egyptnew_20110213_163335.jpgDemocracy vs. Freedom

Democracy is not to be worshipped as an idol unto itself

People often confuse the idea of freedom, which rests on the principle of inalienable individual rights, with the idea of democracy, which rests on the principle of unlimited majority rule. But what if the Egyptian majority wanted a dictator or an absolute fundamentalist religious leader? Is something right and moral just because a majority wants it?

Whatever its virtues, democracy is not freedom. As Tocqueville warned in his classic Democracy in America, a democracy can be just as tyrannical as a dictatorship once the voters decide to vote themselves money from the treasury.

Democracy is a method of deciding who shall rule. It does not determine the morality of the resulting government. Democracy is not to be worshipped as an idol unto itself. Arguably, if there was democracy in the middle ages or earlier, it would have destroyed the world. Wise and seasoned democracy – one that will support true freedoms and equal rights – requires an infrastructure than can handle it. It took centuries if not millennia to build just such infrastructures, and they are still quite vulnerable.

So while we support freedom it has to be balanced with humility before G‑d. Especially when there are religious passions raging. The only way to balance freedom with religion is by making our peace with G‑d. Like Abraham taught.

Egypt’s search today – and all revolutions against oppressive regimes – is for freedom, not merely democracy. A government that will honor and respect all people’s rights, even that of minorities. And it will take much work and time for that type of freedom to take hold, amidst all the chaotic forces swirling in an Egypt that for decades (and perhaps forever) have deprived its people from their basic rights.

That is the great challenge today: Not whether autocracy is better than theocracy, or unbridled freedoms, which can lead to chaos. The challenge is how to ease Egypt into a smooth transition from its past into a new future.

Thank You, Egypt

We should be thanking the Egyptians today for reminding us all of the true challenge in the Middle East today. The enemy is not Israel and not other scapegoats. The enemy is repression and the violation of the fundamental basic human rights that every human being deserves.

Hopefully, this revolution will not be hijacked by interest groups, and serve as a healthy wake up call to us all, to the entire region, to the entire world: Time has come to make our peace with G‑d and with each other.