Among the reasons given for the Egyptian military’s ouster of the democratically elected president of the country, Mohamad Morsi, was that Morsi was exercising dictatorial powers and adopting policies that were destroying any chance of an economic recovery in Egypt. The Egyptian military, which the U.S. government continues to stand with and support, says that protecting “national security” trumped democratic principles.
But the problem is that the generals have a fallacious understanding of a democratic process.
For one thing, democracy doesn’t equate to freedom. In fact, democracy—or the will of the majority—can be a grave threat to freedom. In fact, sometimes elected officials will do everything they can to assume dictatorial powers.
Thus, it’s no surprise that democracy isn’t even mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. It’s also why the Bill of Rights expressly protects the exercise of fundamental rights from democratically elected public officials.
Moreover, democracy doesn’t guarantee the election of people who favor policies that are consistent with economic prosperity. Most of the time, it’s the exact opposite.
The only real virtue of a democratic system is that it enables people to peacefully change people in public office.
The idea is that over time, people who are committed to a free society will figure out ways to ensure freedom and prosperity within a governmental system in which people are democratically elected. Ousting an elected official who is abusing power at the next election is one option. Another is to come up with ways that limit the powers that elected officials are able to exercise, such as with constitutional prohibitions.
But the best way that educational process can happen is by letting a democratic system function. The idea is that hopefully people will learn by their mistakes and figure out ways to ensure a free society within a democratic system.
Of course, it’s always possible that a democratically elected president becomes so tyrannical that people decide that they must violently revolt before the next election, but it’s rare that that happens.
But one thing’s for sure: the ouster by the military and intelligence branch of a government is not a revolution. It’s nothing more than a military coup, one that is usually designed to protect the income streams of those who depend on military or political largess. A coup short-circuits the learning process that comes with a democratic system. It destroys a democratic system in the name of saving it or in the name of protecting “national security.”
Consider President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He was democratically elected president four times. He also seized upon the crisis known as the Great Depression to revolutionize America’s economic system, transforming it into a welfare state and a regulated economy. He did that without even the semblance of a constitutional amendment, the means that the Constitution provides the American people to make fundamental changes to their constitutional order.
One of the most radical programs FDR devised as part of his “New Deal” for America was his National Recovery Act, which was duly enacted by Congress and signed into law by Roosevelt. It placed an extremely large segment of American business and industry into cartels, much like what was being done in fascist Italy under Benito Mussolini.
By any objective standard, FDR was moving America in a direction away from free enterprise and economic liberty and toward government control of economic activity and confiscation and redistribution of wealth.
When the U.S. Supreme Court declared the National Recovery Act unconstitutional, FDR’s supporters fiercely condemned the Court. They said that the Court was wrong to thwart the will of the majority. It was Roosevelt who had overwhelmingly won at the polls, not the justices on the Supreme Court.
But it was the Court that was right. The Constitution set forth the limits on what the majority could do. Among the limits were: no socialist system and no fascist system in America. If Americans wanted to change their system to socialism and fascism, they had their remedy: constitutional amendment.
But FDR knew that that route would be time-consuming and difficult. He came up with a different idea: to pack the Supreme Court with additional justices, all of whom would be lawyer cronies of his who could be counted on to uphold the constitutionality of his fascist and socialist programs.
FDR’s court-packing scheme was straight out of a dictator’s playbook. He clearly wanted what a dictator wants: the unfettered right to do what he believed was necessary to “save” the country. Like any dictator, FDR didn’t want to be constrained by what he considered were antiquated constitutional restrictions on the use of power.
Let’s assume that the U.S. national-security state had been established in, say, 1932. Would the United States have been better off if the U.S. military and the CIA had ousted Roosevelt from power and installed someone who they felt were better suited to be president, as they did or tried to do in Iran, Guatemala, Cuba, Chile, and elsewhere, and as the U.S.-supported military dictatorship in Egypt has now done?
It could certainly be argued that FDR’s economic policies were no different than those of Chile’s Salvador Allende or, for that matter, than those of Cuba’s Fidel Castro. After all, let’s face it: Roosevelt’s confiscation of people’s gold was no different in principle from Castro’s seizure of people’s homes and businesses. Moreover, FDR’s Social Security scheme is also a core feature of every socialist nation in the world, including the communist countries of Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam, and China.
I think the overwhelming majority of Americans would say no. Even though the New Deal greatly exacerbated and lengthened the Great Depression and the suffering of the American people and even though the socialistic welfare-state system and fascistic regulated economy that Roosevelt foisted onto our land have done so much damage to America, most people would say: Let the system work and let people figure out what to do about it.
A military coup against Roosevelt would have destroyed America’s experiment with democracy and would have short-circuited the educational process that comes with a democratic system. Democracy isn’t perfect but military coups only make matters significantly worse, as the victims of military tyranny can attest.
So, why do U.S. officials continue to support coups and dictatorships in foreign lands, as they are now doing in Egypt?
Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.
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