J. J. Baloch
The prophets of democracy seem to be mesmerized with the fantasies of democracy for its being inevitable, ultimate and the eternal political dispensation, having no substitute and no alternative, at least on the doctrinal level, as the awesome and unprecedented ethics and philosophy of statehood. However, the democratic experience of different nations over the centuries have brought forth many dogmas of democracy which need a critique when we are going to elections and celebrating democracy like the conquest of the world and the panacea for our all socio-political troubles.
The first and the foremost dogma is the marriage of inconvenience between liberty and tyranny. The democracy is ethically grounded in the political belief of civil liberty or fundamental freedoms where its real dilemma is rooted. The pioneers of democracy like JJ Rousseau who claimed that people are born free and should remain free to live the way they think is right and good for them and this could happen only in the vote-based majority rule. The scholars like Larry Diamond (2007) in his celebrated work “The Spirit of Democracy” calls the 20th century as the peoples’ century because in the last decade of the 20th century the Soviet citadel of communism collapsed, leaving many of its ideological partners worldwide to follow the suit. However, after two decades of the transformation of many East European countries to democracy, the threat to their fundamental freedoms and to their national sovereignty still persists as the common men, women and children face more problems caused by the state than by non-state or criminal actors. In America for example, harsh policies of Donald Trump for re-living in the past in what he says “making America great again or you are a fake news”. This approach reminds of bad past memories of social divisions, inequalities and violence in American society. The strict immigration laws and counterterrorism regimes etc are considered by many libertarians as the grave threat to basic human rights of the American people. Such policies tend to encourage violations of fundamental human rights and civil liberties, which are enshrined in the bill of rights in the American constitution. As Noam Chomsky aptly says “counterterrorism is another form of terrorism especially when it comes to stricter laws and powers to state enforcement mechanism to deprive the citizenry of their constitutionally guaranteed rights”.
According to Larry, the democracy is the only system of governance that recognises human capacity to rule himself or herself. There is hardly any dissension in this notion but in the political dispensation in vogue around the world, there is a lot that fly in the face of this liberty-centric philosophy of democracy which appears fictional and poetical when many governments apparently born out of electoral process and public mandate run their entire show of governance in an undemocratic way as it happens in many regimes worldwide, including Pakistan. The elected autocrats like Vladimir Putin of Russia, Trump of America, Erdogan of Turkey, Xi Jinping of China, Kim Jong-un of North Korea and many more around the world send clear signals to alive-minds that the neo-authoritarianism sits well at the heart of modern democracies in the world today. Modern democracies are, therefore, cooking serious contradictions within.
The coexistence of democracy with capitalism is the second dogma of democracy. Many argue that democracy is the system of government that stands for an egalitarian society. For the claimants of democracy, it would be a bitter pill to swallow that democracy is yet to iron out its inherent and intrinsic tensions with capitalism. Take the example of America that claims to be the pioneer of the revolution of democracy worldwide, where everything that takes place is either in favour of liberty or against it. However, the critics of the American war of independence or the democratic revolution argue that American war of independence is the only revolution in the world history that can be called “rich man’s revolution”. It had nothing to do with poor or the common men. As a result, capitalism instead of socialism deepened its roots in the corporate American political order in the name of civil liberties. Though the institutional strength of the electoral system and rule of law kept balancing the two extreme poles of plenty in few homes and poverty in many, causing many unrests, civil wars and political upheavals, yet recently classic electoral trends are changing with young generations who have become fed up with the hollow rhetoric of old politicians.
