FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

10 Reasons Democracy is in Crisis

by

Lund, Sweden.

Democracy is a core feature of Western society, normally understood as representative parliament – i.e. in free elections citizens vote for people to represent their interests in a parliament consisting of parties of which some form the government and some the opposition.

It’s not always included in the definitions that democracy requires a reasonable level of knowledge and information, freely available. For instance, one often hears that India is the world’s largest democracy but 26% of the people are still illiterate (287 million people).

So the ”world’s largest democracy” also has the world’s largest population who can’t read and write. In comparison, China’s illiterate citizens make up about 3% and it is regularly called a dictatorship.

The state of democracy – 10 points for dialogue

When we talk about global crisis, people think much more of the economy, environment, identity issues or warfare than of democracy being in crisis. I think it is in fundamental crisis for the the following reasons.

1. The state is being challenged from below and from above.

Democracy is tied to the nation-state. But citizens’ activity from below plus regional and global organisations, summits, forums and groups make the state weaker.

2. Economic perspectives dominate.

Most of what is discussed in democracies are related to the economy, and that is further dominated by the politics of the wallet.

3. Materialism over life values.

Compared with economics and what is called ”realistic”, democratic debate seldom touch values, ethics or concepts such as justice and peace.

4. A time horizon far too short.

Who can achieve anything meaningful in the larger world with a 4-year perspective?

5. National parliaments less and less important.

Larger, more distant and elite-based structures such as Wall Street, NATO, EU, the IMF,  SCO, ASEAN, banks, and stock market manipulations etc. set up the parameters within which the state – national governments – may operate.

6. Economic and military elites think of the world as one system.

But the political sphere remains national, even sometimes nationalistic. We don’t have even the embryo of a global democratic decision-making that can match these two powerful actors.

7. Politicians must choose between getting elected and speaking the truth.

A politician whose campaign would emphasise what we must give up and how we must show solidarity to save the world won’t get elected. Those who get elected promise more and more money in your pocket, brilliant futures built on extrapolations of the present and they make promises everybody somehow knows won’t be kept after election day.

8. Public relation replaces knowledge.

Politics has become pragmatic navigation and positioning, and less a matter of values and principles. Deals are being made and ”sold” afterwards to the public.

Decades ago, political leaders would seek knowledge about certain options from independent expertise; these still exist of course but the army of spin doctors, marketing people, lobbying etc. has replaced most of it.

Thanks to modern communication and media demands the time for knowledge-based decision-making has been reduced enormously during the last 20-30 years. This mostly probably impacts negatively on the quality of most decisions.

9. Politics as a calling versus a career option.

10. Finally, democracy should be about creating choice, not just voting.

Most people seem to believe that democracy is about voting for some policy or law or voting ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to some alternatives set up by the political elites (also called referendum).

But fundamentally, democracy’s very idea is not to vote on an issue set up in advance; democracy is to contribute to establishing the agenda in the first place. Example: Yes or no for a country to join the EU. But that is not democracy. Democracy is to develop a broader spectrum of which, say, the EU is only one option/alternative among a series.

Genuine democracy is about setting agendas. It’s not about voting yes or no to somebody else’s more or less cunning agenda. It’s about dialogue and not just debates.

You could, perhaps, summarise these ten points by saying that democracy is no longer lived, it is being performed. It’s become a ritual with little ethos.

Consequently, throughout Western democracies citizens feel that it is almost impossible to “get through” to top leaders.

Mohandas K. Gandhi – Photo © Jan Oberg

In one of his last interviews, French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said that every time you vote, you give away your power.

That statement points to the essential, classical distinction between representative democracy and direct democracy.

In the first you delegate to someone else who has convinced/seduced you, to take care of your interests. We know this generally leads to false promise-making and considerable disappointment with the whole idea of politics.

In the second, citizens take issues in their own hands – which of course has other disadvantages and encompasses a whole series of other problems. But without a vibrant citizenship, no democracy is possible.

Least bad but far from good enough

In summary, while democracy perhaps remains the least bad system, we should be very careful not to equate that statement with democracy being good enough.

