WHY DEMOCRACY IS WRONGDemocracy does not deserve the semi-sacred status accorded to it. The controversy about the Austrian government reminded Europe of that: a victory of the right-wing coalition in Italy will bring a second 'Haider affair'. Democracy is not a perfect system of government - as its supporters often implied. Rising prosperity and educational levels have not improved it. At the end of the Second World War, the democratic system had immense political credit: by now, that has evaporated. Democracy can no longer claim to be self-evidently 'the best system on offer'. Sometimes it is clearly wrong itself: an anti-racist dictatorship is preferable to a racist democracy. The criticism here is in 5 sections...
...and there is a section on alternatives to democracy and their justification, and finally the question "why abolish democracy?"
- the historical failure of democracy
including: the definition of democracy
- the myth of moral superiority of democracy
including the issue of illegal immigrants
- democratic expansionism: a world of democratic nations
- ethical defects of democracy
and the justification of democracy
- neoliberalism inherent in democracy?
1. the historical failure of democracy
If you compare the present world with the world of 500 years ago, then democracy seems a great success. But if you compare the democratic world, with what it could have been, then democracy is a clear failure.
Democracy has failed to eliminate social inequality, and this seems a permanent and structural failure. It is undeniable that all democratic societies have social inequalities: substantial differences in income, in wealth, and in social status. These differences have persisted: there is no indication that inequality will ever disappear in democracies. In the stable western democracies, inequality is apparently increasing. The pattern established in the United States is, that the lowest incomes do not grow: all the benefits of economic growth go to the higher-income groups.
Recent data from the Internal Revenue Service indicate that disparities in income between those with very high incomes and other Americans have widened sharply in recent years, with the average after-tax income of the top one percent of taxpayers rising $121,000 - or 31 percent - between 1995 and 1997, while the average after-tax income of the bottom 90 percent of taxpayers increased three percent. These IRS data reflect actual information from tax returns. While assessments based on Census data have suggested income disparities might have remained flat since about 1993, the new IRS data show this is not the case.
An Analysis of New IRS Income Data, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, September 2000.
Some form of social inequality is inherent in democracy - a fact neglected by most democratic theory. In a theoretical democracy of 100 voters, a party of 51 voters can confiscate the property of the other 49. They can divide it among themselves. However, if one voter is sick on election day, they lose their majority. A party of 52 is better, but then there is slightly less to divide. A party of 99 will have guaranteed success against a minority of one, but they will have little to divide.
In practice, a coalition of two-thirds, or three-quarters, can successfully disadvantage a minority (one third, one quarter). For instance, the majority might exclude the minority from the labour market, or force them into workfare schemes. This phenomenon is usually attributed to structural changes in individual societies. However, it can occur simply through the effects of democracy. Every democracy is a temptation (to the majority) to disadvantage minorities. In practice, every existing liberal democracy is a dual society, with some politically marginalised minority (typically the urban underclass).
In the past, aristocratic conservatives feared democracy - because it would allow the poor to confiscate the wealth of the rich. In reality, the historical trend seems exactly the opposite. Increasingly, western democracy is not about 'ordinary people' against the elite: it is about ordinary people joining with social elites to 'bash the underclass'. Guarantees of fundamental rights do not prevent a low-status minority being targeted, politically and socially. In several European countries political parties compete against each other, to show how tough they are against an unpopular minority - for instance asylum seekers. There is nothing the minority can do, so long the political parties do not infringe their rights. Unfortunately this development is probably still in the early stages: the worst is yet to come. In a democracy, those at the bottom of the social scale can expect steadily worsening conditions of life.
The best-known classic hypothesis about democracies is the so-called democratic peace theory. It has been promoted by pro-democratic campaigners and by politicians, as 'scientific evidence' of the need for democracy. The claim is that 'democracies do not go to war with each other'. The research typically compares dyads - pairs of countries/states. A statistical measure (frequency of war) is possible for different categories - democracy against democracy; democracy against non-democracy; and non-democracy against non-democracy. This is one of the few classic 'testable hypotheses' in international relations theory. Unfortunately for the democracy lobby, research failed to demonstrate conclusively, that democracies are more peaceful among themselves. Nevertheless, it suggests other testable propositions about democracy. Several of the criticisms of democracy presented here, can be stated as sociological or political-science hypotheses, indicating possible research projects. Such as these about inequality...