The underhand deal of democracy with rightist politics which seeks to go with status quo accepting the vote based system as the infallible system to think of any other alternative of leftist approach is the third remarkable dogma of democracy. In Pakistan’s upcoming polls, political analysts are predicting that the mass vote will more likely go for a change and people in Pakistan, like any other countries, have become tired of classical conservative approaches which standby status quo. Youth everywhere in the world vote for change and in Pakistan 66% population is youngsters under 30 years. That is perhaps the reason why “tabdeeli slogan” falls on receptive ears. The Pakistan electoral episode of 2018 would probably reflect the trends of México’s recent July 1, 2018 presidential elections where the newly elected leader Andres Manual Lopez Obrador- AMLO, 64, of newly formed left-wing Morena party won the landslide victory on a single agenda of being tough on corruption, crime and Trump, a path the PTI of Imran Khan in Pakistan, being leftist, is walking on. The leftism in politics is taking off because the traditional system of democracy is not delivering. In similar vein, contesting primary congressional elections of Democrats in New York City Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 28, a millennial candidate with her articulated socialist beliefs focussing on health care, employment, free college education and criminal justice reform defeated political veteran Joe Crowley, who had long remained undefeated for 14 years and who was to become next party leader or speaker of house and who is 56. Ocasio won by 57.5% of the vote. “Following Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s win, Merriam-Webster dictionary tweeted that socialism emerged as their top search item.” Democracy’s long-time companion capitalism is losing against the neo-socialism. This means democracy, as it is understood everywhere, no more remains intact and ideal but rather needs rigorous rethinking.
The fourth dogma is that the democracy focuses on humanity, a claim that should adjust well with the globalization and global political and economic parity or balance. However, the case with democracies is reverse of it. Owing to being in the grips of nationalism, democracy back faces the globalization. This is very well demonstrated in the Brexit. Nationalistic forces overwhelmed the regional and global overtones in one of world oldest and the most conservative democracy of Great Britain. Out of 608 votes in British Parliament, Brexit survived only with the margin of six votes-301 against and 307 in favour. Thus, democracy is yet to explore the ways to adjust its humane, universal and global ideals with what we call local or national dominance on it.
The fifth dogma of democracy refers to its claim of being the representative system of the people, by the people and for the people. The critics spell this proposition as “off the people, buy the people and far from the people.” This is also true of democracy in many contexts as for instance Pakistan, India, or any other countries because democracy anywhere in the world can not claim to represent all people but only a winning segment who work more for the party interests rather than the popular well being. In many countries, like USA, politicking, electioneering, lobbying and gerrymandering require money as Jane Mayer, author of the seminal book: “The Dark Money” (2016) alludes to American political system where money is the mandate, not the will of the people. In Pakistan case is not much different because here too everything has a price and many seasoned politicians have been marked for flowing cash for winning votes. Even if votes are transparently cast, the winner might have secured not more than the 30% of the total population because all heads are not registered due to age and other reasons and also all registered persons in voter lists do not cast their votes. In Pakistan turn-out remains around 50% on average but in advanced democracies, the turn out might be averagely not more than 80%; and that eighty per cent would never be the eighty per cent of the total population. The successful group wins the minimum of 41% votes for victory in elections and that could hardly make more than 30% of the total population of any country. In this way, democracy’s claim of popular representation is merely a hoax and illusion. Instead, democracy tends to promote popular exclusionism.
Last but not the least, democracy claims to have offered equal social media access to all people to express their opinions and get into real-time dialogue model new media which claims to be more democratic than democracy in the framework of globalization. Globalization and unequal access to the people due to disparities in the levels of education, economy, geography, and culture do not go together and democracy appears irrelevant and helpless to intervene here because of its national and statutory nature. Rather the internet is too democratic to coexist with democracy. The media reports confirm what the British intelligence agencies pointed out during recent episodes of Russian meddling in 2016 presidential elections in America which speaks volumes of the internet’s being authoritarian and criminal tool rather than the ethical force to ensure the digital equality. In a way, internet incapacitates democracy to work for the integrity and security of popular mandate-the democracy claims to be its soul and basis.
The real challenges of globalization, imbalances in access to new technology, unequal distribution of resources within the nations or groups and throughout them, morphing inequalities of status and opportunity, blurring of ideologies and borders, mounting materialism, vanishing value systems, increasing demands for absolute freedom, absence of inclusive and representative government and lacklustre attitude towards laws and nature fly in the face of democracy’s classic claims of equality, freedom, justice and pluralism.
The writer is the author of many books and “Whiter than White”, English Novel and a senior police officer at Police Service of Pakistan. He tweets @Baloch_JJ