Tuesday, November 14, 2006

How Lebanon And The US Are Alike

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said on Tuesday he would try to keep his depleted government afloat and resist demands by Hezbollah and its allies that would amount to "tyranny of the minority".

Siniora, who has lost a quarter of his 24-member cabinet since Saturday, said he would pursue dialogue despite the collapse of all-party talks and Hezbollah threats of street protests to bring down the anti-Syrian majority government.

He told Reuters in an interview that the majority was ready to expand the cabinet, but demands by Hezbollah, backed by its Shi'ite Muslim ally Amal and Christian leader Michel Aoun, for more than a third of cabinet seats were unacceptable.
When I studied PoliSci in college, way back in the Carter administration, I read John Stuart Mill's On Liberty. Included in that book is the phrase "tyranny of the majority".

"Ochlocracy" is another term for it. Essentially, what Mill argues for is the preservation of individual liberty by government as a prevention of ocholocracy, or mob rule. As Mill puts it:
Like other tyrannies, the tyranny of the majority was at first, and is still vulgarly, held in dread, chiefly as operating through the acts of the public authorities. But reflecting persons perceived that when society is itself the tyrant — society collectively over the separate individuals who compose it — its means of tyrannizing are not restricted to the acts which it may do by the hands of its political functionaries. Society can and does execute its own mandates; and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practices a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself. Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough; there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling, against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development and, if possible, prevent the formation of any individuality not in harmony with its ways, and compel all characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own.
Note that this includes not just the political majority, but also the social majority, and has been the foundation of libertarianism as well as liberalism, two sides of the same coin (and something libertarians go nuts at when you mention it to them...try it and see).

In other words, laws are there to protect me from the mob.

During that term, I wrote an alternate opinion on this theme, that those laws also imply a "tyranny of the minority," in that protecting the rights of anyone, we open the door to the inclusion of any particular philosophy, and the exertion of those rights can wreak havoc on society and politics.

Sure enough, we saw it here in America, with the rise of the Christian Coalition and the Religious Right: a minority which assumed the mantle of a majority and behaved as if it truly were the ruling majority.

Ruling, yes. Majority, no. For a brief period in American history, the Religious Right held sway over the national dialogue, politically, but also socially. How? By the consolidation of power, philosophies, and funds, influence disproportionate to the numbers of people who truly were in that faction was obtained. In creating another political locus in America, American politics was forced to pay attention to the demands of those people located at that locus.

Too, now, this is playing out in Lebanon. We see Hamas, funded by Syria and Iran, creating a large faction that will tilt the balance of power in Lebanon to a fundamentalist regime, aided in that effort in large part by the ham-handed policies of Israel in southern Lebanon.

As with the Christian Coalition, it doesn't take much for Hamas to draw undue influence to its point of view: a few well-placed photos of the damage Israeli missiles did, and suddenly the very moderate government that the US had been assisting is in deep trouble of being taken over by zealots.

Nevermind that the damage those missiles did is as a direct result of the actions of Hamas prior to that point. As with the rise of the religious right in this country, it's never the first foul the referee (e.g. the body politic) notices, but the retaliation, particularly if said retaliation comes from the person (or faction) you expected to commit a foul in the first place.

It does not bode well for American Middle East policy, that Lebanon is having such internal dissension. Lebanon is a key component of any buffer for Israel, and the fall of democracy in Lebanon would be far worse than the fall of the Shah in Iran was.

A smart President would send an envoy over that has some familiarity with this kind of internal strife, perhaps a former President who battled this kind of "insurgency" in his own administration and held it to a draw, if not beat it back...hmmmmmmmmmmmmm....can't think of anyone....*koffkoffClintonCarterkoffkoff*...can you?