The first proposition is more or less self-evident: the inequality is there. The fact that democracy is rarely investigated as a causal factor (for the inequality or its persistence), is itself a political choice. Most sociologists are democrats: they are not likely to blame democracy for inequality.
death in democracy
Income inequality is probably not the best indicator of structural inequalities in democracies. The statistics on health give a more comprehensive picture of a fundamental, long-term, inequality - apparently resistant to all declared government policy. The evidence for a worsening gap is also clearer in the health statistics.
Above all, inequalities in mortality are a moral defect of democracies. This comment is on western European countries, all democracies:
The differences in mortality and morbidity are quite shocking. Economically inactive men have three times the risk of premature death observed for employed men. While strong health selection increases the risk of exclusion from the labour market, it seems likely that there is also reverse causation due to social isolation and stress. Finland and Norway were used to illustrate the concept of healthy life-expectancies. Norwegian and Finnish men with post secondary education live 3-4 years longer than men with basic education, and 10-12 years more of healthy life, that is, without chronic debilitating illness. One important change between the 1970s and the 1980s is that Sweden, Norway and Denmark have lost their relatively favourable international position in terms of the size of mortality differences between classes. There are some other striking findings; French men in lower socio economic groups had much greater excess mortality than the European average, which Kunst et al suggest may be due to the level of alcohol consumption; and while Nordic countries show large morbidity differences by education level, Great Britain shows large mortality differences by income.
Health and health care policy : inequality and the risks of exclusion, Council of Europe Human Dignity and Social Exclusion Project. See the CoE site for footnotes and references, deleted here.
Public health and epidemiology journals are full of such examples of health inequalities. In several countries there have also been major national studies, which confirm that health and mortality inequalities are a general pattern. In Britain, the 1998 Acheson Report on health inequalities showed that they had worsened since the last major study, the Black Report in 1980. Those were the years of the Conservative governments in Britain, so perhaps the Conservative policies are responsible. But that is the point: those Conservative governments were democratically elected. If democracy was a system which prevented inequalities in death rates, then democracy would prevent a government which worsened those inequalities. If democracy was a system which prevented inequalities in death rates, then there would be no inequalities anyway. But there are, and democracy is apparently making them worse....
Over the last twenty years, death rates have fallen among both men and women and across all social groups. However, the difference in rates between those at the top and bottom of the social scale has widened.
For example, in the early 1970s, the mortality rate among men of working age was almost twice as high for those in class V (unskilled) as for those in class I (professional). By the early 1990s, it was almost three times higher. This increasing differential is because, although rates fell overall, they fell more among the high social classes than the low social classes....not only did the differential between the top and the bottom increase, the increase happened across the whole spectrum of social classes....
Death rates can be summarised into average life expectancy at birth. For men in classes I and II combined, life expectancy increased by 2 years between the late 1970s and the late 1980s. For those in classes IV and V combined, the increase was smaller, 1.4 years. The difference between those at the top and bottom of the social class scale in the late 1980s was 5 years, 75 years compared with 70 years. For women, the differential was smaller, 80 years compared with 77 years....
Premature mortality, that is death before age 65, is higher among people who are unskilled. Table 4 illustrates this with an analysis of deaths in men aged 20 to 64 years. If all men in this age group had the same death rates as those in classes I and II, it is estimated that there would have been over 17,000 fewer deaths each year from 1991 to 1993....
Inequalities in Health: The Current Position, Independent Inquiry into Inequalities in Health Report (Acheson Report). Footnotes and references deleted.
The estimate of excess deaths, in comparison with a fictional equality, gives an idea of the scale of suffering involved. Research in Spain estimated a national 10% excess mortality by geographical areas:
Excess number of deaths in the most deprived geographical areas account for 10% of total number of deaths annually....Total annual excess of deaths was estimated to be about 35 000 people in Spain.
