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The fundamental flaws of Democracy

In the past twelve months or so, Indians have witnessed social upheavals of considerable magnitude. One could perhaps attribute it to the nature of the Hindu faith that despite concerted attempts at fomenting division in society and inciting violence, our country has managed to endure the attacks on its integrity without incurring any significant damage to its social fabric.

There were the violent protests against the Bhansali movie, Padmavat, which hinted clearly at political motivations. Then there were the riots at Bhima Koregaon where an elected MLA was allegedly caught on camera fomenting a caste war. And of course, there was continued violence of epic proportions surrounding the Bengal Panchayat Elections where the ruling party was suspected, and with good reasons, one could argue, of silencing the Opposition through the tactical use of violence. One critical feature of the violence that has gripped the country is the political motivation behind it. It’s almost an open secret that in all the three cases listed above, violence was used as a means to achieve a political end. And there lies the fundamental flaw of Democracy. In any society, democracy incentivises the division of society and even makes it profitable for political players to embrace violence to ensure electoral victories.

In India, the discerning can identify a concerted attempt underway to divide the country along caste, religious, regional and even along linguistic lines. We could, of course, blame a particular political party for the attempts being made but it would be naive to ignore the fact that they are doing so only because they perceive it to beneficial interests and one could even argue, that it has indeed been beneficial for them. Thus, it’s an indictment of the political system in place that rewards attempt to foment divisions in society instead of burdening the perpetrator with heavy costs. And of course, one could blame the citizens of the country for falling prey to such ventures by political parties to further their own political interests, however, identity politics is the reality of human existence. One could even argue it’s engraved in human nature and thus, political systems must seek to transcend the reality of social identities or at least negate the limitations of it. In that endeavour, democracy fails miserably to ensure a cohesive society.

The primary goal of every elected public representative in a democracy is to ensure his or her own re-election. Everything else is secondary. One has to be utterly naive to seriously believe his goal is to serve the citizens. Of course, once in a while, a person may eventually emerge from the abyss who genuinely seeks to serve the citizens of the country. However, such men or women are an exception and an exception, rather than the norm.

Milton Friedman, the great American economist, once said, “I do not believe that the solution to our problem is simply to elect the right people. The important thing is to establish a political climate of opinion which will make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing. Unless it is politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing, the right people will not do the right thing either, or if they try, they will shortly be out of office.” Thus, due to the very nature of democratic politics, the goals of politicians are extremely shortsighted and the decisions are taken to benefit them in the short run and if those decisions are sure to prove problematic in the long run, it could very well be delayed long enough to be the concern of their successors. Essentially, democracy helps politicians escape the consequences of their actions unless one considers being voted out of power as punishment enough, which is, frankly speaking, a very punitive punishment considering the damage they can inflict on the country by purposefully implementing policies which substitute long-term stability for short-term gains.

One general argument against authoritarian regimes is the use of violence or censorship by the state to silence all opposition. However, it can be witnessed in democracies as well. In India itself, violence has been embraced by the ruling disposition in Bengal to strategically eliminate its political rivals. In Germany, hate speech laws ban “defamation of religions, religious and ideological associations.”  In addition, a new law has been passed which forces social media networks to remove hate speech online. “With these 24 hours and seven day deadlines – if you are a company you are going to want to avoid fines and bad public branding of your platform,” says David Kaye, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, “If there is a complaint about a post you are just going to take it down. What is in it for you to leave it up? I think the result is likely to be greater censorship.” London Police arrested one Mathew Doyle for tweeting, “I confronted a Muslim women [sic] yesterday in Croydon. I asked her to explain Brussels. She said “Nothing to do with me” a mealy-mouthed reply.” The Communications Act 2003 defines illegal communication as “using public electronic communications network in order to cause annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety”. More people have been arrested in Britain for posting offensive comments online than raping children as young as eleven years old. Intriguingly, the state which has gone overboard in covering up the rape of young girls by Muslim men is coming down harshly on any criticism of Islam online. Thus, this whole idea that censorship and violence are used only by authoritarian regimes is a completely farcical notion.

An illusion of democracy is the notion that it is only the people who elect their government but it is oft forgotten that the converse is also true. For instance, the Labour party in the United Kingdom deliberately pushed the country to accept migrants to “rub the Right’s nose in diversity”. It became clear that the Labour party adopted it approach towards mass immigration for political reasons and as a consequence, the Conservatives in the United Kingdoms in the near future may find it impossible to secure a majority in the Parliament on their own as migrants tend to overwhelmingly vote for the Liberals. Even in India, political parties have long been suspected of catering to illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and securing voting rights for them to boost their own vote bank. In the United States, the Democrats openly advocate for more and more immigration into the country and some have even argued that even non-citizens be granted voting rights as it would help achieve their political goals. Thus, political parties across the world engage in creating an entire electorate, often non-citizens, who promise to be their loyal vote-banks.

Bertrand de Jouvenel in his book, “On Power, its nature and history of its growth” elucidates his political theory which can be roughly dubbed as “High and Low versus the middle”. His theory could be applied to modern day politics where the political left is a coalition between a section of elites (High) and the section of population with insignificant political rights or property (Low) while the political right could be said to be the broad coalition between another section of competing elites and the part of society which has capital, political rights or political property (Middle).

The salient feature of the political theory is that it elucidates on the existence of multiple power centres in any society and thus explains that absolute tyrannies in the pre-democratic era, as we are made to believe existed under monarchies, could not have existed. There is enough historical evidence to prove that the assertion is essentially correct as monarchies were far from absolute tyrannies but a fine balance between the various power centres prevalent in the kingdom. Democracy interferes with this balance which strives at arriving at a structure which maintains stability as the whole system incentivises chaos as mentioned above and disorder and on some occasions, as we have seen, even enables the establishment to ally themselves with illegal immigrants in a bid to retain their hold over power.

