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Briefing and Opinion
December 3, 2004

The Case for Democracy

Former Soviet dissident and present Israeli politician Natan Sharansky argues in his book that democratic nations have an obligation to hold all governments accountable for respecting human rights. Promoting democracy and freedom for all the world's citizens, he argues, is an vital means to combat terror and to make the world more secure. Below are a few excerpts.
The Case for Democracy book cover
The idea that certain peoples are incapable of democratic self-rule or have no desire for it has a long pedigree in Western diplomatic thinking. So too does the notion that the spread of democracy is not always in the democratic world's interest.

Naturally, those who think that terror is largely unrelated to non-democratic rule will not be convinced that the War on Terror can be won with the advance of liberal democratic values. They might argue instead for waging war on poverty or redressing the grievances that ostensibly drive terrorists to commit their savagery.

A simple way to determine whether the right to dissent in a particular society is being upheld is to apply the town square test: Can a person walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment or physical harm? If he can, then that person is living in a free society. If not, it's a fear society.

In any place where dissent is banned, society fractures into three groups. One group is composed of those who remain committed to the prevailing order because they agree with it -- true believers. Another group is made up of those who are willing to defy the prevailing order despite the risk of punishment -- the dissidents. For members of these two groups, there will be little or no gap between their private thoughts and public statements. Unlike true believers and dissidents, members of the third group do not say what they think. This group is comprised of people who no longer believe in the prevailing ideology, but who are afraid to accept the risks associated with dissent. They are the "double-thinkers."

When the Taliban and Saddam were toppled, the fear societies they ruled did not change overnight. While there are undoubtedly fewer Afghans and Iraqis today who are afraid to express their opinions than there were a couple of years ago, there are still significant portions of these populations afraid to express their views. Until the overwhelming majority of Iraqis and Afghans live without fear of speaking their minds, elections are just as likely to weaken efforts to build democracy as they are to strengthen them.

Freedom's skeptics must understand that the democracy that hates you is less dangerous than the dictator that loves you. Indeed, it is the absence of democracy that represents the real threat to peace. The concept of the friendly dictator is a figment of our imagination because the internal dynamics of non-democratic rule will always require external enemies. Today, the dictator's enemy may be your enemy. But tomorrow, his enemy may be you.