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Dan C

I think Hamas's victory has little real impact. We now have a clearer picture of what Palestinians think and desire i.e. Fatah was a complete failure and they remain angry at Israel.

I would look to Northern Ireland. Why did the violence stop? Population trends made Catholics less of a minority and a larger potential political force. The economy of Free Ireland greatly improved and with it came a chance at a better life for many. Lastly, people grew tired of the violence. People get older, wiser. Street gangs have waves of violence that calm down as old leaders age, until new Turks come along.

Democracy's tend to avoid war not because they are democracy's but because democracy's lead to greater economic expansion and opportunity. Absent economic growth, Democracies collapse.

It may be easier for Israel to identify and kill Hamas leaders, but I don't see that as a big benefit. Killing elected officials would only enflame the Arab street.

I suspect Hamas will fall into a period of corruption as they take control. They may moderate (be open to bribes) their verbal attacks on Israel and may seek peace in exchange for the good life that so many middle east leaders seem to achieve. Regretfully, that also means that economic growth will elude most Palestinians and so will peace.

Peter Gerdes

It seems a bit inconsistant to me to justify the contention that free fair elections are not good predictors of peace/future democracy by using the example of 1930s germany and then argue that 1930s germany was a special exception when you talk about why democracy leads to peace.

Still, I tend to think your conclusions are mostly correct and even supported by the example of germany. Wars are very rarely beneficial for the populance at large but frequently provide increased status or other benefits to the aristocracy. However, we need to take into account the fact that people are not always rational. If they are affected by a strong emotional drive (say anger at the true ending WWI or at isreali occupration). Thus I think that even if one believes the palestinians sill achieve true democracy it is unclear if this is likely to encourage peace.

In fact your arguments about why democracy encourages peace seem to be turned on their head in the case of palestine. In this case the governing elite are the ones who benefit immediatly from peace (international acceptance, decreased chance of assasination etc..). While in the long run the populance benefits as well in the short term it may involve giving up closely held beleifs and swallowing anger.

John Hall

I agree with Becker in that the economic incentives of democracy lead to increased stability, and that the centralization of Hamas power will not play a significant role in reducing the group's likelihood of attacking Israel. While I do not have any meaningful additions to their comments, I would like to call attention to the grammatical errors of the previous two responses. I enjoy reading people's insightful comments, but please, use grammar more advanced than an elementary level when discussing the relvance of a self-declared terrorist group's democratic rise to power and its impact on American foreign policy in the Middle East. It adds credibility to your well-founded points.


...if the Palestinians are able to develop a genuinely republican government and move rapidly toward embourgeoisement, there is some hope for the eventual emergence of a peaceful Palestinian state.A peaceful Palestinian states may exist for a short while but it will not be viable in the long term any more than a Jewish state of Israel will be viable in the long term.Public opinion has been shifting away from racial discrimination and racial segregation for the last few hundred years and this trend is likely to continue. As a result, neither a Palestinian state or a Jewish state of Israel will be able to maintain the policies of racial discrimination necessary to keep people of Jewish ethnicity separate from people of Palestinian and Arab ethnicity.While it is likely that Israel will attempt to destroy the Palestinians as an ethnic group in an attempt to maintain itself as a Jewish state and while it is likely that this effort will be largely successful, Israel is surrounded by a huge population of various Arab ethnic groups and, once public opinion makes segregation policies unacceptable, natural population diffusion will inevitably lead to Israel becoming a predominantly Arab state.Whether a democratic referendum to change Israel's name will be held when Israel becomes predominantly Arab is difficult to predict. It is ironic, however, that so much effort is focused on getting Hamas to acknowledge Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state when, in fact, Israel's existence as a Jewish state is unlikely to last more than a few more decades anyway.


First, I think it is questionable to refer to the Confederacy as a democracy when only a little more than, I believe, five million of its nine million residents were citizens.

Second, I would also ask whether the much-remarked-upon affluent or at least middle-class background of terrorists in general, and the Al Qaeda leaders, the 9-11 attackers, and Palestinian bombers in general, can be squared with an optimism based in the tendency of middle-class people as a group to shun war and violence. Even if the group anti-violence tendency holds, it only takes a few violent middle-class people to make a big problem.

Third, I would also ask (ask the Palestinian people, perhaps more than Judge Posner) that if the harsh Israeli repression provoked in response to the Palestinian terror campaign does not count as the Palestinian terror policy "failing dramatically," what would?

