Theocratic Democracy



Murali did his undergraduate degree in molecular biology with a minor in biophysics from the National University of Singapore (NUS). He then changed direction and did his Masters in Philosophy also at NUS. Now, he is currently pursuing a PhD in Philosophy at the University of Warwick.

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76 Responses

  1. Avatar Wyrmnax says:

    Tough questions, early in the morning. Yey!

    – A is the US right now?

    Anyway. I think that the first problem with the proposition is B. a Theocratic government isnt a democracy – religion is always above everything, and with it those who thos that follow that religion. Try to believe in something different in that country, or worse, dont believe in anything and you will quickly find yourself with no rights at all. And if you cannot question those who are in power, well, you are in a dictatorship. It just pretends really well that you are not if you are a believer.

    So in that case, almost all of my answers are pretty obvious – Would i rather live under a secular dictatorship, or under on that also constrains me religiously?

    1) A, for the reasons stated above.

    2) Reasons are stated above. If i am screwed with a dictatorship anyway, i might as well be stuck with one that is secular instead of one who also constrains my religion.

    3) For me, yes. For anyone that is a believer, no. Because people will always assume that *their* religion will be the one on top, and they will mostly agree with their religion’s teeatchings.

    4 and 5) Now, this is the tough one. I do not know. It depends on a lot of things, but if the state is going A -> B or B -> A is probably less important than how much presence the state has in your daily life.
    In short, how intrusive is your dictatorship? Does they take lists on church day, to see what citizen is going and what citizen isn’t? Do you have daily issues with the state intruding in your particular life, banning content that is ‘innapropriate’? Do you consistently has to deal with people in the government now being subjected by the same laws as the rest of the people (welcome to Brazil, btw)?
    The more present the state is on everything, the more i am inclined to support a revolt. However, there are several *very* important things to consider:
    – Whatever is the result, it is very likely that a revolt of that proportion will result in a civil war. More so in 4b than in 4a, as a popular revolt usually will meet resistance from the military that is subordinated to the current government.
    – A civil war is a nasty thing. You do not want to be in a place that is in civil war.
    – The aftermath of said civil war is a very big problem. The only groups that can ever take power after a revolution are well organized groups that have ‘military’ discipline. IE: a working hierarchy, with members that can follow orders, whatever those may be. The only groups that have this kind of discipline are always extremists. left, right, religious, doesnt matter. Any group that promote discussion and coming up with compromises with everyone involved is simply too slow to seize power. For them to do so, they will have to have built a military like hierarchy simply so they can react in time, and once the revolution is over, no one that is on top of such a hierarchy will dismantle it for the benefit of everyone. Not when they have so much power on their hands. See every comunist revolution we had on the planet – power to the people my ass, once the party position itself on top of the food chain it quickly becomes power to the party.
    So, what i am saying is that the only groups that can rise to power after a revolution are groups that are as bad or worse than the group that is on power in a dictatorship. The big difference for you as a individual is if you are part of one of those groups instead of the group currently in power.Report

    • Avatar Wyrmnax in reply to Wyrmnax says:

      Forgot to check to receive followups.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Wyrmnax says:

      Are non-practitioners of the state faith eligible to vote? If not, I reject that what you’ve described is in fact a democracy.Report

      • Avatar Wyrmnax in reply to Kazzy says:

        Not just eligible to vote – eligible for all the benefits that a practicioner of the religion is.

        If not, it is not a democracy, and that was just the main point of my argument.

        Somehow, i doubt so. You will not be treated fairy in a country like that. In court, you might be considered guilty just from the fact that you are a heretic – no matter how the proceedings go. It is not a democracy if religion is untouchable.

        The whole point of a democracy is that anything on it can change if the people living under it want it changed. To it detriment, well people can wish that the state becomes more and more facist, and the state will be happy to accomodate it. See the US today – it is slowly but certainly becoming more and more facist in name of security.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


        My apologies. The “you” to which I was referring was Murali, not yourself. I agree with your point and was attempting to riff off that, but see I was incredibly unclear.

        I hope Murali (or others) can respond to this issue, because I think the question fails from the onset.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Kazzy says:

        I think the distinctions being made here are not between democracy and not-democracy, but liberal democracy and not-liberal democracy (or something else).

        Democracy, to me, is simply a representative government. I’m not sure that anything else should be implied.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Kazzy says:

        Take Malaysia. Everybody gets a vote, but the Malay majority gets places reserved in the universities and in public service. The Malay Muslim majority is getting less and less tolerant of the Indians and Chinese even though those form a sizeable minority. There have been repeated examples of the courts not allowing Muslims to convert out of the faith. It just refuses to acknowledge that those people are not Muslim anymore. This has gotten to the point where the state refused to release the body of a person to his family to cremate in the Hindu fashion (he had temporarily converted to Islam). The state insisted on burying his body in the Muslim manner. Because Bumiputra (literally means sons of the soil) policy is embedded in the constitution, it requires a supermajority to change and the Malay majority is just not willing to give that up. Just because a country has a constitution doesn’t mean that the constitution protects the liberties that ought to be protected. Some countries have wicked constitutions.Report

      • Avatar Art Deco in reply to Kazzy says:

        It is called ‘affirmative action’ and an appellate court in Michigan has told us all that eliminating it by popular initiative is ‘unconstitutional’.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        @murali ,

        In your hypo, does everyone vote? If the people vote for a law that is not in accordance with the state faith, does it stand?

        If your answer is no to either, that is not a representative government; that is not democracy.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Kazzy says:

        Everyone votes and in theory it could elect a sufficient number of representatives to amend the constitution, but absent constitutional changes, there are limits simple majorities can do. For example, suppose the current constitution gives a fair amount of power to ecclesiastical authorities. The legislature would be powerless to make law in areas which these authorities hold sway. For example, large bodies of family law, contract law as well as legal procedure can be subject to Islamic law as it is in Malaysia.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        How did the Constitution come to be written?Report

      • Avatar Art Deco in reply to Kazzy says:

        The legislature would be powerless to make law in areas which these authorities hold sway.

