Right vs. Might

July-August 1989

Washington—From one end of the earth to the other, nations are stirring and governments are quaking:

—Struggling for the rights of a civil society, Polish voters reject an entire regime.

—Chinese officials, fearing democracy, resort to brute force only to undermine even further their claim to legitimacy.

—The Ayatollah Khomeini's appeal to divine authority finally falls silent in death.

—South African authorities maintain ever shrinking control by means of dictatorial force even as the unrepresented majority moves the country closer and closer to a new order.

—American lawmakers, held in very low esteem by the voters, begin to clean House.

The list could be extended by pages: the Soviet Union, Hungary, Israel and Palestine, Japan, Korea, Argentina, El Salvador, Nicaragua.... The question of what constitutes a legitimate government is suddenly, at one moment, the most urgent issue across the entire globe.

Those of us in the West squeal gleefully with an "I told you so" as totalitarian communist regimes show their cracks. But we remain slow to understand and strangely dumb about the crisis of our own weakened political systems. David Broder commented recently about China that "Democracy is difficult. It takes much more than demonstrations to achieve it." Michael Dobbs pointed out that the emerging pluralism in Poland has become possible only because people there spent decades building a "civil society" outside the control of the communist regime.

Do we realize any longer in the United States that sustaining a healthy democracy requires hard work and that nurturing a civil society demands sweat and tears from every citizen? Countries that have never enjoyed a functioning democracy will find the building process long and difficult. Those that take for granted their democratic systems may wake up one day to discover that they've collapsed because of inattention and cynical disdain.

As we observe developments throughout the world today, we should not forget to turn a critical eye toward ourselves. How high is the quality of our civil discourse in America? Do our children have any idea what it takes to produce just laws and to nurture the common wealth?

The legal protection of individual freedom is only a small part of a healthy political order, and it becomes hollow quickly when those who enjoy it turn all their energies to private advantage, personal gain, and interest-group politics.

While most Americans may love America, not so many hold a high regard for public officials or for government generally. Our political system may appear strong and healthy today when compared to those in Iran, China, and Ethiopia, but its foundations may be crumbling.

What is a good and "right" government for today's complex society? This question is as urgent for us as it is for the Poles, the Chinese, the South Africans, and the Hungarians. Brute force, sheer 'might' will fill any vacuum where "right" has crumbled.

What a grand opportunity we now have to promote a solid Christian political alternative of public justice to fill the void of disintegrating communism, hollowing secularism, and the mindless brutality of might without right.

—The Editor