Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Democracy – Is it always necessarily a good thing?

All my life it had been one on my underlying and - unquestioned assumptions that it is. So much so that I didn’t realise it was, or question it in any way.

But is it really? There is much talk of the will of the people and the wisdom of crowds, but is this always a good thing, does it always produce a positive result.

Democracy depends on a rational, sensible, responsible and interested and reasonably educated electorate. It further requires that they actually pay attention to what they are voting for and deciding upon.

That they consider what it might be like to be actually subject themselves to the policies, laws and rule by the politicians they are keen on.

What it might be like if they were not in charge, but on the receiving end.

That they actually think through the likely consequences of policies and dogma to their logical conclusions and not simply rely on simpleminded wrote. Parliament please take note of the last.

Democratic processes don’t always produce desirable results. Hitler rose to power through the democratic process, as did the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe. Surely no voter in their right mind would want such to rule over them?

Democracy isn’t necessarily guaranteed to provide, or protect the rights, liberty, safety and the wellbeing of the citizen - We assume it is so, but it is not necessarily so.

A case in point is Pakistan. What will the democratic process, if it is allowed to continue, throw up there? Many of the elements that have so destabilised Iran are present to some extent there.

It is not simply a matter of academic interest, or even one of humanitarian interest. Pakistan possesses atomic weaponry. If it Pakistan becomes a detsabilised failed state then that is likely to fall into the hands of Islamicist terrorists. There are elements there who would like nothing better.

Are democracy and the universal suffrage that the West have placed such blind faith in promoting there sure to produce a positive result? Or is it possible Pervez Musharraf may be a better protector of the rights and the liberty of the Pakistani citizen than he is given credit for.

I am not willing to abandon democracy, but realistically - it seems that sometimes turkeys will vote for Christmas after all…

4 comments:

Roger Thornhill said...

Democracy without Rule of Law will not stop the mob taking your stuff and stopping you doing what you want.

If you have Rule of Law (as in property rights over your body, thoughts, assets and capital, few laws applied transparently and equally to all) then Democracy is a bonus, yet what can an oligarchy do to you if rule of law still exists? It must first remove or undermine rule of law before it can do you any real harm.

One could argue that Democracy is the least worst safeguard against the erosion of Rule of Law, but that Rule of Law is, actually, what is of most practical benefit to people. Democracy is just a means to the end, the end being Rule of Law.

Phil A said...

Roger, Absolutely – your thoughts exactly parallel mine. The real problem is how to protect liberties and rights and the rule of fair law equally and openly applied to all, from erosion. Democracy just seems to be an often least worse way of achieving this, but not the only way.

But what of Pakistan? What path would they be best to follow to most likely achieve this. Is it really democracy, given the conditions?

Roger Thornhill said...

Democracy, and especially proportional representation, IMHO, suffers when people align themselves to ethnic, regional or religious parties.

Such parties can often pretty much rely on a block of votes and as such are not really accountable in the same way that a party run on philosophical grounds is. Being tied to a group, I suspect there is a greater risk of "us and them" and rule of the mob that comes with "single issue" politics, in this case the single issue being "vote into power people like us so we get the biggest slice of the cake possible". Exit Rule of Law, stage left.

If a country has strong regional and tribal political landscape, maybe a way is for a small federal system and larger regional arrangements so the individual regions can then set aside their tribal/religious/geographic dimensions and begin to fight elections on issues. Once you get a split along those lines, one would hope the smaller parties in each region that wish to solve the same issues can link up and then form national parties based upon issues and not tribe/religion/geography. My guess is it would need strong local councils with spending and tax raising powers to take the fight away from the federal tier.

The high risk is always Balkanisation, especially triggered by border disputes and fears of ethnic persecution in neighbouring regions. When there is trouble at home, the easiest thing is to shout "OVER THERE!".

Will Pakistan Balkanise? Possibly. The risk is Mr Bhutto will not have the same vision as his wife and play to the ethnic/regional/linguistic dimension which might entrench himself locally, but alienate him elsewhere.

The catch-22 is that you tend to need a high perception of Rule of Law to enable people to trust a politician from another region/tribe/religion NOT to be corrupt and bung money to their own.

Phil A said...

Some excellent points. On the subject of Balkanisation if I recall correctly Pakistan’s very existence is in fact the result of this process.

The modern state of Pakistan, Lit. ‘Land of (the) Pure’ (so what do they think of everyone else?), was established on 14 August 1947.

This happened when the Moslem League, ahead of the transfer of power (to be done by June 1948) from the British rule, seized power in the region now known as Pakistan in order to avoid having to share power with Hindu’s and Sikhs. It was partitioned away from India, resulting in a bloodbath and ethnic cleansing of Non-Muslims. As religions were only fuzzily geographically separated under British rule.,

The tradition of the rule of law had been well established for centuries under the British Raj. It maybe that this prevented things being much worse.

There is a terrible potential for Islamist groups to subvert the democratic process to seize power much as Hitler did, probably with similar results. The danger for the rest of the region, indeed the world is the addition of atomic weaponry to the mix.