Threats to democracy (see also Int'l aspects)
Many people have doubted my assumption that democracy should be replaced by an autocratic sort of an emperor. Of course this does not happen just because it has been the case in old Rome and other civilizations. It happens because of developments within our civilizations. And it is these developments which parallels those in Rome, and they could lead to the same result unless we take care.
There are more developments that in an imperative manner demand control to prevent instability, crises, chaos and suffering. This control could and should be exercised in a way that preserves a degree of democracy and choice instead of as in Rome be leading toward the unification and autocratization of world rule in the hands of one ruler.
I am talking of at least the following developments:
1. External chaos in the World. As described in http://polybios-2100.blogspot.dk/2012/11/the-american-presidential-election.html. This can take the form of terrorism. But it also has the form of wars, refugees, suffering because of misgovernment etc. Terrorism necessitates the leading powers to control outside countries. It can also be used as a reason to limit internal freedom.
2. Something which has been seen in earlier civilizations like in old Mesopotamia (salination of agrarian areas), but could be far worse in our case are ecological threats. Especially global warming can alter the Earth, lead to enormous streams of refugees and wars for inhabitable land like in the Mayan World.
3. The decline of the interest of the public in politics as described in La Condition postmoderne.
4. The decline of the media. Earlier the medias were the forth power controlling politicians and acting as organs of parties. Now it is more focusing on here and now scandals, sensations and simple gossip about irrelevant entertainment stars as described in Am Besten nichts Neues (2010) by Tom Schimmeck.
5. The dominance of the markets. They rule as an autonomous force ignoring everything for the shortsighted gain of money, thereby making wise and long sighted politics impossible and bringing about crises and devaluating whole nations as mentioned in http://polybios-2100.blogspot.dk/2012/10/the-nobel-peace-prize-2012.html
6. The decline of politics itself. This is the subject of today’s blog-post.
7. Economic pressure from crises. It is important to see that this factor often has been seen to press democracy like in Europe in the thirties of the last century. But today the other factors work against democracy even without economic crisis. Of course economic strains will just further aggravate the situation.
But to today’s subject:
The Decline of Politics
DEMOCRACY OR STABILITY
Democracy in the full sense of the word is impossible without a completely educated, informed and intelligent population. Without this it is necessary that rule comes from an elite in the form of a few parties. This elite is self-sustaining, recruits its own new members, produces state leaders and to a large extent rules the voters through various channels, not least through the media.
So true democracy is only possible with an ideal population, which does not exist. Even the best approximation, Scandinavia, has not been a real democracy. Total democracy without this enlightened population is chaos! The viable alternative to an enlightened population has been the part control from responsible party elites.
Great Britain, Scandinavia, Benelux, The USA, Canada and since WW2 Germany and Japan have all been examples of stable democracies, where an elite to a certain extent rules the voters. They are or were still democratic in the sense, that there was a choice between the parties, even though these through the media to a certain extent controlled parts of the voters. This control was important, because without it extreme viewpoints would break into the political system and disrupt stable and long term policies. That is what is happening now. The control is loosened because of changes in the media and the population.
So what could be reached was not full democracy, but the best possible approximation. This should always be the objective, also under the present deteriorating circumstances.
The secret of political stability is the balance of forces in a society. The encompassing of the different societal interests within the political system. This is also very close to what could or should be called democracy. Rousseau defined democracy as the dictatorship of the majority over the minority. But this is not true. Stable democracy is the taking all important forces and interests in society into account and doing this from a long term viewpoint.
This demands the rule of responsible forces that are a) willing to compromise and b) are not too extreme.
In old England the Whigs and Tories balanced each other. In many European countries in the 20th century the hearing of interest organizations and experts balanced the power of political parties at government.
In France in the 5th Republic the Strong president and the parliament balanced each other. The same is the case in the United States.
In the USA Democrats and Republicans also limit the power of each other.
Stable and mature democracy is characterized by the following:
- Hearing of groups and forces concerned by decisions to be taken by governments and parliaments.
- Stable party landscape.