        Gee, can’t think where that happens.Report

      • Avatar Wyrmnax in reply to Kazzy says:

        The legislature would be powerless to make law in areas which these authorities hold sway.

        Yeah, you pretty much got a dicatatorship of religion then.Report

  2. Avatar Creon Critic says:

    The constitutional democracy is better.

    There is the possibility for change. Functioning constitutional democracy means that elections have consequences. If there is a significant enough constituency for greater religious freedom they have an avenue to voice their concerns. You didn’t outline free press or independent judiciary, but those’d be important elements to constitutional democracy offering avenues to shape the future. Constituencies dictatorships pay attention to are even narrower than an established church.

    Is the answer obvious? Well, dictatorship means unfreedom on a variety of axes that’re really important to me, so to me, so yes: obviously constitutional democracy over dictatorship. You didn’t spell out what “arbitrary arrests and detentions” look like in the dictatorship, but that’s one big red flag to me.

    Depending on the dimensions of “uprising”, yes, turning dictatorship to democracy is a positive. Dimensions like: peaceful protest or violence means? directed at whom?

    As for the Arab Spring and societies working their way through the balance between public religious mores and freedom of conscience, well, those are questions to be worked through over time. I disagree with answers that end up with established churches, but then again established churches can look very different over time. In the UK the Church of England is established, the PM selects the Archbishop of Canterbury (from a shortlist), the head of state is the head of the church, Lords Spiritual sit in the House of Lords as of right (I think the only democracy with religious seats designated as such). Religious persecution of Catholics was at one point pretty widespread. And yet, over time the UK evolved towards a more open public sphere. I’m still a disestablishmentarian, but these balances are to be negotiated over long periods of time. Who’s to say that the Arab Spring, decades hence, won’t also negotiate a more liberal stance?

    As for US foreign policy, your “What the hell were you thinking?”, well: There are limits to US power and legitimacy matters in foreign affairs. Professing democracy promotion and propping up dictatorship is an obvious strain on US legitimacy. And the US has insufficient power to turn nations back towards dictatorship, supposing that were advisable (personally, I think that’d be the worst course). Thus, an attempt to influence the direction of democracy with what levers the US has available.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Creon Critic says:

      Creon, I think that you need more than a state religion to be theocratic. Even though England has a state religion, it never was a theocracy. The Church of England was always under the control of secular officials. It started with many perogatives and powers but gave them up without much of a fight during the 19th and 20th century.

      A theocratic government requires that the religious authorities of the state religion have independent power from secular authorities and are not under their control. Think Iran or the countries where the Roman Catholic Church was the official religion. Theocracy requires the secular be subject to the religious.Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic in reply to LeeEsq says:

        A theocratic government requires that the religious authorities of the state religion have independent power from secular authorities and are not under their control. Think Iran or the countries where the Roman Catholic Church was the official religion. Theocracy requires the secular be subject to the religious.

        Here I agree with your last sentence, and I disagree with your first sentence.
        I’m not sure religious authorities having independent power from civil authorities is necessary. Suppose I impose a religious test that says all state officeholders must be X religion (in the UK for example Test Act of 1673); an oath outlining a particular religious doctrine. And further punish those who don’t attend church services, like punishing of “Popish recusants” with “fines, property confiscation, and imprisonment.” (via Wikipedia). At some point when you merge civil and religious authorities like the UK did (head of state = head of church), and you wield state power in service of the established church then the state has taken on a pretty theocratic character. Which I thought was part of the dilemma that Murali was posing: you have a constitutional democracy, but one religion in particular weighs heavily on society.Report

    • +1 on foreign policy.

      There’s absolutely no upside to standing to the side of a democratic uprising you can’t stop and saying it shouldn’t go forward when your general maxim is that people should hve democratic control over their governments. The maxim is not, “You should have democratic control over your government, unless you might elect Islamists.”

      Now, maybe it would have been better, if it had been able, for the West to inconspicuously nip the Arab Spring in the bud to sustain its client relationships and contain Islamist governance in the region. But it wasn’t, remotely. It might not have even been possible with flagrant, forceful intervention. Given that it wasn’t going to turn the tide of events, the only course was to affirm the rhetorical commitment to democracy while urging all sides to remain peaceful, and try to calibrate the degree of engagement in such a way as not to further inflame the situation. As I recall, that’s more or less what was done.

      As to the questions in the post, I’m still formulating my response. I’ll say that the same things jumped out at me as did for Creon Critic – the severity of the arbitrary exercises of power in the dictatorship (are the detentions on the order of days or years; are holes being drilled in skulls or not so much?), and the question of which system is more susceptible to civil (if not entirely peaceful) change from within (where my intuition was different, since it seems to me that if speech and association is actually protected, you have the potential for the building of political opposition, while if the only thing that is protected is the exercise of one religion, it’s not clear how that, despite the constitutional order, provides the raw material for change). But I’m still working through all that.Report

      • No, I got them confused. I was attributing the openness (such as it is) of the theocracy to the dictatorship. (I was thinking the theocracy protected only religious practice and restricted everything else.

        So I think I tend to agree with CC now. (Though I’m also a little confused how a theocracy can be expected to be so open; wouldn’t we expect protest against the existing order to quickly be declared illegal blasphemy in accordance with the constitution? But if we’re saying that’s how it is, then that’s what I’ll assume it is.) Without an explicit guarantee against head-drillings and disappearings in the dictatorship and no freedom to gather or speak, I really can’t figure out how I could possibly choose it.Report

  3. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    I’d like to point out that none of the Arab dictatorships were exactly secular. Mubarak and company might have persecuted the Islamists but Islam was such a powerful force in those countries that a lot of lip service had to be paid to it and its demands. All of the Arab countries are members of the OIC and official referred to themselves as Islamic. This often net more than a simple acknowledgment of the majority faith. Mubarak offered Egypt’s Christians more protection than Morsi but not that much more. He allowed periodic persecution to occur as a pressure valve of sorts.Report

  4. Avatar Marchmaine says:

    Since we are talking about A and B and not Egypt, then I must answer 5.

    To answer any other way would be simply to assert dogmatically that Secular Liberal Democracy is the only form of good governance; and that is not a proposition I am willing to support.

