The Prospects for Democracy in Iraq

I recently finished Michael Novak’s The Universal Hunger For Liberty: Why the Clash of Civilizations Is Not Inevitable. The title alone is in reference to Samuel P. Huntington’s book of the same name. Novak is not ready to concede to those who portray Islam is irredeemable and irrevocably opposed to democracy. He challenges Muslims to find within their tradition resources to justify cooperation with the West in building a free, just and democratic society. Along the way he revisits topics familiar to readers of his earlier works (moral virtue and the free market; the Catholic Church and democracy). While much attention these days is paid to Islamic fundamentalist apologists for a religious jihad on the West, Novak presents the thought of some Muslim scholars who beg to differ. (For a summary, see this review by John Fonte, National Review Dec. 31, 2004).

Novak’s book received mixed reviews from critics — ex. Alan Wolfe (America Nov. 8, 2004) and William H. Peterson (Washington Times Dec. 21, 2004). Lawrence Uzzell, writing in First Things, expressed his skeptical about the capacity of Islam or the Iraqi people themselves to embrace democracy, dismissing Novak’s work as “like much current thinking in Washington, so naively optimistic about the prospects for universalizing American-style democracy that it borders on utopianism.” Uzzell would probably say the same regarding Novak’s “naively optimistic” faith in the Iraqi people when he predicted that “Election day in Iraq may surprise the press” (“Positive Indicators” National Review January 26, 2005) — but we all know how that turned out. So, who really knows?

All in all, it’s a good read and offers much food for thought.

On a similar note, Mystery Achievement has a very interesting post on “God, Man, And Law In Iraq”. He’s been reading John Courtney Murray’s We Hold These Truths: Catholic Reflections on the American Proposition — what some might consider another “naively optimistic” piece of political philosophy — and pondering the prospects for democracy in Iraq:

. . . there is a thread of his thought I want to unspool here that I think might be useful for assessing the prospects for democracy and the rule of law in Iraq (and other Muslim countries, inshallah). The thread runs like this:

  • Good laws commend themselves to (potentially) the consciences of all people because they all have the capacity to recognize the Good by virtue of their having been made in the image of God. This is what, in theory, makes the rule of law possible.
  • The most important freedom protected by law is the freedom of worship (which includes the freedom not to worship).
  • Laws designed to protect freedom of worship are properly understood not as articles of faith (that is, statements of creedal content which are owed what the New Testament refers to as “the obedience of faith”), but rather as “articles of peace” (that is, arrangements that establish and maintain social peace by ensuring fair and impartial treatment of all religious groups before the law in a religiously pluralistic society).

If the above is true, then what I propose is this: That Iraq — or any other Muslim nation adopting democracy and the rule of law — is capable of establishing and maintaining a peaceful, religiously pluralistic society.

Mystery Achievement invites your comments on the above propositions. Have at it!

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