Bolívar on democracy

Since my reader in the northern hemisphere is spending all his time hanging around in a beach bar, hoping someone will talk to him, I’m going to post the occasional bit of new-to-me nonsense from down south until things cool down again in September.

I think there’s no question that we’re all going to end up living in democratic states sooner or later because that’s what most people want and because people in other countries have now made it clear that they are prepared to take action to help them achieve this goal. A couple of hundred years ago things looked quite different to dictator-wolf in liberator-sheep’s gear, Simón Bolívar. Here’s part of his Discurso de Angostura (1819):

Only democracy, in my view, is susceptible to absolute freedom. But which democratic government has simultaneously combined power, prosperity and permanence? And have we not seen, on the contrary, the aristocracy and the monarchy laying the foundations for great and powerful empires for centuries and centuries? Which government is older than the Chinese? Which republic has last longer than the Spartan, the Venetian? Did not the Roman Empire conquer the world? Has France not had fourteen centuries of monarchy? Who is greater than England? These nations, nevertheless, have been or are aristocracies and monarchies.

Like virtually every South American dictator since, Bolívar trots out the phrases we all like to hear–popular sovereignty, separation of powers, civil liberties, the ending of slavery and the monarchy–and then goes on to mimic Montesquieu and say that the Venezuelans’ Moral Constitution and various other unfortunate details of climate and custom make them as yet unsuited to a Republic of Saints, as was to be found further north. Instead he seeks inspiration in Rome and in the British House of Lords. It’s fitting in this respect that, as well as supporting democracy in other parts of the world, the Blair administration has demonstrated a commitment to continued constitutional reform at home.

Sólo la democracia, en mi concepto, es susceptible de una absoluta libertad; pero, ¿cuál es el gobierno democrático que ha reunido a un tiempo, poder, prosperidad y permanencia? ¿Y no se ha visto por el contrario la aristocracia, la monarquía cimentar grandes y poderosos imperios por siglos y siglos? ¿Qué gobierno más antiguo que el de China? ¿Qué república ha excedido en duración a la de Esparta, a la de Venecia? ¿El Imperio Romano no conquistó la tierra? ¿No tiene la Francia catorce siglos de monarquía? ¿Quién es más grande que la Inglaterra? Estas naciones, sin embargo, han sido o son aristocracias y monarquías.

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