    I think it perfectly reasonable to conclude that the Muslim Brotherhood might not be a government with which one might collaborate/aid/trade/etc. But, that doesn’t mean that the Fraternal Society of Mohammedans wouldn’t govern extremely well, even if not in a strictly Secular Liberal way.

    I read that and see nothing more than a sort of Rawlsian sigh about the burdens of Secular Liberal Democratic Imperialism.Report

  5. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    I still think its right to support the removal of Arab dictatorships even if the result is a Jew-hating, homophobic, and mysogynist Islamic democracy. As I outlined above, it’s not like the Arab dictatorships are much better and they give a lot of pier to Islam. The other advantage is that at least the government would have some popular support and we could no longer be accused of imperialism. An illiberal democracy is more likely to evolve into a liberal democracy than a secular dictatorship.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to LeeEsq says:

      I’d like to echo LeeEsq here. The best way to usher an end to Islamic fundamentalist movements is to get rid of the ostensibly secular dictatorships, let the Islamics take the reins of power and then let them fish things up enormously as they pretty much inevitably do.

      Iran for instance: under the Shah the repression of Islamists drove their popularity up and eventually led to them overthrowing the government and taking over. Since then the Islamists have lost the hearts and minds of entire generations with their incompetence, hypocrisy and corruption. The only question now is whether they’ll be slowly and organically eased out of power or if they’ll be violently driven out.

      Egypt as well: Nothing was more calamitous to the popular prestige of the Muslim Brotherhood than getting into the seat of power. Morsi did more devastation to the prestige of the MB in his 12 or so month reign than Mubarak did in thirty years. Now the military is essentially bailing the MB out with their violence (and Egypt’s incoherent liberal wing is enabling them, the poor damn fools).

      So to Murali’s question I guess it boils down to which I’d prefer: A: Saddam Hussein’s (or Assad’s) dictatorships or B: Tayyip Erdo?an’s Turkey? I’d say the answer is unambiguously B because in scenario B there is an excellent probability of a non-violent organic diminishment of the theocratic excesses of the government (unless of course the state is so religiously uniform that there’s no pressure for it to liberalize in which case all the more power to them, I just won’t be visiting).

      So that said I’d also be supportive of the uprising asked in 4b. Since situation B would be superior to situation A an uprising would be desirable and also from a realpolitic point of view pretty much inevitable and thus wise for an outside country to at least not virulently oppose if not support.Report

      • Avatar Art Deco in reply to North says:

        Iran for instance: under the Shah the repression of Islamists drove their popularity up and eventually led to them overthrowing the government and taking over.

        I am not sure that that is a fair representation of the culture and social relations governing political life in Iran over the period running from 1953 to 1978. I think Samuel Huntington has a section of his book Political Order in Changing Societies on the dilemmas faced by the modernizing monarch which might be a place to start.

        Two things: as far as political repression, per Freedom House, Iran was close to the regional median ca. 1977, not out of the ordinary at all. The other is that the primary political conflict ca. 1953 did not implicate the clergy, but rather the country’s small urban and educated minority organized into political parties around Mohammed Mossadegh. (Mossadegh was a truculent particularist who behaved as if parliamentary institutions had an instrumental value, not a convinced constitutionalist). The Shah never sought to undo Mossadegh’s most salient initiative (the seizure of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company); his conflict with the Islamic clergy did not erupt until 1964 (by some accounts because an agrarian reform he was promoting was injurious to the interests of religious trusts, &c.).Report

      • Avatar North in reply to North says:

        You’re points re: Iran’s past are well taken Art. Thank you; I’m far from an expert (barely conversant) on the subject or Iranian history.

        That said I stand behind the basic thrust of my point even if one of the examples doesn’t mesh as perfectly as I’d prefer.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to North says:

        Re: Iran…The CIA and Brits taking sides to assist in the overthrow of Mossadegh certainly didn’t help their move towards democracy. It certainly made western style democracy less appealing to many in that country. That the Shah was then “our” guy and more on the secular side as well as being a nasty thug served to concentrate opposition in the deeply religious community and against us.Report

      • Avatar Art Deco in reply to North says:

        Electoral institutions were already prorogued by the time the mud wrestling between the Shah and Mossadegh reached its point of decision.

        If you look at the Near East, North Africa, and Central Asia, you found 25 states, but just six countries where electoral institutions, public deliberation, and political pluralism were to be found (more often than not) during the period running between 1953 and 1978. They were: Cyprus, Israel, Kuwait, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Turkey. Parliamentary institutions went down in Egypt (in 1952), in Jordan (in 1957), in Syria (multiple times between 1948 and the complete end thereof in 1963), in Iraq (in two stages – in 1954 and 1958), in Libya (after 1951 – one man, one vote, once). They never had any life at all in Tunisia, Algeria, Mauritania, or anywhere on the Arabian peninsula bar Kuwait.

        Pakistan would be the one on this list least remote from Iran in its population and area and in the balance of its confessional and ethnic subsets. Pakistan actually never had an election not conducted under odd contrivances nor shot-through with fraud until 1970, and that election sent the country careering into a civil war. Pakistan’s history since 1945 might be called something like “Varieties of the Experience of Being a Total Mess”. Not really an edifying experience for Iran’s lawyers, engineers, or clerics (or anyone else).

        Iran in 1953 was a multi-ethnic and Muslim petrostate where about 10% of the population could read-and-write. All kinds of odd things can happen in political life (look at the history of India), but you would never have wagered that parliamentary institutions would have had much of a life in the succeeding decades.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to North says:

        Just about every country you mention was recently emerging for colonialism. They had little history of democracy for obvious reasons. Also many of those counties were hodge podges of peoples mixed together by the powers that ruled them instead of based on their natural divisions. Pakistan has had major problems, but India has done pretty well with democracy.Report

      • Avatar Art Deco in reply to North says:

        Just about every country you mention was recently emerging for colonialism. They had little history of democracy for obvious reasons. Also many of those counties were hodge podges of peoples mixed together by the powers that ruled them instead of based on their natural divisions. Pakistan has had major problems, but India has done pretty well with democracy.

