Not only did Bush perceive his country to be a “democracy,” despite the fact that it was founded as a Constitutional Republic; he perceived it as being “universal.” Every person on planet Earth from whatever cultural background can move to the United States and become an equal citizen. The USA is thus a “universal” nation, and its universal democracy should be exported to all countries around the world. This version of “universalism” would have been profoundly alien to the ancient Greeks, yet has become a prominent feature of the post-Enlightenment West. “We no longer consider any human action legitimate, or even intelligible,” wrote the French late twentieth century philosopher Pierre Manent, “unless it can be shown to be subject to some universal rule of law, or to some universal ethical principle.”- - - - - - - - -
Where does this notion come from? One of the most impressive features of Newton’s theory of universal gravity is that it was literally universal and assumed to apply throughout the entire universe. It is not strange that Newton, a deeply devout Christian man who believed that the universe had been created by a single God, believed this. What is remarkable is that he has since been proven right: Gravity does apply throughout the entire known universe.
Albert Einstein in his general theory of relativity in the early twentieth century showed that gravity is not, strictly speaking, a force as traditionally understood but a property of space itself as it curves around massive objects. However, gravity is no less universal today than it was in Newton’s day. Observational evidence indicates that the theories of Newton and Einstein can largely (with some yet-unexplained exceptions) predict the movements of distant galaxies billions of light-years away. A scientific theory cannot be more successful than that.
The problem is that the immense success of modern natural science has generated the often unrealistic expectation that we can uncover equally universal mathematical laws in the social sciences to describe and explain the behavior of all human beings. Moreover, while the experimental method has been immensely useful in the natural sciences it becomes more of a mixed bag and potentially dangerous when it is applied to politics and societies, and when the subject matter for your experiments is living human beings rather than lifeless substances.
The underlying belief behind the American-led efforts to export “democracy” to Islamic countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan is that all human beings should be subject to democracy, just like they are subject to gravity. But as we have seen, gravity applies throughout the entire known universe. What happens if we discover intelligent life on other planets? My bet is that on day one we will all be excited over finding E.T. On day two, American neoconservatives will ask whether E.T. has democracy. If he doesn’t, the USA must promptly send an interplanetary expeditionary force to export democracy to his planet. After all, if E.T has gravity then E.T. must also have democracy, just like Afghan Muslims.
E.T. vote home.
Read the rest at Democracy Reform.