Is democracy dead?

Is democracy dead?

In the Annual predictions for 2018, we had said that by the end of that year, credible voices will start asking if “Democracy is really relevant” anymore.  Given the spate of books that have come out recently by mainstream voices, the question that needs to asked is – Is Democracy Dead?  Or Dying?

In March of 1929, Mohammad Ali Jinnah presented Fourteen points in a Muslim league session in Delhi.  Two main points amongst the 14 referred to what is known as “Equal Representation”

  • In the Central Legislature, Muslim representation shall not be less than one third.
  • Representation of communal groups shall continue to be by means of the separate electorate as at present: provided it shall be open to any community, at any time to abandon its separate electorate in favor of a joint electorate.

The difference between the definition of democracy became the single most important bone of contention between Congress and the Muslim League.  While the Muslim League argued for Equal Representation, Congress argued for Proportional Representation.

What Jinnah wanted was not democracy – but theocratic equality at the cost of the individual vote for all Indians.

Democracy is predicated on the voice of every individual in the system.  Her or his vote that is manifests in one set of politicians gaining the necessary power to govern.

In an ideal and guileless world, this vote is a pure representation of a citizen’s mind and values.  Which is what has been expressed by some commentators in Europe on the democratic process.

In the last century, a discussion on a new narrative of democracy came out of Europe with Jürgen Habermas and John Rawls as the main proponents.

Deliberative Democracy – democracy in a utopian world

Jürgen Habermas believed that fair procedures and clear communication can produce legitimate and consensual decisions by citizens. These fair procedures governing the deliberative process are what legitimize the outcomes. John Rawls, on the other hand, believed in the use of reason in securing the framework for a just political society. Per him, reason curtails self-interest to justify the structure of a political society that is fair for all participants in that society and secures equal rights for all members of that society.

They said the deliberative democracy focuses on the justification of the decisions made by the citizens and their representatives.  Both, the citizens (voters) and their representatives (voted) need to justify the laws and rules they institute on others.

Leaders and politicians need to provide rational reasons for the decisions and respond to the queries by the citizens.  Is deliberation the only way of decision making?  Per the proponents of deliberative democracy, even tools like bargaining among groups, and secret operations ordered by executives can be undertaken.  However, they need to be justified and reasons given for them at some point.

So, the first part is that there needs to be justification and rationale behind each action and law in a democracy.

The second important part of deliberative democracy is that these reasons and justifications should be made public.  When someone brings a law that impacts you, those set of citizens and representatives need to provide a comprehensible and rational reasons for those actions.

However, the greatest counter to the idea of deliberative democracy conjured by Habermas and Rawls is not an alternative authoritarian system.  But the nature, source and character of communication, which is central to their model, itself.  It is assumed by these thinkers that communication happens in a vacuum or is pure, guileless and without agendas.  What is, as is so normal now, known as the communication and the reasons for actions are often part of an agenda of the politically motivated.  Agenda to sway citizens’ minds in a way to make them either impotent or masochistic?

And, that is what has happened from the very beginning of the democratic experiment.  In Rome, for example.

Rome democracy and Propaganda

Romans had created a narrative for themselves through literature, inscriptions, architecture, art, and elaborate public ceremonial – which pointed to the domination of their own culture and ways.  For example, Julius Ceasar, created a narrative for the Germanic tribes (Gauls) when he wanted the citizenry to believe him as he led them into the Gallic Wars of the 50s BC.

‘The various tribes regard it as their greatest glory to lay waste as much as possible of the land around them and to keep it uninhabited. They hold it a proof of a people’s valour to drive their neighbours from their homes, so that no-one dare settle near them. No discredit attaches to plundering raids outside tribal frontiers. The Germans say that they serve to keep young men in training and prevent them from getting lazy.’

If you see closely, his basic building blocks are no different from those used by Colin Powell in the infamous UN address against the Iraqi establishment and people before the Iraq War.

Democracy in trouble and the Boots of Leftist Ideology

In 1975, in a study backed by the Trilateral Commission, Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington and his co-researchers produced a survey of democracy’s health in the United States, Europe, and Asia (Source).

Trilateral Commission is a non-governmental, nonpartisan discussion group founded by David Rockefeller in July 1973 to foster closer cooperation between Japan, Western Europe and North America.

Their study results (Crisis of Democracy) were interesting.