        1. There were demographically important colonies in Algeria and mandatory Palestine. There were agricultural colonies in Morocco and Tunisia and perhaps Libya that appropriated a great deal of land but settled few people. Aside from that, there were no colonies of greater consequence than the expatriate populations in Beirut and Alexandria. As for the rest, you had transient populations of civil servants and soldiers, often quite small.

        2. About 85% of the indigenous population of the Arabian peninsula currently live in territories which were never dependencies of any European power. The one place where electoral institutions have been the norm is Kuwait, which was a British protectorate for 63 years.

        3. Neither Iran nor Afghanistan were ever dependencies of any European power.

        4. Iraq was a dependency of Britain for all of 14 years, Syria of France for 28 years, Lebanon of France for 28 years, Jordan of Britain for 28 years, and Egypt of Britain for 41 years. Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan all had electoral institutions bequeathed to them by the external power and operated them as dependent territories for periods of time between 14 and 20 years.

        5. Egypt had an evolving nexus of political parties from 1919 and self-imposed parliamentary institutions from 1927 to 1952.

        6. All of which leaves the Maghreb and the Sudan. I do not think British and French rule disrupted any extant democratic development, but the history of the Barbary States is not my strong suit.

        7. The only states in the Near East, North Africa, or Central Asia which are hodgepodges due to the discretionary actions of European policy-makers are Iraq, Pakistan, and the Sudan.

        8. I am not sure there was among the Muslim elite under the British Raj much sentiment for a series of ethnic Muslim states (Bengali, Sindhi, Pujabi, Kashmiri, Baloch, and Pathan). They certainly invested a great deal of blood and treasure in attempting to prevent a Bengali secession in 1971.Report

  6. Avatar LWA says:

    Glad you clarified that you were referring to Egypt; I was thinking it was Texas or something.

    I think your question touches on something we dance around a lot here:
    Are our basic rights subject to majority rule? Or is there a core set of basic human rights that should not ever be subject to infringement?
    Here in America we have the Bill of Rights which claims this, that basic freedoms can only be changed by changing the DNA of the governmental structure. We erected all sorts of obstacles to make that very difficult to do. Other things like adjusting tax rates can be done easily.

    In nation B, the majority doesn’t respect the basic rights of the minority; And like Murali says, it isn’t any old right, it is the right of conscience, to think your own thoughts. I don’t really think it is possible to value one over the other- restriction of one right usually leads to another- eventually in Country A, any expression of non-approved thinking will become fobidden.

    Having said that, philosophy and ppolicy often have to part ways.
    The President of the United States doesn’t have the luxury of chin-stroking introspection, or subtle philosophical stances.
    The choice on the table was:
    A. Commit the support and encouragement of the American people for a cruel dictatorship;
    B. Commit the support and encouragement of the American people for the rule of the majority.

    The fact that the majority themselves don’t respect human rights doesn’t change that. If we offer a nations people the chance to self-govern, and they screw it up, it was still right to offer them self-rule anyway.Report

  7. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    The question posed posits that Dictatorship A is in practice more liberal on one civil liberty than constitutional democracy B. But the goal of government is not merely the maximization of a particular civil liberty. The goal of government ought to be securing the rights of its citizens. There is more than one kind of right, and religious freedom is one of many civil liberties. And I assume that we are dispensing with the notion that constitutional democracy B is not really an illiberal system of government that places a superstructure of democratic government atop a foundation of dictatorship (e.g., Iran).

    I notice that in the question, dictatorship A is in practice not so great from a due process perspective, and constitutional democracy B is better on that score. That’s sort of a clincher for me. If I were forced to rank civil liberties against one another, the outcome of that odious task would be to rank due process of law higher than religious freedom. Any of the competing liberties enshrined in a western liberal democracy’s constitutional values that elevates law over the government itself is going to be paramount in my reckoning.

    Liberal constitutional democracy is not efficient and decidedly imperfect in practice at protecting the liberties of its citizens (among other things). Nevertheless I insist that it is the least bad of the available broad forms of government. Why?

    1. The definition of a liberal constitutional democracy requires that principles of law be placed above the particular laws themselves, and announced in advance of those laws, which means that there are rules rather than whims. Even if the laws abridge civil liberties, they are subject to fundamental principles and the power of the government is ultimately restrained by law. This is of inherent importance, and not important because it achieves some other good. It is the good.

    2. As @creoncritic notes above, the constitution of a liberal democracy is subject to change if a sufficiently large number of voters find that the government, laws, and constitution have struck the wrong balance between effective government and competing individual liberties. It may require a super-majority and be difficult to achieve when questions themselves are hard and challenge strong cultural norms, but a liberal democracy is ultimately self-correcting. There are many examples of liberal democracies self-correcting fundamental mistakes written in to their highest laws when those mistakes are revealed in practice.

    3. A dictator who rules benignly will eventually die, and then be replaced by a new dictator, who might not be so benign. All depends on the character of a very small group of people. Voters who elect governments that make bad decisions can be persuaded to choose different governments in future elections. The more universalized the franchise, the greater the chances that those voters will make decisions that benefit larger numbers of people. Admitting that either system has the possibility of successor governments being worse than their predecessors, it seems to me that both the volatility of that gamble and the degree to which that gamble will produce an intolerably bad result favor democracy to dictatorship — it is more volatile, and can result in a worse situation, in a succession of dictators as opposed to successive elections.

    So you can keep your sometimes-benign dictators, Murali; I prefer the sometimes-misguided laws made by sometimes-misguided voters.

    Consider Egypt. I was never a fan of the Muslim Brotherhood and few Westerners were (or are). But even a Muslim Brotherhood led democratic government in Egypt with an elected leader revealing a pronounced trend towards theocratic autocracy was better than a U.S.-friendly dictatorship. As Mohammed Morsi’s presidency shows, a democratic leader who strays too far from the path of protecting the rights of his fellow citizens will lose legitimacy and lose the ability to rule. Morsi’s response to this was to double down on his incorrect, pro-autocratic policy decisions rather than to reverse them, which compounded the problem.

