Friday, May 23, 2014

Living With Democratic Deficit

Just as we seem to have agreed that democracy is the panacea to all of our problems, democracy seems to be losing popularity. From the modest claim of Winston Churchill, that democracy is the worst form of government except all others have been tried, we have come a long way with George W Bush's "Jihad for Democracy". And, duly, it seems, it is backfiring.

It is not just about the Generals quietly taking over Thailand, where democracy has roundly failed. It is also not about the statistic of how democracy is doing, which seems dire at this time. More sinister perhaps is the death of centrism, the gentle art of debate and dialogue, of flexible views and pragmatic politics that stood for democracy: Rather, we have seen the rise of 'dramacracy', the art of demagogy and damnation, of extreme positions and intolerance, the politics of blaming the others and promising the earth. This, ominously, not confronts but subverts the democracy; the latter's own life-force of talk is turned onto itself, the bluster undermining the idea of listening and the values of tolerance.

I argued that this is the broadcast media's last great stand. In its deathbed, its enemy now is moderation, the elaborate excitement and extreme positions are its get-out-of-jail cards. But this may be too optimistic a prognosis. The real position, though, may be that democracy is now perhaps fatally wounded. Media has its role, but this is perhaps the manifestation rather than the cause of a fundamental shift in attitude. 

Dani Rodrik of Harvard argued that one can't get democracy, nation states and global markets together. Two out of three is possible, but not all three. This is what we see happening from India to Europe. The globalisation has brought aspirations and fears, so immediate and so pervasive that it can't be contained within the usual nation-state rhetoric. The winners of globalisation, for example, the Indian middle class, do not want democratic deliberation to impede its scramble to join the global elite; the losers, British working class, are succumbing to the fears of the Romanian working classes taking their jobs and don't want due process to muddle the water. Dambisa Moyo (see below) makes a case why China model, and not the usual democratic panacea, is the way out for Africa: Her message will resonate with many across the world.

So, this may be globalisation eating democracy, leaving the nation state safe and sound. This makes the current wave of nationalism, from UKIP to Modi, different from the last wave of national fundamentalism that got the world into a war. Whether this will turn out differently also lies in history, however. AJP Taylor argued that Hitler's projects did not stem from extreme nationalism but a gamble, a desperate bid to hold onto power when the lofty promises failed to materialise. Even if what we see currently is just the unimpeded march of globalism, the nation state may be untenable in the long run: The champions of national identity will have to gamble it all sooner or later to keep going. And, that may be the moment of a more frightening apocalypse.

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