They found that faith in government had nosedived, political parties were fracturing, and efforts to pacify voters through more public spending had sent both inflation rates and deficits soaring. Too many people—Huntington’s list included “blacks, Indians, Chicanos, white ethnic groups, students, and women”—were demanding too much from politics, rendering the entire system ungovernable.Source

Soviet Union’s collapse and denunciation of the Communist system gave a shot in the arm to the idea of democracy once again.  And, things started looking good yet again.

In the last few years, the Western left has again started whining about the “death of democracy”.  Books from stalwarts have been coming in at regular intervals with quite a speed.

Madeleine Albright’s Fascism: A Warning, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt’s How Democracies Die, Cambridge political theorist David Runciman’s How Democracy Ends and conservative pundit Jonah Goldberg’s Suicide of the West are becoming common-place and trendy.

The left lament about the “rightist, intolerant and populist” world.

With an ideological axe to grind, the leftist arguments are part of the problem.  They may be asking the correct question, but for the wrong reasons.  What they are accusing the “right” to be guilty of – intolerance – is what they are masters of as they delegitimize the citizens of their countries who do not share their ideas.

Deliberative democracy dies under the righteous boots of the leftist guards in every nation today.

Chasm between the Electorate and the Elected

There is a contemporary disgust with democratic politics, as David Runciman says in his book.  He discusses how the earliest critics of democracy laid out three flaws of democracy.  That democracy was a:

Rule by the Poor – empowers the majority

Rule by the Ignorant – few had access to education knowledge and schools

Rule by the Young – life expectancy was lower

In fact, Plato who was incidentally the greatest critic of democracy, along with Socrates (discussed in Plato’s book “Republic”), called democracy “young man’s politics”.  And just like the young men of that time, democracy shared similar characteristics – full of vanity, fickle, often drunk, prone to violence, easily led and foolish.  So, Plato warned that if that is what you want your politics to be like – then go for Democracy.

But here is the issue with this argument from Plato – political representatives have very rarely been like that.  In fact, the average age of the House of Commons in UK has been 50.  While that in US Senate, it has been 60.  Even 100 years back.  The current Indian parliament (17th Lok Sabha) is one of the youngest ever.  And its average age is 54 years with only 12% of MPs below the age of 40.

The representatives are almost always educated, rich, and old.

So, if you see, there always has been a big chasm between the Electorate and the Elected.

So why did a young, uneducated and poor Electorate always choose the old, educated and rich Elected class? In India, however, the representatives are not always very educated though.  But the other two factors comply.

This dichotomy is a real conundrum.

Why is democracy in danger really?

Democracy, as the voice of the citizenry, should be the sum total or the essence of a society’s culture.  Specifically of the values and ideas that reverberate with the majority of the citizens.  That is what Mohammad Ali Jinnah was afraid of.  His bigotry was going to be challenged by diversity and pluralism.

And, just as Jinnah used that fear of the majority’s vote and subsequent power, to push for a separate country, Nehru also recognized the potency of that vote in the aftermath of the biggest communal massacres ever in the history of mankind.  He devised a different plan.

He instituted mechanisms, narratives, education system and syllabus that negated the power of Indian civilizational ethos and demonized the Hindus.  He didn’t part ways or fight the Hindus as Jinnah did.

He subverted them.

Partition and Propaganda – Jinnah and Nehru’s political bigotry

Nehru’s strategy and motivations were a direct replica of Jinnah’s.  What Jinnah did through Partition, Nehru did through demonization of the Hindu.

Everything that was held dear and divine was questioned and humiliated.  To a point where even celebrating festivals in a traditional way was considered regressive.  Hindu was ashamed of who he was.

All to break down the power of the Hindu vote.

The minorities, on the other hand, were spared these actions and narrative-creating propaganda.  In fact, a concerted effort was made to create vote banks in those communities to counter the Hindu revivalism, if any.

Without any proof, members and sympathizers of the RSS were persecuted across the country by the state machinery.  And even by the media, intellectuals, and the education system.  History was contaminated and bastardized.

The chasm between the Indian electorate and the Elected was created by the Nehruvian political elite via propaganda.

Democratic chasm and propaganda

Propaganda, you see, is the greatest tool of creating, sustaining, and enhancing this democratic chasm in every democracy.  It has been the greatest tool that the politician uses to win over the vote during elections and spends the rest of the elected time to strengthen that power and dependence.