    Had there been no coup in Egypt, Morsi would have finished out his term as President ultimately impotent, as happens in other nations when leaders are found to be out of step with the needs and desires of the voters. Courts and police and citizens would have protested against and ultimately refused to comply with Morsi’s decrees to the extent that they violated fundamental legal and cultural norms,* and Morsi would have found himself facing opposition from the Parliament and the courts. Ultimately, he’d have been left little choice but to step aside or face rejection by the voters in new round of elections. The military clearly foresaw this future, but was impatient with the process and the pains associated with it, and the result of that impatience is disastrous.

    The Egyptian military’s mistake in deposing Morsi has cast the political faction that most wants to abridge civil liberties as the victim of an abridgement of civil liberties, and the least liberal of the political parties as the martyr to liberalism. Egypt’s perverse and bloody present state of affairs is not the fault of constitutional democracy — it is the fault of those who lacked faith in the ability of constitutional democracy to correct its own course over time.

    * Here I assume that the legal norms are well known and congruent with the culture, and that both legislative and judicial bodies enjoy a substantial degree of independence in the constitutional scheme of things from the executive. To my understanding, these are reasonable assumptions in this specific case, although I concede that my knowledge of the specific situation of the post-Mubarek Egyptian constitution is imperfect.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Malaysia hasn’t improved vis a vis religious freedom since 50 years ago. China, on the other hand, is getting better at being responsive to its people. At the level of villages and small towns people are getting something like elections and public for a to air their views. From a very rocky start on due process issues, Singapore has become much better on them. It doesn’t arbitrarily arrest people. People don’t disappear for criticising the government anymore. The rules both written and unwritten about acceptable criticism of government has been relaxing over the years. Similarly, the rules governing assembly have also been relaxed albeit at a slower pace.Report

      • Avatar Art Deco in reply to Murali says:

        You have a problem in Malaysia: it has some serious ethnic cleavages, the ethnic cleavages are coterminous with confessional cleavages, and the populations on either side of these cleavages have quite different quanta of accumulated human capital. Imagine the contours of political conflict in this country were 53% of the population Scotch-Irish and 40% Jewish and you get an idea of the challenges Malaysia faces as a working political society.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Murali says:

        Vietnam may be consistent with the trend you describe, as well, although I’m not well-informed enough to do more than raise the possibility. But I don’t think the trend is universal.

        North Korea remains an arbitrary military dictatorship with possibly the worst civil liberties record of any nation on the planet, while democratic South Korea, for all its flaws and corruption, is every bit as good as its democratic cousin Japan for both liberties and due process. Taiwan has also improved as it shed its military leadership and moved towards democracy.

        Did due process of law and civil liberties expand or contract as Pakistan went from democracy to dictatorship to democracy again? Seems to me I’d rather do business in Pakistan when it had an elected President and strong courts than when it was under overt military control.

        Under “President” Ferdinand Marcos, there was no doubt that the Philippines were under effective military control even as the perfunctory formalities of democracy were publicly observed; democracy become much more meaningful there after Marcos was deposed. Is that nation doing better or worse on the indicies we’ve identified since then? Seems to me that things have improved there in every way since Marcos.

        What about in Brazil, Chile, and Argentina — did they enjoy there more or less civil liberties and adherence to due process in the days of the juntas than they do now?

        What was Spain’s experience moving on from the rule of Franco and in to a constitutional monarchy model similar to Britain’s? Historically, has France been freer under monarchial or republican governments? (We can leave France’s military rule from Vichy out of the equation as that was wartime.)

        Greece moved from a military government to a civilian one — for all of its present-day economic troubles, is it freer and more lawful today than it was when the generals were calling the shots?

        Did expansion of the franchise is South Africa coupled with the deconstruction of apartheid help or hurt its ability to have a free and lawful society?

        And then there’s the ambiguous and difficult case of Russia and the other former Soviet cases. It’s harder to tell for Russia, because there is clearly some structure of democracy in place there, but it’s not clear to me to what extent the existing power structure is in place due to the cleverness and potency of Putin as a player within that system as opposed to his being a velvet-gloved dictator. In some ways, there are more individual freedoms now than there was during the Soviet era, but the lack of judicial independence is bothersome indeed. Maybe Russia is like Iran: its constitution is a Potemkin democracy atop what amounts to strongman government. Or we can compare Russia to other former Soviet republics and satellites — Ukraine seems stuck in the same sort of limbo as Russia, but the three Baltic republics seem to have adopted meaningful democracy, civil liberties, and due process of law, as have Poland and both Czech Republic and Slovakia. Meanwhile, things seem to have only gotten worse in Turkmenistan — after losing its cruelly-entertaining dictator in 2006, that nation’s government is a basket case plain and simple. So too has the effective choose-your-own-dictator style of illiberal democracy in Uzbekistan yielded a shoddy record of human rights abuses and arbitrary disregard of legal principles.Report

    • Avatar Art Deco in reply to Burt Likko says:

      The goal of government ought to be securing the rights of its citizens.

      The first goal of government is public order maintenance and defense against external threats.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Burt Likko says:

      I don’t know why we have to assume an independent judiciary. A lot of parliamentary systems have less independent judiciaries. They are still democracies. Its just that they have structured their government differently.Report

      • Avatar Art Deco in reply to Murali says:

        The question is the degree to which you need referees with some sort of immunity from jostling political actors. Israel seems to get along without them, but you still have organic legislation granting the judiciary some autonomy. The second problem you have is whether the culture of the referees is such that they function as referees (in the United States and Canada, no).Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Murali says:

        Why don’t you think that judges in the U.S and Canada have a culture of serving as referees? Seems to me that they do have that outlook — judges see themselves as acting apart from “the government,” as the government is frequently a litigant before them on more or less equal footing in court with private parties. We condemn judges who are too overtly partisan — granted that citizens who are also partisans usually condemn judges quicker and louder when they show partisanship for the other side, but I suppose that’s only to be expected.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Murali says:

        A lot of parliamentary systems have less independent judiciaries. They are still democracies.

