course the reality was yes, that the Soviet constitution had lots of protected rights--but the book's official answer "from on high" was "No", because non-constitutional mechanisms were used to violate those rights. Shucks and darn. No one had better give the Dick Cheney any fresh ideas, eh? It rang especially loudly since the book had mentioned the Magna Charter in glowing terms a number of times, and though "habeas corpus" itself was not mentioned specifically, unjust and nonjudicial imprisonment was mentioned as a bad thing that a democracy would never do.

There were also a number of mentions of propaganda techniques that are now highly popular, but are only evil communist methods according to this book, and lots of poorly chosen examples... Overall it's more interesting as a testimony to the state of mind of those times than informative as a political science text... Read it and laugh?

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