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Popular democratic governments are a danger to the world

By David Fisher - posted Thursday, 5 November 2009

Myanmar or Burma has a horribly oppressive government. It has imprisoned the winner of a democratic election. It is fighting the Karens and other tribal peoples who object to forced labour and other forms of tyranny. It imprisons, tortures and kills protestors. In short, it is an object of hate to many Burmese and an object of condemnation to the international community.

Yet Burma is not a danger to world peace. It has a large military establishment, but that establishment is occupied with control of its own people. It stays within Burmese borders.

In contrast the United States is generally popular among its citizens and generates an intense loyalty. It has overcome racial prejudice to the extent of electing a dark-skinned president. It has a remarkably free press. It has no defamation laws that limit robust criticism of government and other powerful entities. At present its president is seeking to change its health care system to more fully meet the needs of the people. It has an ethnically and religiously diverse population with much less disorder than other countries with similar diverse populations have had. Admitting minorities to full citizenship by allowing them status, benefits and opportunities available to other Americans inspires their loyalty. The recent appointment of an Hispanic American to the Supreme Court is an example of the country’s inclusive nature. This inclusiveness mutates into triumphalism. The mere fact of being American inculcates a feeling of superiority as compared to the benighted “other”.


This feeling of superiority originated over 150 years before the Declaration of Independence.

Matthew 5:14 states: “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” This phrase entered the American lexicon early in its history, with John Winthrop's sermon, A Modell of Christian Charity (sic), given in 1630. Winthrop warned the Puritan colonists of New England who were to found the Massachusetts Bay Colony that their new community would be a city upon a hill, watched by the world:

For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken ... we shall be made a story and a by-word throughout the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God ... We shall shame the faces of many of God's worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us til we be consumed out of the good land whither we are a-going.

The feeling of superiority has resulted in arrogance and danger to world peace. US armies spread over the world. President Obama called the Iraq war “a war of choice.” The preceding president lied to get the US into the war, but Obama has not pulled the troops out. The past president opposed the International Criminal Court and other instruments of global co-operation. The ICC has the power to call governments to account for their misdeeds, but Bush did not want that even though the United States called for such an instrument of justice when it sat in judgment over the Nazis at Nuremberg. So far Obama has not called on the Congress to support the ICC.

The international arms trade is responsible for much international tension. Since 1992, the United States has exported more than US$142 billion worth of weaponry to states around the world. The US supplied just under half of all arms exports in 2001, roughly two and a half times more than the second and third largest suppliers. US weapons sales help outfit non-democratic regimes, soldiers who commit gross human rights abuses against their citizens and citizens of other countries, and forces in unstable regions on the verge of, in the middle of, or recovering from conflict.

The pernicious effect of popular governments on world peace is neither unique to the United States nor anything new.


The ancient Athenians were good democrats and successful imperialists. Around 480BCE Athens started to expand its navy. By 450BCE Athens had no less than 160 subject states. Athenians, and by extension most Greeks, thought of themselves as superior to the other peoples of the world. The origin of the word, barbarian, indicates this idea. The Sanskrit adjective, barbaras, means stammering. The Greek, hoi barbaroi, literally means “the unintelligibles”. This came to mean non-Greek or barbarian. Democratic Athens exploiting the idea of freedom could export domination.

In contrast Sparta was a totalitarian state ruling the people under its control with an iron hand. Blood and Soil by Ben Kiernan is a history of genocide from ancient times to modern. On page 47 is the following:

Around 423, Thucydides informs us, 2,000 Helots who had served creditably in their army in the Peloponnesian War were invited to request emancipation. When they did, Spartan forces massacred them as it was thought that the first to claim their freedom would be the most high-spirited and the most apt to rebel.

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About the Author

David Fisher is an old man fascinated by the ecological implications of language, sex and mathematics.

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