        Democracies, perhaps, but the lack of an independent judiciary renders that democracy illiberal to the extent that the judiciary follows the will of the majority rather than the rule of law.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Murali says:

        But they would still be democracies whose institutional structure was defined and limited by a constitution. Its just that the constitution in question isn’t a particularly liberal document.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:

      “If I were forced to rank civil liberties against one another, the outcome of that odious task would be to rank due process of law higher than religious freedom.”

      This harkens back to Tod’s Thursday Night Bar Fight on which Amendments we’d retain.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Kazzy says:

        I believe my answer there was similar to this sentiment. Due process is foundational to other civil liberties, so it is an indispensable check against governmental abuse of power, if indeed not the indispensable check. If the government will not respect the law itself, then it does not matter what other rights the law purports to protect.Report

      • Avatar Art Deco in reply to Kazzy says:

        Due process is foundational to other civil liberties, so it is an indispensable check against governmental abuse of power

        Provides employment for lawyers, too.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Kazzy says:

        Exactly right! And just to think, they told you in philosophy class that there are no unambiguously good things in this world. Pfft.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Kazzy says:

        Whoever said providing employment for lawyers was good?Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Kazzy says:

        It doesn’t, particularly. Burt was just making a joke. Due process wouldn’t even have to protect right to counsel for all cases – that just happens to be something our due process requirements protect. Moreover, even if it did, it could provide due process only via a stable state-provided attorneys, which would employ some lawyers, but hardly a thriving industry. Due process is fundamentally important not because of what it provides for (though of course we care a lot about what it does and doesn’t protect), but because it prevents arbitrary or no process in the application of state power. it says, ‘it has to be this way, not any other way,’ whatever that way is. And as long as that’s provided for somewhere where people can see and debate it, even though it might fail to protect a right to representation by outside private counsel in court (like the U.S. military justice system doesn’t) or do other things we might see as failings like fail to protect against compelled self-incrimination or allow hearsay evidence or fail to guarantee the right to face accusers, it’s unlikely to have completely absurd features the way a system without due process guarantees would, like, “All defendants are guilty,” or “Defendants are not allowed to mount a defense.”Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Kazzy says:

        Burt was just making a joke

        Sigh! so was IReport

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Kazzy says:

        I feel like the point of your joke may have been identical to the text of your joke when read as a serious rhetorical question, though. If that’s wrong, then my apologies.Report

  8. Avatar NewDealer says:

    I need more information.

    How far does B go to protecting their state religion. Are we talking about something like the UK and the Church of England or something closer to the Spanish Inquisition? Suppose I went to country B as a student, tourist, or on a work visa and I was not a member of the state religion, how would I be treated? Would I be subject to criminal liability?Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to NewDealer says:

      I know you can go to Malaysia as a tourist. I don’t know that you’d want to go there as a student and doing business in Malaysia if you’re not muslim can be a bitch.Report

    • Avatar Art Deco in reply to NewDealer says:

      If it is still online, Michelle Ker’s account of spending a large chunk of her upbringing in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia might be instructive. (Her father was an expatriate – a mechanic I believe – employed in some industry other than oil production). Very little about the legal regime governing religious practice, much more about strategies for coping with periodic water shortages.Report

  9. Avatar Art Deco says:

    I think you need to sort out in your mind the distinction between the contours of institutional architecture, the inspiration of regulatory codes, the definition of citizenship, and the coercion of conscience. The term ‘theocracy’ properly refers only to the first of these. ‘Establishment of religion’ can refer to the 1st, 3d, or 4th. ‘Free exercise of religion’ refers primarily to the fourth but can refer to the 3d. “Separation of church and state” is a nonsense term you should forget.

    1. As far as I am aware, only Iran has peculiar institutional architecture (mainly the official position of Ayatollah Khameinei and the various screening boards which vet legislation and candidates for office). In Christendom, you have fairly benign remnants of this (the Lords Spiritual in Britan). There is an analogous problem in North America Robert Bork referred to as ‘the gentrification of the Constitution’, but that generally does not interest people who prattle about ‘theocracy’.

    2. Societies in general have penal codes, estate law, labor law, debtor and creditor law, banking law, &c. Yes, it will reflect or aspire to common conceptions of what is good and right and these are influenced by religion. There is no point in complaining about the religious nature of what inspires the law if your complaint is about the substance of what is prescribed. Of course, you run the danger of getting into the weeds of what the Koran, Hadith, and Sharia really do prescribe. Bernard Lewis and Robert Spencer have some knowledge of that (but tend to be regarded with suspicion in fora like this one).

    3. I believe the formal Iranian constitution reserves a small corps of offices to Muslims. Otherwise, the formal definition of citizenship is the same, and nothing resembling the jiziya is in force. Your real problem is what people do in their mundane interactions with the discretion they have and the willingness and capacity of the state to enforce privileges and immunities people are formally granted.

    4. A fat problem in Egypt today is that the state either cannot or will not protect the confessional minority from abuses perpetrated by free-booters. Keep in mind that there are quite a portfolio of ways one can coerce the conscience. I am not sure that in today’s world a specifically religious set of abuses is the most salient. One way to ameliorate the problem at hand is to enhance parental sovereignty by replacing public agency as a means to deliver primary and secondary schooling. Of course, here there and the next place, there are vested interest which would fight such a policy tooth and nail (with a corps of dweebs here cheering them on).Report

  10. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    In the end Murali, with your constant references to Malaysia, aren’t we just dealing with the strange difficulties of separating Islam from the state in Muslim-majority countries from Morrocco to Indonesia. Separating religion from state is hard but some religions are harder to separate than others. The various established Protestant Churches excepted their loss of perogatives and powers with more grance than the Roman Catholic Church, which tended to fight to the bitter end.

    Islam seems to have the same issues that Roman Catholicism had with separating relgion and state but worse since the Catholic Church at least acknowleged some idea that the secular and religious are separate. Islam does not seem to accept this and argues that is designed to be a governing force in all aspects of life. Many practitioners of Islam want their religion to be more than private matter for the faithful and something thats observed by the entire community. They need to decide to change this themselves rather than have it opposed on them.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to LeeEsq says:

      I wonder how much involvement Japan’s religions have with the state?

