Study Guide

The Quiet American Philosophical Viewpoint: Quick-Fix Democracy

By Graham Greene

Philosophical Viewpoint: Quick-Fix Democracy

He didn't even hear what I said; he was absorbed already in the dilemmas of Democracy and the responsibilities of the West; he was determined – I learnt that very soon – to do good, not to any individual person but to a country, a continent, a world. Well, he was in his element now with a whole universe to improve. (1.1.81)

Fowler isn't against democracy per se. He's concerned with Pyle's determination to remake a world he doesn't understand based on abstract ideas that exist only in a book.

He never saw anything he hadn't heard in a lecture hall, and his writers and lecturers made a fool of him. When he saw a dead body he couldn't even see the wounds. A Red menace, a soldier of democracy. (1.2.2.87)

Pyle's like a child who thinks he appreciates the complexities of war, tyranny, and democracy because he's memorized every line from the Star Wars movies.

'I remember thinking before I went to sleep how convenient it would be if there were an attack and you were killed. A hero's death. For Democracy.'
'Don't laugh at me, Thomas.' (2.1.68-9)

This could have been a learning moment for Pyle. He rightly observes that Fowler is mocking him, but Pyle speaks just as tritely when he's being serious. Fowler hasn't exaggerated the rhetoric.

'You and your like are trying to make a war with the help of people who just aren't interested. […] They want enough rice. They don't want to be shot at. They want one day to be much the same as another. They don't want our white skins around telling them what they want.' (2.2.3.38-40)

With respect to the Indochina War, Fowler is definitely a non-interventionist.

'They'll be forced to believe what they are told, they won't be allowed to think for themselves.'
'That's a luxury. Do you think the peasant sits and thinks of God and Democracy when he gets inside his mud hut at night?' (2.2.3.43-44)

Is Fowler making an assumption here? Does he know what the peasant thinks about at night?

'Then someone asked him some stock question about the chances of the Government here ever beating the Vietminh and he said a Third Force could do it. There was always a Third Force to be found free from Communism and the taint of colonialism – national democracy, he called it; you only had to find a leader and keep him safe from the old colonial powers.' (2.3.2.19)

This is York Harding's program in a nutshell and the philosophy animating Pyle.

York Harding might write in graphic abstractions about the Third Force, but this was what it came down to – this was It. (3.1.2.23)

When Fowler criticizes Harding for writing in abstractions, he means that Harding doesn't report about the world as it actually is. Harding sees only what his philosophy allows him to see. And because his ideas are not based on the real world, applying them to the real world results in disaster.

'We are the old colonial peoples, Pyle, but we've learnt a bit of reality, we've learned not to play with matches. This Third Force – it comes out of a book, that's all. General Thé's only a bandit with a few thousand men: he's not a national democracy.' (3.2.1.39)

There's an innocence to Harding's program, which may be why it so appealed to Pyle.

'Do you expect General Thé to lose his demonstration? This is better than a parade. Women and children are news, and soldiers aren't, in a war. This will hit the world's Press. You've got the Third Force and National Democracy all over your right shoe. Go home to Phuong and tell her about your heroic deed – there are a few dozen less of her people to worry about.' (3.2.2.46)

To Pyle, the general isn't a terrorist. Thé is like a character in a story he writing who will follow the script. When the general goes his own way, Pyle isn't angry. He's confused.

'Harding had been here once for a week on his way from Bangkok to Tokyo. Pyle made the mistake of putting his idea into practice.' (4.1.14)

Harding's program is largely based on a week's worth of observations. Pyle, of course, hasn't considered the problems with this little amount of research.