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The Good Fallout from Iraq

Reconciling morals with how a society is organized - in other words, reconciling ethics with politics - is one of humanity's oldest ambitions. Hammurabi, Raamses II, Solon, Confucius, and Pericles were among the first great figures to embark on this effort. The emergence of the nation-state in the eighteenth century, and the extreme level of barbarism reached in the twentieth century, may have created the impression that an ethical politics was an unrealizable dream, or that it was a dream growing ever more distant as it receded into the future.

Yet, despite the rivalry of nations and the bloodiness of modern warfare, democracy is spreading. Indeed, in but half a century, Latin Americans rid themselves of all of that continent's military and civilian dictatorships, and Africa has eliminated more than half of the despots that have blighted its era of independence.

Compared with all the other political regimes known to mankind, democracy represents ethical progress twice over: first, because it is based on respect for human rights; and secondly, because the universal suffrage that modern democracy embraces prohibits neglecting or oppressing minorities.

Of course, progress towards more democracy and morality in international public affairs remains extremely slow. Yet the year 2004 may leave to history some of the greatest progress in this area that humanity has seen.