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The paradox of modern democracy

Mankind took thousands of years to realize the evils of authoritarian and monarchical rule. Ancient Greece formally began the struggle for a democratic republic, which never fully came to pass. Roman democracy was obliterated by Caesar and thereon began, a long list of absolute emperors. In the Muslim era, after a brief period of stability, the leadership once again became a family affair. Finally, Europe once again took the reins of reform in governance and it is from the ashes of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution that seeds of modern day democracy were sown. The Western world quickly reaped the benefits and began to liberate. The individual was empowered to choose who was to rule. The collective rationality proved to be far superior compared to the rule of a family, vested in a few hands. America and Europe proved to the world that democracy is the only way forward, the suffering associated with monarchies and aristocracy was not worth tolerating. Similarly, former colonies, India, Pakistan and other countries like Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea followed similar lines and joined the bandwagon to democracy. As other countries strive to reform themselves into adoption of democratic norms, it is a clear observation that countries with established democracies have begun to waiver. The age of chaos and change is once again at the world’s doorstep. Is history itching to repeat its agony and conflicts? Or, is there another revolution in the offing?

It would be appropriate to draw the boundaries of a healthy democracy before we can analyze the disorder of the modern world. A democracy is mainly based on a tolerant society, that agrees to be governed by a set of constitutional frameworks that are protected by a robust judicial system and decision-makers are selected by the masses, who are subject to scrutiny by a transparent system of accountability and public eyes. Democracies are designed to hold together people from different walks of life, having diversified belief systems or even, varied, race, culture, class, etc. In an ideal case, laws are applicable to everyone without any discrimination whatsoever. So far, this mode has worked but human civilization always seems to be in a state of flux. The very foundation of democracy is under attack from some old and some new threats. For these new threats, new safeguards will be required.

The latest development that is most anti-democratic in the modern world is the rise of far right and intolerant leaders. Donald Trump is a glaring contrast from the likes of Obama. Mr. Trump from day one, has been challenging the basic principles of a peaceful democratic country. Not just within, but also for the outside world. He decided to build walls with Mexico and abused black players in the basketball team on national television. The Congress could do nothing to oppose his anti-Muslim sentiments and it was the judiciary which had to step in to stop him from actually fracturing whole families. American government is actively pursuing the dogma of isolation, alienism and self-praise. On the external side, instead of promoting democratization beyond borders, America is raising tariffs on Chinese exports to the US and pulling out of Climate agreements and Human Rights Commissions.

In his address to the UN in September, 2018, Mr. Donald Trump referred to the International Court of Justice and Human Rights Commission as a failed project. If the most powerful democracy in the world, cannot find democracy as guiding principle, there is a transformation in progress

Apart from America, the United Kingdom and Europe are also in the same league. Instead of building bridges, leaders of developed nations seem to be busy building walls. United Kingdom opted to dissociate from the European Union and is actively promoting far right national politics. On the other side of the world, hard-liners like Narender Modi are propagating Hindu-Nationalism and gaining popular support by alienating minorities. Moving from the example of developed to under-developed nations, countries like Pakistan, Brazil, Mexico and many African countries have democracies that are plagued with corruption, instability and poverty. The system of governance is infested with bureaucratic red-tapism and the people are losing faith in democratic institutions. As a result of decades of democracy, corrupt families or group of individuals have managed to stay in power, and are continuously able to escape justice and accountability. Politicians actively manipulate sentiments. The world suddenly discovered the Pandora Box within the confines of Lockean democracy.

 

Another grave complication of modern day democracy is the accumulation of wealth. Marx was of the view that popular democracy, even if mixed with freedom and liberty, can never solve the riddle of wealth and resources. According to him, the foundation of democracy is faulty and is deemed to crumble on its own systems. Without regulation, or interference from a guided hand, the democratic systems; vulnerable to corruption and maladministration would create an inequality of resources which would perpetuate the worst form of violence. Class struggle would destroy the very peace that democracy promises to keep. One can simply analyze this theory with the prevalent statistics.

According to the World Bank, the top 20 percent population of the world owns 80 percent of the world’s resources. The new wealth being created by new corporations across the globe is also concentrating wealth in a few established families in already rich areas. Democracy has failed to address the issue of inequality and the pattern seems to be uniform from North to South.

Democracy abides by the thumb rule, that it will ensure popular participation in the collective decision making through voting and acceptance of equal laws and rights, which, in-turn would increase human happiness and well-being. With democracy and the advent of modern sciences, especially in the field of media, electronics and communications, there has been an explosion of information and clutter. There is also a factor of misinformation and spending too much time for electronic gadgets. These devices are now invading family life and damaging the very essence of human happiness. Cyber crimes are on the rise. Data being collected on innocent users is being used for spying, marketing and espionage. Technologies are changing the way we look at freedom and liberty, and with it, the idea of democracy seems only like a far cry. Mankind is substituting old evils with new ones. Are we as hopelessly doomed as Marx predicted?

As taught in theories of management and organizational behavior, there comes a time, when a social entity reaches a point in its life, when its systems start to age and fail, similar to old age of a person. What lies next, for an idea of an organization is to either reinvent itself, or rejuvenate with an adapted strategy or to fall into the abyss of oblivion. Democracy also needs saving. It is upto the philosophers, teachers and artists to come together and discover a new page in human way of life, lest, war and suffering has been a commonality of human life since the birth of civilization.

(The writer is Chairman of Jinnah Rafi Foundation)

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