Just as the political classes use propaganda and the tools of narratives – like press and media – to maintain their power despite the democratic chasm (and obviate any revolt), the enemies of a nation do the same (to subvert the enemy nation).  In that context, such propaganda takes the shape of subversion.  Watch this incredibly detailed lecture by Yuri Bezemov on how KGB conducted subversive operations across the world in different nations.

What the current world of social media has done is that the subversive activities have been easier, faster and far more pronounced.

Political propaganda and Disinformation

After the Trump victory and the work of Cambridge Analytica, there has been a strong focus on how social media and big data is being used for political narratives and even worse, for spreading misinformation and outright lies.

This is now being called as “Computational Propaganda“.

According to the University of Oxford’s Computational Propaganda Research Project, the use of algorithms, automation, and big data to shape public opinion – i.e. computational propaganda – is becoming “a pervasive and ubiquitous part of everyday life.”

In it’s third annual report, the Oxford project suggests that Cyber troops (government or political party actors collectively) in at least 70 countries are using the social media to manipulate public opinion, harass dissidents, attack political opponents or spread polarizing messages.  This work based on social media is not simple.  It is targeted and has sophisticated analytics, algorithms, and AI tools behind it.

These tools are also used by the retailers to predict the buying behavior.  There was that famous case of Target sending a flyer to a family which had specific items for a pregnant lady.  The father of a teenage girl, near Minnesota, took the flyer and went to meet the manager of the neighborhood Target.

“My daughter got this in the mail!” he said. “She’s still in high school, and you’re sending her coupons for baby clothes and cribs? Are you trying to encourage her to get pregnant?” The manager didn’t have any idea what the man was talking about. He looked at the mailer. Sure enough, it was addressed to the man’s daughter and contained advertisements for maternity clothing, nursery furniture and pictures of smiling infants. The manager apologized and then called a few days later to apologize again.  On the phone, though, the father was somewhat abashed. “I had a talk with my daughter,” he said. “It turns out there’s been some activities in my house I haven’t been completely aware of. She’s due in August. I owe you an apology.” How Companies Learn Your Secrets –

This is the kind of technology that the political parties are using to target the voters.  Sophisticated, uncanny, complex and extremely intrusive!

Old School Espionage and Think-tank Propaganda

As a counter to the power of the Computational propaganda there is real world infiltration on the back of dirty money that funds candidates and makes them beholden to certain agendas.

If Trump’s campaign has been accused of being compromised by the Russians, then the Democratic party has been infiltrated by and beholden to the Islamists and Chinese Communists.

In July, Imam Mohammed Tawhidi posted a Twitter thread which tried to expose Ilhan Omar and her links with Qatar.  The expose was shocking and despite its revelations, the powers-that-be have been successfully in taking it out of the social media landscape completely.

In fact, it is now common knowledge of how the ideological Pakistanis have infiltrated the US think tanks

Is Democracy dead

What these think-tanks have been doing is to provide an ideological backdrop to the changing narratives within the American society.  These narratives are calibrated to push certain ideologies to the fore and provide tolerance for extremism and even terrorism within the society.

That is why when the “Black Lives Matter” protests led to widespread looting, arson, and destruction (due to extremist infiltration), that was not allowed to be an issue by the media backing the Democrats (like CNN or NPR).  Rather it was brushed aside.  Just as transgressions by Donald Trump are brushed aside by the Fox network.

Is Democracy dead – The real reason

Quite contrary to the whining by the leftists that somehow the governments they don’t agree with are going to be the cause of the death of democracy, democracy is in danger because, no side of the political spectrum now, and certainly not the media, reflect the voice of the people.

Propaganda, lobbying, money have contaminated and compromised the very minds and voices of the people.  Quite often by the coming together of powers within the nations and enemies outside (read the article on Congress and ISI partnership).

People’s voices, bastardized by deliberate, sophisticated, and complex propaganda tools (by internal and external powers), bubble up to a national vote.  A vote that further deepens the chasm between the Electorate and the Elected.

The Voice, you see, is not even of the Electorate anymore.

Great! You’ve successfully signed up.

Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.

You've successfully subscribed to Drishtikone - Online Magazine on Geopolitics and Culture from Indian Perspective.

Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.

Success! Your billing info has been updated.

Your billing was not updated.