David Brooks Is Mentally Unprepared for Egyptian Democracy
New York Times columnist David Brooks is "defending the coup" today. Why? Because "Egypt... seems to lack even the basic mental ingredients" for democracy.
It's not just that, as Brooks writes, members of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists "lack the mental equipment to govern"—"Once in office, they are always going to centralize power and undermine the democracy that elevated them," which, heh, sounds like a good line from a column about the modern American presidency!—it's that all all of Egypt does:
"It’s not that Egypt doesn’t have a recipe for a democratic transition. It seems to lack even the basic mental ingredients."
It's worth asking here if Brooks himself has the basic mental ingredients for democracy. He seems confused about what democracy actually entails, in particular when he attempts to contrast "those who emphasize process," (the softies who argue that Morsi was democratically elected) "those who emphasize substance" (the keen-eyed realists who understand that what democratic values really call for is people with tanks and guns who are willing to remove elected Islamists from power).
The problem with this distinction, beyond the glib oversimplification, is that it makes no sense at all. There can't be a distinction between "those who emphasize process" and "those who emphasize substance" because the "process"—you might know it as "democracy"—is the substance. This is, in fact, the point of democracy!
When an election produces a terrible, misguided, incompetent government, the democratic thing to do is to elect another government. Even the Egyptian Army seems to understand this, which is why it has been careful to frame its seizure of power in democratic terms—that the military removal of Mohamed Morsi from power was the will of the people, and the procedures that followed were constitutionally correct, and the entire episode is merely a brief state of exception until a new, better government can be chosen by Egyptians. General Sisi, who undertook a coup on Tuesday, is one of Brooks's people "who argue process"!
Brooks, on the other hand, is arguing that the army was right to take over because Egyptians are children unable to self-determine. Brooks, King of Substance People, is arguing against democracy itself:
The substance people are right. Promoting elections is generally a good thing even when they produce victories for democratic forces we disagree with. But elections are not a good thing when they lead to the elevation of people whose substantive beliefs fall outside the democratic orbit. It’s necessary to investigate the core of a party’s beliefs, not just accept anybody who happens to emerge from a democratic process.
This would be a decent seminar for Brooks himself, who seems disinclined to "investigate the core" of the beliefs of America's two major political parties. But it's not a great introduction to democracy. What does it mean to "accept" whoever emerges from a democratic process? Something like ... "allow to hold elected office until the next scheduled democratic transition," maybe. Unfortunately, with a childlike and incompetent people like the Egyptians, that kind of patience cannot be indulged.
Shall we note here, the day after Independence Day, that it took the United States of America 13 years after rejecting monarchy to settle on a stable constitutional form of government?