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At Ricochet’s recent Nashville Meet-up, the subject of George W. Bush’s speech came up, with — if I remember correctly* — none other than Troy Senik dismissing it as utopian. To my mind, that is precisely what inaugurals are for. I had a brief debate with Frank Soto about whether democratization of the planet would be complete within 20 years. On reflection, though, the debate missed the point. Even if it takes 40 years to bring about universal peace on an international scale, that’s the sort of grand project that benefits from markers being laid down.
I stray even further from confidence in attributing Gary McVey’s thoughts to Troy, but his this comment eloquently captures the most common reason for believing the speech to be ill-considered. “Blame Kristol and Barnes for that universal hunger for democracy line, but plenty of us believed it. Dad knew it was baloney. He was right.” This appears true at a trivial level; there are people who appear to prefer dictatorship to democracy, and they’re not all dictators (although the role and the outlook do appear to correlate). I believe that the overwhelming bulk of humanity hears what the Inaugural called the call to freedom, but many of them also have other concerns.
Francis Fukuyama, in his Origins of Political Order, compares and contrasts Magna Carta with Ivan the Terrible. In both instances, the nobility found itself with the power to rewrite the constitution. In England, power was tilted to the barons and, to a lesser extent, the people. In Russia, the barons chose to give up their power. Their oppression by their neighbors was so great that they willingly piled domestic oppression on their own heads in order to mitigate it. In England, peace and prosperity gave rise to a desire for decentralized power and freedom. Fukuyama emphasizes that the Russian instinct was not wholly irrational by noting that Hungary had a moment similar to the Magna Carta at about the same time. The Hungarians were not secure, and the decentralization worked out for them pretty poorly.