Fourth, a further question might be whether the rapid economic growth of Gaza and West Bank while under Israeli occupation (see reference below) counted as moderating embourgeoisement of the population, or not.

Efraim Karsh, "What Occupation?" Commentary July-Aug. 2002, reprint


I found uncontroversial (and unoriginal) Posner's suggestion that procedural guarantees of democracy are insufficient to form a peaceful, moderate Palestinian nation. American constitutionalists on the left often make the critique of democratic proceduralists on the right that procedure is insufficient to guarantee the liberty and freedom mentioned in our Constitution. Indeed, the argument over procedural and substantive due process is often of this character.

What I found surprising, however, is that Posner suggests that "[d]emocracy is unstable unless anchored by legally protected liberties, including freedom of speech, freedom from arbitrary arrest, and property rights" without mentioning the role of institutions. It should be obvious that it takes more than explicit guarantees in a Bill of Rights to keep a regime stable; after all, a regime could interpret a Bill of Rights in perverted ways so long as it had a ruling coalition with sufficient military force to do so unopposed. Institutions with established codes of conduct, standardized and fair requirements for membership, established methods of evaluating data, and public decision-making must administer the state. It is only when such administration is present that the radical shifts of politics can take place free from coercion or violent upheaval.

It is odd that Posner failed to mention the role of socially mediating institutions given that Fatah rejected Hamas' offer to join in a ruling coalition precisely because Hamas lacks the institutional knowledge to administer the state. Fatah wants to see Hamas fail, which would create a political vaccuum that Fatah could fill. The challenge to Hamas now is acquiring the institutional knowledge to administer the state properly, not writing a Bill of Rights that explicitly guarantees liberties germane to legal systems that adopted English common law.


Cut from a WashPost discussion with terrorism scholar Daniel Byman:

Orlando, Fla.: According to Richard Posner on his blog, "Democracy is unstable unless anchored by legally protected liberties, including freedom of speech, freedom from arbitrary arrest, and property rights." He is here referring to Hamas' victory in the elections and suggesting that without guaranteed liberties, nations tend to become rogue states. I think he is overlooking the role of institutions. What is more likely to create states that sponsor terror, the absence of constitutional liberties or the absence of stable institutions that administer the state well?

Daniel Byman: I do not see the issue as inherently tied to either institutions or constitutional liberties. Terrorism is a horrible but logical choice for some governments, particularly when they have few other strategic alternatives. Other governments may genuinely believe in the terrorists' agenda. We see democratic governments being more pacific on this issue than others, but the democratic governments that might go down this road often have other options, including military and economic ones.


"It is odd that Posner failed to mention the role of socially mediating institutions"

It is not odd in the context of this blog. When have you seen Posner or Becker recognize the meaningful existance of ANY institution other than The Market in their posts here?
Maybe I missed that week but I certainly don't remember any.

You could go back a few weeks and look at how the institutionalist argument raised by several commentors (about non-sustaining wages and the abolition of tenure as an externalization of costs onto social welfare) was completely ignored.

You are absolutely right to point out that a bill of rights doesn't solve the problem. Many third world or post-soviet countries have model constitutions that make ours look old-fashioned. However, an excess of executive power will overturn even the best intentions of the Constitution.

Posner gives an old answer to fix that by postulating the existance of a middle class, or rather, a sheep-like herd of consumers who are "are largely ignorant of policy" and who leave all decisions to enlightened statesman so long as those rulers don't overstep some imagined line and sour the market for iPods.

But that is facially and unapologetically elitist, and runs counter to the core ideal of democracy as a mechanism for reflecting the will of the people. Posner doesn't think the people know what they want. They are confused and ignorant of policy, they know only big screen TVs and electric food dehydrators, they baa contentedly every 4 years in the voting booth so long as the elites stay moderate.

Why does it matter that representative democracy is somewhat elitist? Because understanding that leads to a different hypothesis on recent events Palestine:

First you assume that Palestinians are not stupid. Oppression radicalizes and politicizes people like nothing else. Palestinians that voted for Hamas KNEW that it would be likely to cut off aid and reduce their market power.

Second you assume that Palestinians are realists. This mandate is thus unlikely to be about nominating Hamas to reform itself as a replacement representative democracy that will somehow be less corrupt than Fatah was. Why wouldn't Hamas do the same thing that every other "representative" of the Palestinian people has done?