      Murali might be better served by looking at China, where Confucianism and the state are very interwoven.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Kim says:

        Japan had a state religion, State Shinto, till 1945. It revolved around Emperor worship. Other religions were allowed as long as they didn’t pose a threat to the imperial government. The Americans instituted separation of religion and state when we unleashed a bunch of New Dealers on Japan during the Occupation.Report

    • Avatar Art Deco in reply to LeeEsq says:

      The various established Protestant Churches excepted their loss of perogatives and powers with more grance than the Roman Catholic Church, which tended to fight to the bitter end.

      I cannot imagine why the Church would resist the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, Robespierre and the Cult of the Supreme Being, the suppression of the Vendee, the abduction of the Pope by Napoleon, the seizure of the States of the Church by Cavour and the House of Savoy, or the Spanish Republic. Who do they think they are, a corporate body with a right to exist?Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Art Deco says:

        The various protestant churches never had the secular/governmental power the Catholic church had. For hundreds of years the Catholic church was a quasi governing body for much of Europe. They had far more to lose because they had so much power.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Art Deco says:

        greginak, this isn’t actually true. The Church of England had enormous powers and preogatives in the English state. Besides the fact that their leadership sat in the House of Lords, which only became toothless in 1912; the Church of England had the right to a tithe and significant control over various legal matters till the mid-19th century and performed various government functions. Protestant Churches in Scandinavian countries had similar powers and perogatives.

        Its just that the Roman Catholic leadership was more independent of the leadership of the countries where they were the state religion than the Protestant churches. They were in a better position to fight back.Report

      • Avatar Art Deco in reply to Art Deco says:

        I think it is more illuminating to conceive of the Medieval political order (“Christendom”) as comprehending the spiritual and the temporal power and several competing loci of power: the Church, the local seigneur and his superordinates and vassals, the Crown, and (from the 12th c) municipal corporations and guilds. Thinking in terms of state v. society, appropriate for modern Europe, may confuse matters. Everyone had a court system and both the regular and the secular clergy were responsible for support of the poor.Report

      • Lee,

        I think the example of the Church of England is a bit of an anomaly for two reasons. First, its structure was based on that of the Catholic church in England in a way that (I imagine) was less true of, say, churches in the predominantly Lutheran or Calvinist polities.

        Second, the Church of England, for all its special prerogatives, started out as an arm of the executive, to use an anachronistic way of looking at it. It was another realm under the authority of the monarch while the Catholic Church was nominally independent, at least until the absolute monarchs in the 16th and 17th centuries started to assert power over the appointment of bishops. Perhaps even before the 16th century, the Church was only nominally independent (there were frequent battles between secular authority and the Church, e.g., the investiture controversy, and the interdict against King John).

        I admit I’m on shaky ground here, as Europe and early modern history are not my specialties.Report

  11. Avatar DavidTC says:

    My answers, as someone left of center, are:
    The theocratic democracy, because civil rights start with due process and fair elections, and everything else is under that, because with those two things you can get to the other ones.

    I am slightly worried that you did not mention freedom of speech, a right that often suffers in democratic theocracies, with ‘anti-blasphemy laws’, and such a loophole can be used to crack down on democracy…but I will assume that this democracy will _stay_ a democracy, and that it is legal to actually argue the anti-blasphemy laws should be changed without being subject to them.

    If you cannot argue what the laws should be, and run on the platform of changing them, it is not actually a democracy. If _that’s_ what you’re trying to assert the theocratic democracy has, then that’s not a democracy at all.

    And, yes, that answer is fairly obvious. In an actual democracy, either the majority of citizens support something, or it doesn’t exist. The problem isn’t that the religion wants to ban homosexuality, the problem is that the majority of people see nothing wrong with banning it. If the people change their mind, than either the religion will change its mind, or the people will stop allowing the religion to make that law.

    Having a religion inserted into a democracy’s control is just a way to make that democracy slow to change and rather conservative. Which is annoying, but if it is an actual democracy, as in the citizens are _ultimately_ in charge, the religion has to play along with the actual wishes of the population or eventually lose control.

    And now I have a question: What is meant by ‘support’?

    I ‘support’ a coup of any dictatorship in general, in the sense I _like_ such a thing. Dictatorships should not, and must not, be stable forms of government. I cheer when dictators are overthrown by _other dictators_. I’d much rather we keep reshuffling the deck on them to see if we can get some sort of democracy to fall out, than for something to happen like North Korea. We must never, ever, have a ‘stable dictatorship’, because those things are really hard to get rid of, especially after a generator or two.

    But if by ‘support’ you mean _America_ support such a thing with military aid? That is a much more tricky situation, and depends a good deal on who the other side is. And, no, a lot of us on the left took issue with us helping the rebels in Egypt. (If we wanted to help the rebels, we should have just stopped _helping_

    And while there are plenty of crappy places that _assert_ to be theocratic democracies, very few of them actually are such things. Most _actual_ theocratic democracies are, well, Europe. Meanwhile, there are functionally no non-crappy dictatorships, whether or not they care about religion. So your hypothetical is a bit silly to start with.

    Incidentally, the problem with Mayalsia isn’t that it has a state religion. It is that it does not have _due process_ for a large percentage of its population, subjecting them to religious courts. Which, of course, means they are subject to laws that are completely unchangeable…which means they are not living in a democracy. (Not to mention they’re being subject to different laws than everyone else.)Report

  12. Has (a) ever existed? I can’t think of any societies like that.

    Religion is a very strong motivating and organizing principle in society, and dictators all know it. As a result, they resort to one of two strategies: Either they pick a favored religion as a way to build up loyalty to the state, or they prohibit all religions as a threat to their authority.

    One might even say that religious freedom is the very first thing that disappears under a dictatorship, at least in the real world.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      I’m pretty sure the Baathists were better than the alternatives with respect to religious freedom.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Murali says:

        Saddam’s government was organized along tribal/family lines, so small groups like Christians were less The Other than potential rivals like Shiites and Kurds.