- Parties with lasting attitudes, that did not change from day to day.
- Politicians willing to make compromises with other parties and societal forces.
- Loyal party voters.
- Party owned media beside responsible independent ones.
These stabilities now become threatened in more ways.
1. Politicians ignore advise from the concerned people, groups and experts.
2. The emergence of populist and extreme groups with irresponsible extreme views disturbs the balances. This makes compromises with political forces and society groups impossible.
The American right wing represent the same phenomenon as the populist parties in Europe.
In Belgium the Flemish nationalists proposed that French-speakers should be expelled from Brussels! In the Netherlands and Scandinavia Islam is demonized as fascism.
3. Politics are not guided by long term party attitudes, but by media storms and transient popular sentiments and opinion polls, as started by Tony Blair.
4. Populism comes not only from populist parties. Also politicians from the old parties use populist viewpoints. Ministers from the British government sound like a mob. Parts of the Republican party in the US are more and more uncompromising toward the Democrats making effective government impossible.
5. Young and inexperienced politicians reach high positions in Europe.
6. Parties become ruled from the top. The party leader is more important for the voters, the public and the media than the party program.
In political maturity Northern Europe and North America have moved farthest. especially Scandinavia, Benelux and the UK. France and the United states to a lesser extent with their focus on the leaders of parties. Now we see the decline in all these states.
Southern Europe never became as highly developed democracies. Italy had after WW 2 a long time a stable balance between Christian Democrats and Communists. This has since the 80es in a shocking way been dissolved into a chaotic party landscape culminating in the clown Berlusconi. And this before the onset of the economic crisis. Spain and Greece only regained democracy very late, and one must fear the effects of the economic strains today on their political systems. Countries in the Third World which reach democracy, seldom reach very mature levels before the tide could change backwards here as well.
Since WW 2 Germany has emerged as an extremely mature political system. Even new protest parties like the Greens have become integrated in the stable responsible and responsive political system. Let’s hope the Pirate Party will not succeed in disturbing this!
So Germany is the last strong champion of a mature political Modernity. The USA is the champion of the movement towards a future after Modernity because it is a) characterized by the political decline and superficiality and lack of good public education and b) is the leading country in the World and inspires all the World.
In more countries the executive power is strengthened. Not least in the United States where President Bush Jr. started abusing the Signing Statements to reinterpret laws passed by Congress, and changed law texts without the knowledge of Congress members before they are about to vote on them.
This was mostly as a response to terrorism. But it will also become a necessity in order to control the internal political instability. To make sure that stable and lasting long term policies are carried out without the continuous shifts brought about by popular sentiments, the press, the net mob and populist political forces. The uncompromising attitude from certain Republicans will make it imperative for Obama to rule through decrees.
This strengthening of the executive was what people like Caesar did in the corresponding situation in Rome.
It must be clear that a stronger executive is the best solution. But it must not become too personalized. This tendency toward personalization of power is also a part of political decline. And the executive must of course not become too strong. The idea was to preserve democracy, not to exterminate it.
The best solution would be a return to mature democracy. But this does not seem possible as politics is not an island. The other factors will still be declined even if politics reform to more stable levels. In an open market society it is not possible to control the public or the media. So the means must in the beginning be within politics itself.
So the answer to the threats to democracy gets somewhat contradictory. To save democracy, a responsible and responsive elite must limit it. Of course only limit as much as just needed. Cesar should not be replaced by Nero, but by a responsible elite. A solely personal rule is not better than dictators in the Third World. It is no long term solution. A genius can be followed by a jerk.
We will need a stronger executive under these conditions:
1. Be as democratic as possible.
A less educated population like in the USA is more vulnerable to seduction from the decaying parts of the media and politics. This will make further executive control and less democracy necessary. So better education is imperative to ensure a maximum of democracy. A such population can also act as a control over the executive.
2. Rule wisely, meaning: Respond and act responsively to all important groups, powers and needs in society in a balanced way. Act from a long term viewpoint.
3. Come from an informed and courageous elite rather than single persons.