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News Democracy and the american state

  1. Feb 17, 2011 #1
    Lately I keep hearing and reading that my government (the American government) supported an undemocratic state in Egypt for 30 years, for the sake of "stability". I have also read that this has not been the only case - that in the past it backed the Shah in Iran and Pinochet in Chile, and today it supports undemocratic states in Saudi Arabia, among other places.

    My question: under what conditions would it decide to abandon democracy and become a dictatorship here at home? "Stability", after all, means not changing in a particular way. What kind of change might we - the general population - some day hope to achieve that it would find so objectionable?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 17, 2011 #2


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    Check out US state of emergency powers to see recent history....


  4. Feb 17, 2011 #3


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    The question doesn't follow from the premise. I don't see that it is answerable.
  5. Feb 17, 2011 #4

    D H

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    You mentioned Iran, which serves as a very good example of why the US sometimes supports regimes that are not quite optimal. The Shah, with his SAVAK, most certainly did commit many atrocities. However, due to pressure from the US and others, the brutality of the SAVAK was significantly reduced in the 1970s, and the Shah began modernizing and making democratic reforms to Iran.

    The Iranian Revolution was not so much a revolt against the Shah as it was against his modernizations and his democratic reforms. The very first moves made by the post-revolutionary government were to ensure that those democratic reforms were gone, gone, gone and to put in place a regime orders of magnitude more repressive than the very worst done by the Shah. The atrocities committed by SAVAK at its worst pales in comparison to those committed by post-revolutionary Iran.To make matters worse, external pressure has no effect on that brutal regime.

    Why would you want a dictatorship here at home? What ever makes you think that this could be a desirable outcome, under any circumstances?
  6. Feb 17, 2011 #5
    Would you agree that OUR national interests outweigh others? Your peaceful enjoyment of your rights and freedoms has a cost (sometimes) - do you agree?
  7. Feb 17, 2011 #6
    I don't think it would be desirable for us at all. My premise is: if a government decides to oppose democracy abroad (by backing repressive, undemocratic states) then it may one day decide to oppose (abandon, in this case) democracy domestically as well, by stopping elections, suspending the Constitution, etc.

    So I ask: under what circumstances might it decide to do so?
  8. Feb 17, 2011 #7
  9. Feb 17, 2011 #8
    What do you have in mind?
  10. Feb 17, 2011 #9

    D H

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    Your premise is faulty for many reasons.
    1. You are implicitly assuming that one government not only has a right but the responsibility to poke its nose into how some other country governs itself.
    2. You are implicitly assuming that one government poking its nose into how another country governs itself will have the desired outcome.
    3. By way of analogy (this is a physics forum), you are asking the equivalent of what the laws of physics say will happen to some system when the laws of physics stop working.
    Your question is nonsensical.

    Since your question is nonsensical, I'll give a nonsensical answer. When pigs fly.
  11. Feb 17, 2011 #10
    Do you know where the products you use and consume on a daily basis actually come from - where produced or areas transported through?
  12. Feb 17, 2011 #11


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    Heck, why stop there?

    In World War II, the US, and the rest of its European allies, provided support to a dictator in the Soviet Union.

    The US isn't the only nation that has offered some seemingly conflicting support. During the American revolution, France, a monarchy, supported the US revolution against England. And, in a rather ironic twist, that support indirectly led to a French revolution against France's monarchy.

    The purpose of a nation's government is to serve the interests of its own people, not to serve the interests of the people of other nations (unless there happens to be a benefit to its own people by doing so).

    There's no inherent conflict in the situation you describe - unless the country's foreign policy backfires and winds up hurting American people instead of furthering their interests.

    There's only a measure of success or failure. France's policy of supporting the American revolution could probably be considered a failure (although France had enough other problems that I don't think it would be fair to say support for the American revolution was the major cause of the French revolution). Some of the US foreign policy moves have been successful and some have been unsuccessful.

    Or, probably more accurately, the short term success of some policies have wound up requiring expensive payments later on. I think supporting the Soviet dictator was worth it, even though we paid for it with a decades long cold war. Some of our other policies have had less clear cut results when considered as a whole.
  13. Feb 17, 2011 #12


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    Except that the US frequently states that it wants to export democracy - its free way of life - to the rest of the world. So there is frequently a conflict between idealism and realpolitik. Not that anything else should be expected. And it is even OK if expediency in the short-term achieves the ideal in the long term.

    However the OP was really about what could happen within the US. Could a nation founded on longterm ideals (its constitution) sucumb to expediency? Would it even take much of a shove?

    The starting place for a serious debate about this would be to look at the actual powers of emergency that exist and the scenarios under which they would be exercised. For instance there is FEMA - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Emergency_Management_Agency. And then the famous fuss over Halliburton building mass detention camps "just in case". http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/04/n...r=1&ex=1147233600&en=b3db9152b67cd47d&ei=5070

    If it is of any interest, I live in a democracy which recently suspended the rule of law in a big way. We had an earthquake and extraordinary powers to over-ride existing legislation were put in the hands of an earthquake minister. But this was a good thing as the intention is to enable getting on with fixing things without a lot of planning hearings or budget debates. Yet it also a constitutionally worrying thing because "what if" the government of the day wanted to slip stuff through (as happened with the war on terror and bugging of citizens)?
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 25, 2017
  14. Feb 17, 2011 #13
    The federal government logically cannot suspend the constitution, since the constitution isn't authorized by, or subject to, decisions of the federal government. It's a contract between member states that charters the federal government, and delegates to it certain powers. It's simply not subject to any decision of the federal government. That's like asking what if my plumber decides to "suspend" my deed so he can remove whatever piping he wants. It's a nonsensical question.

    Of course our legitimate government could be taken over by those who oppose it, and operated outside the constitution as an "outlaw government", operating illegally by exercising power it doesn't legitimately have, but that would be a different story altogether. That would be the story of our current government.
  15. Feb 17, 2011 #14
    Not at all. I'm saying that my government has a history of doing that, not that it ever had a right to, or a responsibility to, either.

    I'm not assuming that, either.
  16. Feb 17, 2011 #15
    Wow AL68, you stated that so well. I wonder who will find that absurd since we are living in these times. I wonder - IMO ,what if an underground or shadow org. tries to attempt what snoopies622 is wondering?
  17. Feb 17, 2011 #16
    Ah. When you said "rights and freedoms" I thought you were referring to political and civil rights, not the consumption of domestic and imported products.
  18. Feb 17, 2011 #17
    Lots of people. But they won't be able to logically explain why.
  19. Feb 17, 2011 #18
    Do you think they're not linked?
  20. Feb 17, 2011 #19


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    That may be his real question, but his premise seemed pretty clear and the latter doesn't follow from the former.

    In any event, during the last decade, US policy has been aggressively pro-democracy, to the point where we've even imposed it on a couple of nations. And during the two decades prior to that, we've even had Presidents resort to covert means to bankroll pro-democracy military actions. Perhaps that would console snoopies a bit, but I'm not sure the results have been better. At least you know what you're getting in the short term if your foreign policy is based on pragmatic goals rather than idealistic goals, even if you're not sure what you'll have to pay in the long term.
  21. Feb 17, 2011 #20
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 25, 2017
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