Juan Benach and Yutaka Yasui. Geographical patterns of excess mortality in Spain explained by two indices of deprivation, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 53 (1999): 423-431.
It is hard to show that democracy causes these deaths, but it certainly does not prevent them. That is, in itself, reason to question its moral legitimacy. In eastern Europe, the scale of deaths associated with the transition to market democracy was far greater (see below), and the causal relationship far more evident.
the issue of Africa: global inequality
Although the democratic states are the most prosperous in history, democracy has failed to eliminate inequality at global level. Despite the great personal wealth evident in some democratic nations, millions of people in the poorest regions of Africa live under conditions, comparable to mediaeval European averages. Although not all states were democratic during the 20th century, the richest states were. Nevertheless, the general global distribution of wealth has not shifted substantially in the last 150 years. This also seems a permanent and structural failure of democracy. Democracy does not induce the rich to give their money to the poor: not locally, not globally. Not as individuals, not as societies, not as states.
Every year the wealth of the democracies increases: every year the gap between the richest democracies and the poorest countries increases. Mass resource transfer, for instance in the form of transfer taxes, is increasingly feasible - and also increasingly urgent. Some democratic states have organised programmes of resource transfer: the largest in history is probably the aid to East Germany after reunification, financed by an extra income tax. But that is a special case of a divided 'Volk'. The European Union has an explicit policy that no regional 'GNP' should stay below 75% of EU average. It also aids applicant states, with a maximum of 6% of their GNP in any one year. Yet no such transfer programme exists for the poorest countries. Probably, only the German programme matched the level of resource transfer from the Soviet Union to Mongolia: approximately 30% of GNP. The collapse of the Soviet Union promptly led to widespread extreme poverty in Mongolia, and in spring 2000 to a famine - and possibly another in 2001.
The pro-democracy development theorist Amartya Sen claims that democracy prevents famines:
...in the terrible history of famines in the world, no substantial famine has ever occurred in any independent and democratic country with a relatively free press. We cannot find exceptions to this rule, no matter where we look: the recent famines of Ethiopia, Somalia, or other dictatorial regimes; famines in the Soviet Union in the 1930s; China's 1958-61 famine with the failure of the Great Leap Forward; or earlier still, the famines in Ireland or India under alien rule. China, although it was in many ways doing much better economically than India, still managed (unlike India) to have a famine, indeed the largest recorded famine in world history: Nearly 30 million people died in the famine of 1958-61, while faulty governmental policies remained uncorrected for three full years. The policies went uncriticized because there were no opposition parties in parliament, no free press, and no multiparty elections. Indeed, it is precisely this lack of challenge that allowed the deeply defective policies to continue even though they were killing millions each year. The same can be said about the world's two contemporary famines, occurring right now in North Korea and Sudan.
Democracy as a Universal Value, Amartya Sen, 1999.
Yet the rich democratic states had enough resources to feed all these people: and they did not. Structurally, they did not. Amartya Sen does not regard this as a defect of democracy: indeed, he seems blind to the issue. If opposition parties in parliament, a free press, and multiparty elections stop famines, and the worlds richest state has all of these, then why are there still famines on this planet?
Testable propositions: global inequality
In terms of inequality, it seems that a planet is better off without any democracies. Historically, the rise of democracies coincided with a period of unprecedented global inequality. Supporters of the democratic peace theory imply causal relations from this kind of simple correlation ("if there is no war, then democracy caused the peace"). Similar conclusions can be drawn in connection with these testable propositions, such as these about inequality...
Testing some of these would be difficult: historical economic data is limited. But it would be very surprising if they are not true - for the simple reason that the democratic countries are the rich countries. There is already enough data on long-term patterns of economic growth, to conclude that the rich-poor gap among states is increasing. Research by Angus Madison for the OECD, indicated that the gap (in GDP/capita) between western Europe and sub-Saharan Africa was about 3-to-1, in 1820. By 1990 it had increased to 20-to-1. During this long period western Europe was not continuously democratic, so this Europe-Africa gap is not equivalent to the gap between democracies and non-democracies.
