Jonah Goldberg

I think the last thing Iraq needs is democracy.

I guess that sounds funny because I've been pounding my shoe on the table in favor of democratizing Iraq for a couple years now. So when I say that the last thing Iraq needs is democracy, I don't mean it shouldn't have it, I mean elections should be the last on a long list of priorities for Iraq.

Without law, order and civil society, democracy is mobocracy.

In the United States we've fetishized democracy to the point where it means essentially "all good things." If something is bad, it must be undemocratic.

But this sentiment runs completely counter to the intent of the US Constitution. The founders were just as afraid of too much democracy -the tyranny of the majority -as they were of too little -the tyranny of the minority.

The Bill of Rights and the Constitution were designed to limit and constrain the excesses of democracy. This is why the federal judiciary is the least democratic branch of government, with lifetime appointments for judges largely immune from congressional meddling. (This may also explain why the judiciary is the most respected branch of our government according to polls.)

In principle, the Constitution protects my individual rights against the entire country. If everyone voted to say Jonah Goldberg had no right to free speech, the Supreme Court would tell the whole country to stuff it.

Of course, in practice, this principle has been folded, spindled and mutilated from time to time over the last two centuries. But that's a subject for another column.

The point is that the most important guarantees for freedom do not come from the ballot box; instead, they come from a series of laws and customs that respect individual rights. In a pure democracy, 51 percent of the people can vote to do whatever they want to 49 percent of the people -which is one of the reasons why, even if slaves had had the right to vote in, say, 1825, there'd still have been slavery in the South.

Anyway, this is a point sorely misunderstood in Iraq and in America. Right now Shiite militants -many backed by Iran -are clamoring for immediate elections because they think democracy is simply a means of grabbing power by lever-pulling or ballot-casting.

The Shiite clerics have figured out that since they comprise 60 percent of the population, they should win an election and then have the right to impose a theocratic regime on 100 percent of the country. This would be an Arab version of "one man, one vote, one time" -the saying that describes how so many African "democrats" become lifetime dictators the moment they're elected.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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