So, what are these realist, intelligent, self-actualized Palestinians doing when they elect Hamas? I suggest they are voting for a change in the FORM of government. Hamas is a populist movement, with tinges of socialism. Not unlike the movements that started to get a lot of votes in America during the Lochner years and the Depression. (Of course, unlike American populists, Hamas is also unforgivably violent.)

So, the "embourgeoisement" of Hamas is likely the exact opposite of what many Palestinians wanted. Hamas is similar to the IRA, various Mafias, and Drug Lords in developing countries. It fulfills an institutionalist, redistributive role that the representative or dictatorial State is not filling. It gains the support of the people the same way Jesus did, by helping widows, feeding the poor, overturning the moneychanger tables... but it also protects itself with violence, something Jesus famously refused to do.

When a population elects such an organization AS the state, they cannot merely be seen to be replacing corrupt representatives. Rather they can be seen to say, representative democracy and free market economy isn't working for us. Some Palestinians seem to want redistribution and protectionism, even via violent means.

Calling for Hamas to behave like a less corrupt Fatah is not going to work if doing so would mean Hamas loses its mandate.

And by the way, it should be clear from this that I am not endorsing Hamas. I am merely suggesting that one might obtain a better understanding of the situation by at least entertaining the possibility that voters in Palestine are rational and considered the policy implications of their choice. (By asking why someone other than a bloody-minded partisan might prefer Hamas as it exists today over Fatah)

Arun Khanna

Democracies are a mirror of their underlying society. Hamas for better or for worse reflects underlying Palestinian social ethos or lack thereof.

Dan C

To Mr Hall: I have been looking for a good editor, ever since elementary school as a matter of fact. Perhaps you could help me?
I have made some chnages to my earlier post. I hope they meet your approval.

I think the Hamas political victory has little real impact on the peace process. The election results simply demonstrate what we already knew: a majority of Palestinians think the Fatah party was a complete failure and Palestinians remain angry at Israel.

What lessons could we learn from Northern Ireland? Why did the violence stop there? Population trends made Catholics less of a minority and a larger potential political force. Second, the Irish economy grew at a rapid pace. A population with increasing opportunities for material success is less likely to destroy the social structures that give them those opportunities. Lastly, people, communities, grow tired of the violence as the communities in general grow older and wiser.

Democracies tend to avoid war not because they are democracies but because democracies with free markets achieve greater economic expansion and opportunity for the greatest number of people. Absent dispersed economic growth, democracies often collapse.

Perhaps Judge Posner is correct and Israel may find it easier to identify and kill Hamas leaders, but I don't see that as a big benefit. Killing elected officials would only enflame the Arab street.

So what will happen? I expect some Hamas leaders will be corrupt. They will seek to bring home the Muslim equivalent of pork to their supporters.

A culture of corruption and violence (and the resulting poverty) will continue in Palestine. Some Hamas leaders will seek compromises in exchange for the good life that so many Middle East leaders seem to achieve. Other nations will seek to bribe the leaders into the peace process, but the bribes will only allow the corruption to spread.

Regretfully, corruption and violence will prevent the average Palestinian from having real opportunities for their families. Without those opportunities any hope for peace will remain a faint hope. Just as it was last year.


I find the situation somewhat amusing. For years the pundits, political pols, econ-polit-military elites have dictated to the Palestinians what is and what will be. In their first chance in quite a while to speak their minds; they have stood up and given the proverbial "finger" to Fatah, Israel, U.S., UN, the World and put Hamas in the Hot Seat. Only time will tell if a paradigm shift has occured or it is just business as usual. I really enjoy seeing Democracy at work!

Roger Cohen

It sure is entertaining to watch "intellectuals" like Posner try to put lipstick on this pig --- or should I say goat? --- of an election. I actually tend to be rather sympathetic to Palestinian aspirations for statehood, and rather critical of Israel. But, please: Only an "intellectual" can so rationalize these results. The soon-to-be nuclear Iran, which has been funding Hamas all along, now has gotten themselves a satellite in the occupied territories! All of the jibber-jabber about the beauty of democracy is sheer nonsense. Again, the kind of nonsense only an intellectual could embrace. Those who hate Israel and want to see her destroyed scored a massive victory. Money from Israel-hating Arab governments and Iran will now flow in freely, and, as I said, the Iranian mullahs now have a beachhead. Brilliant, you eggheads who thought "democratization" of the Middle East was such a good idea! George W Bush, Manchurian Candidate if there ever was one, is doing a marvelous job --- in Iraq, Palestine, Egypt, and Lebanon --- of hastening the rise and expansion of Islamic fundamentalism. He is turning out to be the best friend the mullahs and terrorists could ever have wished for.