Another feature of Democracy is the high tax rates and the constant threat that the rates may rise even higher. Nearly all political parties, through taxation, seek to take away money from the rich and redistribute it to the poor, through welfare, in the hope that they will be re-elected to their office. Thus, in a way, political parties seek to retain their power through the appropriation of wealth from hardworking people and giving it away to those who do not have it in the hope that the poor will vote for them in the next election. It is, thus, another manifestation of the “High-Low versus the Middle” mechanism where money is taken from individuals who earn them through their hard-work to fund the political ambitions of politicians.

Another flaw within a democracy is how easy it is for foreign entities to subvert a democratic state. We are well aware of the many allegations of Russian interference in the US Presidential Elections. Regardless of whether the allegations are true, there have been many demonstrable instances of foreign interference in democratic elections. The USA and Russia have been accused on multiple occasions of interfering in elections of other countries to get candidates favourable to them elected to office. And of course, on many occasions, the will of the people is quite difficult to discern. For example, in the recently held Karnataka elections, it could very well be concluded that the mandate was against the ruling Congress party and yet, it appears that they are set to form the government once more in alliance with the JD(S). However, this could be attributed to a flaw unique to the Indian political system rather than the democratic set up at large. And even without political interference by foreign nations, how very easy it is for democratically elected leaders to subvert the will of the people. We all remember what Indira Gandhi did with the Emergency in the 1970s.

These days, we are constantly reminded of the use of propaganda by political entities in election campaigns. However, it is certainly not a recent phenomenon. Noam Chomsky said of the relationship between propaganda and democracy, “Propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.” Edward Bernays, the father of modern propaganda, said in his book, “Propaganda” which was originally published in 1928, “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society.” He defined propaganda in the following manner: “The mechanism by which ideas are disseminated on a large scale is propaganda, in the broad sense of an organized effort to spread a particular belief or doctrine.” From his definition, it becomes obvious which institutions have been burdened with the responsibility of propagandizing for the political establishment. The answer, of course, is the mainstream media. This very portal has time and again busted lies propagated by the media, however, the media has seldom, if ever, apologized for the same. Since the very goal of politicians is to ensure their election to office, brainwashing the masses to convince them of their virtue becomes imperative towards achieving their target.

Criticism of Democracy is of course not a recent phenomenon. Former Prime Minister of Britain once said of Democracy, “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” Elmer Theodore Peterson, born in the late 1800s, once said, “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing, always to be followed by a dictatorship, then a monarchy.” John Adams, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America, said, “Democracy has never been and never can be so durable as aristocracy or monarchy; but while it lasts, it is more bloody than either. … Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” Antoine de Rivarol, a Royalist French during the Revolutionary era, said, “The absolute ruler may be a Nero, but he is sometimes a Titus or Marc Aurelius; the people is often Nero, but never Marc Aurelius.” Austrian Political Scientist, Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, insinuated that democracy facilitated liberty was merely an illusion. He said, “Democratism and its allied herd movements while remaining loyal to the principle of equality and identity, will never hesitate to sacrifice liberty.” H.L. Mecknen was scathing in his indictment of Democracy, Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. Democracy is also a form of worship. It is the worship of Jackals by Jackasses. Democracy is only a dream: it should be put in the same category as Arcadia, Santa Claus, and Heaven. Democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey cage. Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard. Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under. Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.”

We may choose to disagree with the assumptions and assertions of the gentlemen above, however, we cannot ignore the fact that the democratic state institutionalizes injustice by masking them under the cloak of popular will. For instance, Fascism in Nazi Germany was entirely a democratic phenomenon. It might be politically incorrect to state otherwise now but at the time Adolf Hitler did have popular mandate and it was the democratic regime that felicitated his rise to power. The manner in which political parties use taxes from honest hardworking to fund their political ambitions cannot be dubbed ethical under any parameter of morality. The concerted replacement of a population by political entities to create and nurture loyal vote banks is a slap in the face of people who perceive democracy to be a power of good.

From a philosophical perspective, democracy has led to the politicization of every facet individual life. How many people have lost friends or had terrible quarrels with members of their family as a consequence of difference over political opinions? The fact of the matter is every single aspect of our lives have been marred by the terrible touch of partisan politics. We can hardly even watch a movie these days without being reminded of the political affiliation or comments of the actors involved. Every policy or legal proposition is not judged by its merits and demerits but from the perspective of political partisanship.

When I was in my teens, one of the cousins narrated to me an interesting conversation he overheard between a few old men in his locality. One of the old men was saying to his friend, “The age of the Kings was far more just than what we have today. If the King was kind and honest and just, everything went well and the kingdom prospered. If the King wasn’t any of that, the entire Kingdom suffered. In our democracy, however, it doesn’t matter if any one politician is honest or a man of integrity, even if he is, the others will gang up on him and ensure that he cannot function efficiently enough.” And the others appeared to agree with him. In my youthful arrogance, I had dismissed the perspective of that old but wise man from one of the most backward regions of the country. However, as I grow older, I am beginning to realize there may well have been more than a bit of truth in his words. Are there truly any authentic solutions to the inherent problems with Democracy which could be implemented successfully? If there are any, they haven’t been yet discovered in the many centuries since the advent of Democracy.

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K Bhattacharjee
Black Coffee Enthusiast. Post Graduate in Psychology. Bengali.

 

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