Richard Rorty’s Utopia?
Is this the end of democracy? Philosopher Richard Rorty warns the West against the threat of a new despotism.
I don’t think the Bush Administration is filled with power-hungry crypto-fascists. Neither are the German or Spanish or British governments. But I do think the end of the rule of law could come about almost inadvertently through the sheer momentum of the institutional changes that are likely to be made in the name of the war on terrorism.
Rorty is worried because:
a)Within a year or two, suitcase-sized nuclear weapons may be commercially available
b) Europe is coming to grips with the fact that al-Qaeda’s opponent is the West, not just America
c)If terrorists do get their hands on nuclear weapons, the most momentous result will not be the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. It will be the fact that all the democracies will have to place themselves on a permanent war footing.
d)Once such weapons are used in Europe, whatever measures the interior ministers have previously agreed to propose will seem inadequate. They will hold another meeting, at which they will agree on more draconian measures
e)If there were a dozen successful terrorist attacks on European capitals, and if some of them used nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, the military and the national security bureaucracies in all the European countries would, almost inevitably, be granted powers that they had not previously wielded.
f)The public would find this fitting and proper. Local police forces would probably start working on instructions from the national capital. Any criticism by the media would be seen by the government as a source of aid and comfort to terrorism.
g)Such developments would gradually reduce the effectiveness of the various institutions that have made it possible for public opinion to influence the actions of democratic governments. At the end of this process of erosion, democracy would have been replaced by something quite different. This would probably be neither military dictatorship nor Orwellian totalitarianism, but rather a relatively benevolent despotism.
We must not acquiesce, writes Richard Rorty. And what the citizens of the West can do to make it less likely that their grandchildren will live under this sort of âneo-feudalismâ is to challenge âthe culture of government secrecyâ.
As a first step, the citizenry could demand that their governments publish the facts about their stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. Then they might insist that these governments make public the details of two sets of planned responses: one to the use of such weapons by other governments, and another for their use by criminal gangs such as al-Qaeda.
They could also demand that their governments join in efforts to update the laws of war, and to create something like a code of international criminal justice. As many legal scholars have been pointing out since September 11, the laws of war were designed to cover the acts of national governments. Criminal law was intended to deal with acts committed within a nation’s borders by its own citizens.
There are plenty of grey areas where neither sort of law applies. In these areas, governments are now pretty much free to do as they please: to parachute hit squads into Third World countries in which terrorists are thought to be holding meetings, to bring about regime change in nations suspected of supporting terrorists, and so on. There is not much point in saying that such actions are against international law: they may prove to be the only way of preventing, for example, nerve gas in the London Underground.
Updated laws, openly agreed on by international bodies and adopted, after debate, by national governments, would specify when such actions were legitimate. Such updating would provide a good occasion to draw up new multilateral agreements, and to think about using the United Nations for new purposes. [Read the rest]
Though I consider myself a âfanâ of Richard Rorty as a philosopher, I wonder: Are we actuallycloser to âthe end of democracyâ or is Rorty closer to the beguinning of the Great Utopia? Although I wouldnât agree on the concept ofâdestroyingdemocracy in order to save itâ â¦