        Jason’s oversimplifying a bit. When the dominant religion is too powerful to outlaw or co-opt, dictators will come to some accommodation with it and attempt to limit its power. That describes Saddam, the Shah of Iran, and the Communists in Poland. When the dictator is overthrown by populists, religious freedom will decrease, as in Iran and Iraq. Likewise, the ascent of Hamas, which is far more religious and populist than Fatah, is causing Christians to leave the Occupied Territories.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Murali says:

        The Ba’athists were horrible. The Iraqis ethnically cleansed the Jews out of Baghdad and Basra where they had lived since the era of the Babylonian Empire. Not even Iran has expelled its own Jews.

        Saddam murdered any opposition, especially Shi’a from the south of Iraq and the Kurdish Yezidi. This isn’t to say Saddam didn’t find uses for some clerics: he sheltered Ayatollah Khomeini for some time in Najaf, then expelled him, a decision he would come to regret in later years.

        Saddam used to complain about how the outside world would criticise him for his policy of repressing religious authorities in Iraq. He famously said, some days before Gulf War II began, that the invaders would repeat all that he had done to his political opposition. Saddam understood Iraq, no-one better. We did repeat Saddam’s cruelties, often in the same prisons, the infamous Abu Ghraib prison most notably, though we tortured and abused plenty of Iraqis and cynically took the side of whoever would fight for us, including the Sons of Iraq, nothing more than Abu Musab al Zarqawi’s old fedayeen.

        That’s how Americans learn geography, Murali, from the wars they fight.Report

      • Avatar Art Deco in reply to Murali says:

        The Jewish population of Iraq – some 200,000 in number, departed in a brief run of years after the 1949 armistice. The first leg of the Ba’ath regime ran from February to December of 1963. There were fewer than 1,000 Jews left to kill by that point.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Murali says:

        The Ba’ath Party were just unreconstructed Arab Nazis. That’s a simple fact.Report

    • Let’s run through the list, which strategy did the following autocrats select?

      1. Getulio Vargas
      2. Alfredo Stroessner
      3. Juan Domingo Peron
      4. Hugo Banzar
      5. Manuel Odria
      6. Juan Velasco Alvarado
      7. Alberto Fujimori
      8. Jose Maria Velasco Ibarra
      9. Laureano Gomez
      10. Gustavo Rojas Pinilla
      11. Hugo Chavez
      12. Marcos Perez Jimenez
      13. Omar Torrijos
      14. Oscar Mejia Victores
      15. Jorge Ubico
      16. Rafael Trujillo
      17. Francois Duvalier
      18. Joseph Mobutu
      19. Ahmadou Ahidjo
      20. Omar Bongo
      21. Daniel arap Moi
      22. Sarit Thanarat
      23. Soekarno
      24. Park Chung HeeReport

  13. Avatar zic says:

    It seems like you’re asking if a stable, predictable, homogenous society (theocratic dictatorship) is better then an unstable, unpredictable diverse society.

    So I’m thinking this is through the lens of security. Is it better to make sure that all dischord, unrest, and internal struggles be easily put down by a central authority, or is it better to have differing groups have occasional clashes and have to make a conscientious effort to learn how to live together?

    Is it better to have on-line privacy, knowing that some people will use internet tools to commit terrorism and crime, or to surrender privacy and drive those same people further into dark corners?

    I’ll take the insecurity of democracy over the stability of theocracy any day.Report

  14. Avatar PPNL says:

    Meh, I sort of reject the question. Democracy as such isn’t very important. It is an unstable form of government destined to vote special rights to the majority until it can’t be called a democracy anymore.

    The most important thing is the protection of the individual against the majority. Some form of limited democracy will be a component of that but democracy for democracy’s sake is a tragedy waiting to happen.

    Limitations on the power of the religious majority is a necessary first step in limiting the power of the majority. Few things get as ugly as unchecked religion.

    These limitations on the majority should be seen as negative liberties against governments rather than positive liberty.Report

    • Avatar Art Deco in reply to PPNL says:

      It is an unstable form of government destined to vote special rights to the majority until it can’t be called a democracy anymore.

      Your alternative is what? There are about two dozen constitutional states in this world which have had fairly complete continuity in their political order since the end of the 1st World War – excluding only circumscribed periods of foreign occupation. The number of military regimes with that degree of durability would be nil. The number of caudillo regimes would be nil. The number of bureaucratic-authoritarian political-syndicate states would be nil. The number of absolute monarchies (or federations thereof) would be five. You’re gonna love it in Oman.Report

      • Avatar PPNL in reply to Art Deco says:

        The alternative is a limited democracy like we have. Free speech is a negative liberty that not even the majority can revoke except by a super-majority. Religious freedom is a negative liberty protected from the momentary passions of the majority. It is the limits on democracy that is important here.

        People always worship democracy but democracy alone is less than half the solution. Religion in particular engages the passions of the people and so a theocracy will destroy any democracy.

        After all who is the harlot?Report

      • Avatar Art Deco in reply to Art Deco says:

        Switzerland makes extensive use of referenda, New Zealand and Israel are quite majoritarian with no discrete charter of government and a judiciary subject to statutory legislation. New Zealand, Israel and several European countries have unicameral legislatures; bicameralism with co-equal chambers is actually quite atypical among durable constitutional states – to be found in the United States and Australia and hardly anywhere else. Separation of powers is also atypical among the most durable constitutional states – found in the United States and Costa Rica and nowhere else. Federalism is also atypical among the most durable constitutional states – found in Australia, Canada, the United States, Switzerland, and Belgium but not elsewhere.

        The notion that the signature features of American political architecture are necessary – rather than merely advisable in a particular set of circumstances – cannot be taken seriously.Report

  15. Avatar Will H. says:

    No Leftist here, but I consider B as the better of the two. Further, I believe this is more in line with the historic status of the states in the US.

    The issue of military coups and such are a bit tricky. Generally, I see military action as undesirable. In certain instances and under certain conditions, there may well be no other viable alternative.
    “Popular uprising” is another thing I would prefer to see avoided, generally; dependent on what such an uprising might entail.

    That said, I believe other conditions necessary to assess particular instances remain unclear; e.g. were there undue restrictions on immigration under Gov’t B, that would be a significant factor.Report