Tom Rekdal

Judge Posner's analysis of the moderating influences on Hamas in power is perfectly reasonable, provided, as he notes, that Hamas is primarily interested in retaining power through elections.

This is a huge proviso. The announced goal of Hamas is the destruction of Israel, and even political people sometimes mean what they say. If that is the case here, is not Hamas now in a much stronger position to further that project? If the United States and Europe withhold funds from the Palestinian Authority, will not oil profits in Iran or Saudi Arabia replace the deficiency? If Hamas officials in government make easier military targets, do they not also become more appealing martyrs by virtue of their election? If Hamas in the shadows was an effective terrorist organization, will not Hamas in power be a stronger one?

We are not very good at analysing the motives and strategic incentives of people who believe their hands to be directed by a God who will remedy any weaknesses in their plans because of His interest in their objective. Few political leaders have acted on such assumptions since the Sixteenth Century, but such a mindset may be exactly what we are facing in Hamas and the Iranian theocracy.

Willie Fox

Although not very important to Posner's point, it is incorrect to describe most of the antebellum Southern states as democracies in the sense that most Northern states had become democracies. Certainly in Virginia and the Carolinas, and I think in other Southern states as well, the slaveholding coastal planter elites worked tenaciously in state constitutional conventions to restrict sufferage and slant apportionment to prevent most small farmers, merchants and laborers from having any meaningful political voice. That is the main reason why we have a state named West Virginia.


The question that divides the foreign policy pundits is whether "illiberal" democracy in an unstable, radicalized region is preferable to an autocracy run by corrupt but pragmatic dictators. I agree with Posner that democracy without basic freedoms is not necessarily a preferable state of affairs. An elected theocracy can be just as oppressive as an unelected one. Ultimately, the international community must set ground rules and create incentives to ensure that nascent governments in unstable, strategically important regions are both democratic and liberal. Otherwise, radicalism could continue to flourish.

The March Hare

Of course Mr. Posner does not address the question of final settlement talks directly with Israel, anymore than he really seems to understand that there has been a generational change in leadership.

Hamas has no intention of disowning its dream of a one state solution, anymore than the IRA disowned its dream of a united Ireland. But Hamas, unlike the aging, corrupt Arab nationalists elites of Fatah, has tremendous legitimacy among the young and middle aged Palestenians that are Palestine's future - enough in fact to pursue a semi-permanent truce with Israel.

Arafat knew full well that by accepting the terms of Camp David he would be accepting a death sentence for himself, and for all his talk of martyrdom he did not want to die by bullet or bomb. And for all of Hamas's talk of martyrdom, they will prefer a different kind of glory.

Hamas understands full well that Israel's long-term prospects as a unitary nation-state are less-than-bright, and that over the next century Arab Israelis will likely become the demographic majority in that country. As a geographic and political entity, it may still be called Israel, but it seems likely to be a Jewish state in at most name only, and ultimately absorbed into some kind of broader Arab union.

Bernard Yomtov

I think it is questionable to refer to the Confederacy as a democracy when only a little more than, I believe, five million of its nine million residents were citizens.

Agreed. And were women allowed to vote? If not, then only half the five million (fewer, of course, if we exclude those too young) could vote. At some point a "democracy" so severely restricts the right to vote that it no longer fits the description. I think the Confederacy is in that class.

Geoff Robinson

The fact that the Palestinian Authority is powerless encourages extremism, as it can do nothing for its people apart than threaten Israel. Shades of the pre-1918 democratically elected German parliament in an undemocratic state.

Richard Mason

Perhaps Athens v. Sparta (-431) and Great Britain v. USA (1812) could also be considered wars between quasi-democracies.

However, one suspects that if two democracies ever did go to war, then the winners would discover, when writing the history books, that the losers had not really had a democratic government after all.


"This threat may cause Hamas to avoid attacks on Israel. Hamas's victory may be the best thing that has happened to Israel in years."

I agree!


"This threat may cause Hamas to avoid attacks on Israel. Hamas's victory may be the best thing that has happened to Israel in years."