It is no test of its quality that Western democracy is – ceteris paribus – better than authoritarian regimes or dictatorship.

Complacency in this matters could easily lead us towards whatever we associate with the opposite of democracy in years to come. Was the EU Parliamentary elections an indicator of just that at a deeper level?

Jan Oberg is director of the Transnational Foundation for Peace & Future Research in Lund, Sweden.

 

Jan Oberg is director of the Transnational Foundation for Peace & Future Research in Lund, Sweden.

More articles by:
July 27, 2016
Richard Moser
The Party’s Over
John Eskow
The Loneliness of the American Leftist
Arun Gupta
Bernie Sanders’ Political Revolution Splinters Apart
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Humiliation Game: Notes on the Democratic Convention
M. G. Piety
Smoke and Mirrors in Philadelphia
Guillermo R. Gil
A Metaphoric Short Circuit: On Michelle Obama’s Speech at the DNC
David Macaray
Interns Are Exploited and Discriminated Against
Norman Pollack
Sanders, Our Tony Blair: A Defamation of Socialism
Claire Rater, Carol Spiegel and Jim Goodman
Consumers Can Stop the Overuse of Antibiotics on Factory Farms
Guy D. Nave
Make America Great Again?
Sam Husseini
Why Sarah Silverman is a Comedienne
Dave Lindorff
No Crooked Sociopaths in the White House
Dan Bacher
The Hired Gun: Jerry Brown Snags Bruce Babbitt as New Point Man For Delta Tunnels
Peter Lee
Trumputin! And the DNC Leak(s)
Brett Warnke
Storm Clouds Over Philly
Ann Garrison
Rwanda, the Clinton Dynasty, and the Case of Dr. Léopold Munyakazi
Chris Zinda
Snakes of Deseret
July 26, 2016
Andrew Levine
Pillory Hillary Now
Kshama Sawant
A Call to Action: Walk Out from the Democratic National Convention!
Russell Mokhiber
The Rabble Rise Together Against Bernie, Barney, Elizabeth and Hillary
Jeffrey St. Clair
Don’t Cry For Me, DNC: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Angie Beeman
Why Doesn’t Middle America Trust Hillary? She Thinks She’s Better Than Us and We Know It
Paul Street
An Update on the Hate…
Fran Shor
Beyond Trump vs Clinton
Ellen Brown
Japan’s “Helicopter Money” Play: Road to Hyperinflation or Cure for Debt Deflation?
Richard W. Behan
The Banana Republic of America: Democracy Be Damned
Binoy Kampmark
Undermining Bernie Sanders: the DNC Campaign, WikiLeaks and Russia
Arun Gupta
Trickledown Revenge: the Racial Politics of Donald Trump
Sen. Bernard Sanders
What This Election is About: Speech to DNC Convention
David Swanson
DNC Now Less Popular Than Atheism
Linn Washington Jr.
‘Clintonville’ Reflects True Horror of Poverty in US
Deepak Tripathi
Britain in the Doldrums After the Brexit Vote
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Threats: Arbitrary Lines on Political Maps
Robert J. Gould
Proactive Philanthropy: Don’t Wait, Reach Out!
Victor Grossman
Horror and Sorrow in Germany
Nyla Ali Khan
Regionalism, Ethnicity, and Trifurcation: All in the Name of National Integration
Andrew Feinberg
The Good TPP
400 US Academics
Letter to US Government Officials Concerning Recent Events in Turkey
July 25, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
As the Election Turns: Trump the Anti-Neocon, Hillary the New Darling of the Neocons
Ted Rall
Hillary’s Strategy: Snub Liberal Democrats, Move Right to Nab Anti-Trump Republicans
William K. Black
Doubling Down on Wall Street: Hillary and Tim Kaine
Russell Mokhiber
Bernie Delegates Take on Bernie Sanders
Quincy Saul
Resurgent Mexico
Andy Thayer
Letter to a Bernie Activist
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan is Strengthened by the Failed Coup, But Turkey is the Loser
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail