“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Friday, May 28, 2004


So somebody chose the new Iraqi P.M. – unless he is unchosen in the next couple of days. NPR’s Marketplace interviewed an American correspondent, just back from Iraq, who was uncharacteristically frank for an American correspondent. He said, briskly, that Allawi is hugely corrupt, and hugely unpopular.

LI, thinking about legitimacy, power, and the foundations of democracy, decided to search the new issue of the Journal of Democracy, a neo-con deal, for pointers. The new issue has an astonishing ratio of hot air to footnotes. The first article was a performance that would have earned a charitable C from yours truly, during our T.A.-ing years. It proclaimed that, if we don’t watch it, this might be the century of Anti-Americanism. The piece was almost entirely devoid of references, but these were made up for by that perpetual companion of buncombe, the passive voice. My hand got that red pencil urge, confronted with the ‘some have said”s and “there is now a consensus that”s strewn about the page. Among the murk, one thing was clear: anti-Americanism was anti-democratic. Also, mind you, anti-Jewish. Europeans, decadent ones, opinion leaders, were nourishing this anti-Americanism. The one actual person alluded to in the piece was, of course, Francis Fukuyama, that master of the unsupported generalization and the skewed statistic. Well, my surprise was mighty at seeing his name on the byline of the next article. The Journal of Democracy goes in for this kind of group-think, apparently.

So we stopped leafing through the Journal of Democracy. And started leafing through the Journal of Interdisciplinary History.

There we read a charming review of a recent tempest in the teapot of Italian historiography. Robert Putnam, the man who wrote about bowling alone, wrote a book in 1993 about building democracy that praises the Italian city states for creating social capital through institutions that, in a sense, built the relationships that made trust possible. Or perhaps this is a relationship of mutual dependence – the relationships came with the trust, and the trust came with the relationships. In 1999, in the J.I.H., there was a symposium dedicated to pondering Putnam’s theses. Such is the stately, if not glacial, pace of academic pondering that Mark Jurdjevic, in the current issue, now reviews the reviewers in an article entitled, Trust in Renaissance Electoral Politics.

There is some parallel between the happenings in Florence in 1370 and the happenings in Baghdad now. In Florence, there was a poisonous thirst for political position. Jockeying, disguised by appeals to the “natural rise” of this or that person or party, was fierce. The Italian city states dealt with the ambition partly by unloading the inevitable hostility on a third party: fortuna. Accident was a way of randomizing power. Nowhere was this done with such panache as in Venice. LI humbly urges the CPA, in its wisdom, to consider the way they used to elect council members in Venice:

Consider the safeguards against corruption employed in the Venetian electoral system. The Great Council lay at the heart of the Venetian electoral politics, administering 831 posts in the city and the terraferma. Membership was limited to patricians aged twenty-five and older and usually numbered around 1,000. Four nominating committees compiled lists of possible candidates, each of whom would be subject to a vote in the Council. To determine who the nominators would be, patricians filed past an urn that contained sixty gold balls, plus as many silver balls as were necessary to ensure one ball per patrician. Only those patricians who drew a gold ball were entitled to continue to the next electoral stage. Significantly, anyone in the family of someone who drew a gold ball was also disqualified from proceeding in the election. The sixty patricians who advanced filed past another urn, this time containing thirty-six gold balls and the requisite number of silver ones. The winners divided into four nominating committees and retreated to separate rooms to compose their lists.”
Unfortunately, the CPA’s proconsular tendencies aren’t mitigated by a sense of style so gaudy; these conquerors of Baghdad belong to less ornamental set. But they trust the electorate no more than the Venetian upper class. The conventional wisdom, in the States, is that we are over in Iraq to teach the people about democracy. But as St. Paul liked to say, we see now, as in a mirror, darkly. More bluntly, the conventional wisdom inverts the truth. The real lessons in democracy should be given, first, to Bremer’s set at the CPA, who seem only distantly aware of how the thing works, and definitely opposed to all of its distasteful products. In fact, we have never sent a single individual over there who has ever been elected to any office, including dog-catcher. The inevitable result: we have a bunch of people over there who don’t hesitate to game the justice system, ban papers, and try to game the very mechanism for choosing representatives. In other words, we’ve sent over your typical D.C. lobbyists, and asked them to create a democracy. They have as much chance of doing it as a spayed dog has of birthing pups.

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