I agree!


what i believe is that economic variables do play a dominant role in Hamas future behaviour. Hamas has been stablished in 1960s. i can not convince myself that this pro-active group has servived and continued activity only through altruistic and idiological reasons of its members during the last four decades. there must be sound economic supports behind the activity of Hamas fulltime members.
I think that those who has been hamas supporters and financial providers in previous years want hamas to continue its previous policy toward Israel and the peace process.
there is a view that Palestine\'s economy is fed through war, if so why should hamas try to change this situation and loose its present supporters.
certainly, after winning the election Hamas has the possibility to find new supporters and financial sources in western countries. what matters here is whether these new financial sources are comparable to the previous ones. moreover we should see whether Hamas finds these new sources of money permanent and confident as the previous ones? atleast previous ones were not conditioned on being or not being in the power!
I could not find about Hamas total earning (and spending) these years, so i don\'t know whether its present funds are comparable to 1 billion support of western countries.

the possibility of suspension of western financial helps rise another question. we should ask ourselves why did the Palestinian vote for Hamas? didnt they know that there might be such a suspension in the subsidies they receive? was it because of the fact that they didn\'t receive much of these subsidies? how could hamas win the election in such a ituation?
I think hamas has bought palestinian votes with its financial sourses, or at least with promises on future financial supports for the people. In an economy where people receive subsidy instead of paying tax to the government votes are easy to buy. I should remind the case of Iran as an ilumination to this issue.

As someone who lives in Iran, i saw how people voted for the hardliners. Oil prices had risen and it were hardliners who gave most promises about distributing these profits among people, moreover hardliners in Iran were the only competants (among reformists, conservatives, left and right wings, etc) who have not been in power in the last three decades and so had not any pitfalls in their resume. so people voted for them hoping to receive part of the oil rent. but the hardliners knew that they could not fulfill their promises, so after comming to power, they changed their policy and tried to increase tension with other countries to a level that people forget about their promises before the election.

from this comparison i want to predict that, because hamas will be unable to provide people with the welfare level that voters hope, hamas would take radical steps in the next few months and build such a high tension with Israel that palestinian forget all about welfare and corruption. moreover, through this policy, hamas will gain even more financial support from rich arab friends who are richer these days because of oil prices.

I also anticipate radical changes in the structure and body of palestinian government. Hamas has won the parliment because of the subsidies it has given to palestinians, so it\'s leaders feel it is their right to have all the power in their hands. I anticipate that They will behave totalitarianistic.


Roger Cohen

Is it not a contradiction to consider democracy wrong only when the bad guys win?

John Biles

Re: Richard Mason

Sparta was a monarchy, not a democracy. In many ways, in fact, it was a military dictatorship necessitated by the need to keep its angry slave population tightly chained.

Great Britain was a constitutional monarchy in 1812, not a democracy. Only about 10% of adult males had the right to vote in Britain in 1812 and government was dominated by aristocrats and the landed gentry.

Re: Question of US Civil War as 'Democracy vs. Democracy'.

I think civil wars are a special case for this issue--nations don't tear themselves apart under normal conditions of democracy--such things represent a clear failure of democracy to find a peaceful, uniting solution within the nation.


Hamas, when Arafat was alive and heading Fatah, was (among other things) the justification for negotiating with Fatah, i.,e., Fatah looked moderate in comparison to Hamas. The Oslo peace accords were a product of this thinking.
Now, Hamas, an unequivocal terrorist organization dedicated to the destruction of the State of Israel, has won a democratic election and, as a result, seeks legitimacy on that basis.
However, unless Hamas creates a republic--as opposed to a mere democracy--its status as democratically elected makes it no different than Nazi Germany in 1933.
A government that guarantees the individual rights of its citizens (which only a republic, rather than a democracy, can do) from the tyranny of majority rule will also respect the rights of the citizens of other nations. This is the reason why free and democratic countries rarely, if ever, go to war with each other. This does not, and probably never will, describe Hamas.
The establishment of a republic takes more than an election. The philosophical basis for such a society must be explicitly agreed-upon and articulated in a constitution. Moreover, the power of the state must be translated from that of an oppressor to that of a protector of the individual rights of its citizens (the rule of law and law courts are the means by which this is achieved). When this happens, economic prosperity as a corollary to personal freedom is possible and even likely. This is so because private property rights are then respected.
I ask you: does any of this even remotely sound like Hamas?

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