Walter E. Williams
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After Moammar Gadhafi's downfall as Libya's tyrannical ruler, politicians and "experts" in the U.S. and elsewhere, including French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, are saying that his death marked the end of 42 years of tyranny and the beginning of democracy in Libya. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said Gadhafi's death represented an opportunity for Libya to make a peaceful and responsible transition to democracy. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said, "Now it is time for Libya's Transitional National Council to show the world that it will respect the rights of all Libyans (and) guide the nation to democracy." German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that "Libya must now quickly make further determined steps in the direction of democracy." It's good to see the removal of a tyrant, but if we're going to be realistic, there's little hope for the emergence of what we in the West call a democracy. Let's look at it.

Throughout most of mankind's history, personal liberty, private property rights and rule of law have always won a hostile reception. There's little older in most of human history than: the notion that a few people are to give orders while others obey those orders; the political leadership classes are exempt from laws that the masses are obliged to heed; and the rights of individuals are only secondary to the rights of the state. The exception to this vision feebly emerged in the West, mainly in England, in 1215 with the Magna Carta, a charter that limited the power of the king and required him to proclaim and recognize the liberties of English subjects.

The Magna Carta served as inspiration for other instruments of personal liberty, such as habeas corpus and bills of rights, and five centuries later served as inspiration for the U.S. Constitution. The ideas of liberty and limited government were cultivated by great British philosophers -- such as Francis Bacon, John Locke, Thomas Hobbes and David Hume -- and on the Continent by the likes of Baron de Montesquieu, Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Through the works of Western philosophers and the politicians influenced by them, including the founders of our nation, the idea emerged that political leaders couldn't run roughshod over the common man.

The key point to recognize is that Western transition from barbarism to civility didn't take place overnight; it took centuries. More importantly, for the most part Western civility and its institutions were not transplanted; they emerged from within Western civilization. Where they were successfully transplanted, it was done through Western colonialism, such as in the cases of the U.S., Canada and Australia.

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Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
 
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