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Myth of democratic pacifism

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Paul Buchheit's myths of democracy, pacifism, and the environmental footprint.

Having read Paul Buchheit's article on the myth of democratic pacifism and the democratic footprint (Paul Buchheit, "T he Myth of Democratic Pacifism - The Footprints of Democracies", Counterpunch, Wednesday, June 27, 2007 ), I have had some difficulty digesting his arguments about democracy, the environment, and money. His conclusion, however, says quite a bit more than I think he intended.

 

Buccheit says that "democracies are correlated with wealth and prosperity" but it is well known that correlations do not prove cause and effect. He does however put an "if" into the correlation and then touches on another significant item, that our lifestyle, labelled "democracy" here, "will place a greater ecological demand on our earth unless overall consumption is reduced." Earlier presentations in his argument indicate the "democracies" use 180 per cent of their resources - a rather impossible statistic as you cannot consume more than you have, unless....

 

If that over-consumption is tied to the GNP statistics, would it not indicate that "democracies" are not truly democratic, but by being associated so strongly with the supposed perfect market of neoliberalism and free trade, it appears that they are doing much better at wealth creation. Where does the extra 80 percent over the 100 per cent come from? Exactly where Buchheit says it comes from - over-consumption - over-consumption of global resources that belong to other peoples and nations.

And that is definitely non-democratic, when one introduces the non-democratic corporate powers that harvest the wealth of their business empires in order to primarily enrich the owners first, shareholders second (mostly more wealthy people), and finally to provide as little as possible in the way of wages and benefits for the employees. There is certainly no "peace dividend" from this kind of "willingness of current democracies to share the wealth." Whose wealth is it? Is that American oil under Saudi and Iraqi sands? Are those American bananas imported from Central America?

 

Sharing of wealth is a socialist ideal, and a very good one, with the monies being shared in the form of proper wages, proper working conditions, universal education and health care, promotion of strong environmental regulations, child protection laws, women's rights, and on. Socialism can certainly be, and is, very democratic, the failures of Soviet and Chinese communism not withstanding. The supposed "democracies" that make all the money are nominal democracies in that while they certainly provide citizens with the vote, the true power and law making abilities that guarantee the success of the wealthy class and the corporations are held by the corporations themselves and their lobbying powers, and also the desire of various political figures to wield and keep power above and beyond the democratic desires of the people (e.g. most Americans are much more progressive about social issues than their government members who, once voted into power, try as a matter of power to see who can hang onto the public dole of corporate handouts).

 

Most rich societies became rich not because of their democratic traits, but because of two other factors. First, they protected their own developing economies with tariffs and other rules and regulations to keep foreign competition out (and till do in many instances) - this is true of the recently demised empires of Europe (Britain, France, Spain, Germany - all supposedly democratic for their time) and the rather cynical empire of democracy that the U.S. is pretending to create. Secondly, is that they are – simply - empires. Empires are not democratic in that they subjugate and exploit other peoples of the world based on their being the 'other': primitives, savages, non-believers, 'evil', whatever excuse the government and corporations can come up with to sanctify their oppression.


If statistics are to be used, they need to be used wisely. Buchheit's use of them is very week and implies that democracy creates wealth. The wealth of the wealthy nations comes from the non-democratic part of government, from the exploitation of the environment and the indigenous people that live therein. That they become democracies of a form probably arises from the other direction - once the greed and power of the few elites is more or less satisfied (I doubt that it ever is) then a mild form of democracy is allowed to grow. In counterpoint, the American Civil War was not about democratizing the black slaves, but about which form of economic society would rule, the agrarian south or the industrial north.

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In the case of the current American government, it is a very limited democracy: limited at home by the same elites and the peculiar voting system with the electoral college set up essentially to restrict those "nasty factions" that true democracy has arise now and then; and extremely limited abroad as the military and CIA and the government related powers pound democracy into the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq as they have done to many other countries before them. That is combined with the 'soft' power of the corporate controlled and very non-democratic institutions of the IMF, World Bank and WTO who keep the vassal states under strict monetary control and keep the people sending their wealth back to corporate headquarters.


Democracy also arrives from another level, the people, the "demos" themselves. Buchheit states that Chavez is "unencumbered by the burden of democratic compromise". Yet all reports and information that are complete indicate that he has handily won two major elections and then a referendum to see if he was to remain in power. The people, the "demos", support him strongly. Yes he is a socialist, a very democratic one at that. The resources of any given country should belong to the people of that country and enrich and provide for them before other countries, and then they can be traded, exchanged, or sold at fair market value to others

Governments and business seldom if ever give up power willingly to the people. The people earn their democracy through action - protests, strikes, and on into insurrection. Is not insurrection the method in which the "demos" of the thirteen colonies relieved themselves of the power of Britain? Or was that just the colonial nouveau riche and noveau puissant expressing their desire to move out on their own, making their own empire?

 

Buchheit is correct, "The welcome peace dividend of a democratic world may depend on the willingness of current democracies to share the wealth." That sharing involves all that American foreign policy (and quite a bit of domestic policy) is not. Other peoples and other nations should own their own resources, they should control their own environments; they should control their own social institutions; they seek social evolution as with Chavez in Venezuela (I acknowledge he is not perfect, but he is democratic, much more so than Bush, Cheney, and corporate governance of America could ever be); they should be able to trade on an equal playing field with proper working, environmental, and social conditions for all people of the world.

As a final note, democracy needs to recognized as an ongoing developing institute and many of the current wealthy nations have a great deal of work to do before the "demos", the people, are put into actual democracy, and the "pluto-" and the "auto-" are removed. Yes, a true democracy would probably be pacifist as all non-democratic empires devolve into militarist societies with subservient supporting states (Canada, Britain, Australia in the case of the U.S.), mercenaries (hire a Blackwater army!), symbiotic states (Israel), and coercion of other states that cannot stand up to the economic and military power of the centre (Pakistan). We are a long way from true democracy in this world now.

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And yes, there is a huge footprint, but I would argue that it is not a democratic footprint, but a plutocratic footprint, an autocratic footprint of over consumption based on the wealth absorption and greed of corporate and government powers abusing other peoples and nations.

Democratic pacifism is currently a myth. The footprint of the 'democracies' is obviously huge, consuming more than several earths could supply and sustain (it varies a bit according to which website calculator is used). Buchheit's definitions of democracy and wealth, and his poorly supported co-relations are confusing in light of the implications of his title and subtitle.

 

Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews to Palestine Chronicles. His interest in this topic stems originally from an (more...)
 

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