However, that has changed: in the last generation, 'democracy' and 'rich country' have become almost equivalent. According to the most recent figures from the World Bank, about 2,8 billion people have an 'income' of under $2 a day. Of these, 1,2 billion live on less than $1 a day. The income ratio - of the poorest 20 countries to the richest 20 - has doubled in the last 40 years. And for that time at least, most of these rich countries were democracies. There are a few rich non-democracies, such as the United Arab Emirates, and some poor democracies such as Cape Verde. But the correlation between a democratic regime and prosperity is now so strong, that some democracy theorists see prosperity as a pre-condition of democracy. Others claim a causal link in the other direction - "democracy makes you rich". Perhaps - but the statistics suggest it does so by keeping others poor.
In broad terms, sub-Saharan Africa has a European 19th-century standard of living. It would take 150 years to follow the path to prosperity taken by western Europe - and western Europe had no massive HIV/AIDS epidemic. It is not morally acceptable to insist that Africa should "develop itself" by duplicating the poverty and inequality of 19th-century England, while suffering a demographic crisis comparable to the Black Death. The 'development' option is no longer an option at all.
Yet this is apparently what the democracies are demanding. Certainly there is no 'political will' in the democracies, to introduce the massive transfer taxes that would be necessary to close the gap. Democracies seem structurally unable to generate this political will. The UN aid target of 0,7% of GNP has never been reached. According to the latest statistics from the OECD Development Assistance Committee the 1999 average (for its members) was 0,39% of GNP. All the DAC members are democracies: all had the maximum score for 'political rights' in the Freedom House Survey (more on this survey below). What chance is there, that they will ever approve the 75% transfers needed to evenly spread global 'GNP'? The realistic answer must be: it is simply not possible to close this gap, so long as they are democracies.
reinforcement of nationalism
Modern democracy is inextricably linked to nations, to nationalism, and to the nation state as form of state. Liberal democracy and nationalism developed together in Europe.
To a large extent, democracy and nationalism are parallel. Democracy pre-supposes a demos, a community in which "politics" takes place. The demos of modern democracies, and the nation of modern nation-states, are the same thing. Western politicians speak interchangeably of "the nation", "our nation", "the people", "the community". Democrats, almost by definition, believe it is necessary to maintain the demos as a political unit: this has led to an association of democracy and conservative nationalism.
Most democrats believe, that a democracy is legitimate regardless of the criteria used to select the demos. Even a completely closed racial community, with zero immigration, can be a democracy. (According to democratic theory, it would be more legitimate than a dictatorship which allowed free immigration). Although several western democracies have a 'right to emigrate', no democracy has ever had a right to immigration. In practice the criteria of citizenship in democracies is biological descent: usually at least 95% of the citizens acquired that status from their parents.
Opponents of immigration in democratic states even use democracy as an argument - claiming that the cohesion of the political community will be undermined. In the EU conservative nationalists use the explicit argument that no European-scale geopolitical entity can be legitimate, because there is no European demos.
European integration, on this view, may have involved a certain transfer of state functions to the Union but this has not been accompanied by a redrawing of political boundaries which can occur only if, and can be ascertained only when, a European Volk can be said to exist. Since this, it is claimed, has not occured, the Union and its institutions can have neither the authority nor the legitimacy of a Demos-cratic State.
The State "über alles": Demos, Telos and the German Maastricht Decision, Joseph H. Weiler, 1995.
Weiler's article is a commentary on a decision of the Bundesverfassungsgericht, the German Constitutional Court (inspired by nationalist fears about the Maastricht Treaty). Describing what he calls the No-Demos thesis, Weiler summarises the democratic-nationalist position...
Critically, Volk/nation are also the basis for the modern democratic State: The nation and its members, the Volk, constitute the polity for the purposes of accepting the discipline of democratic, majoritarian governance. Both descriptively and prescriptively (how it is and how it ought to be) a minority will/should accept the legitimacy of a majority decision because both majority and minority are part of the same Volk, belong to the nation. That is an integral part of what rule-by-the-people, democracy, means on this reading. Thus, nationality constitutes the state (hence nation-state) which in turn constitutes its political boundary, an idea which runs from Schmitt to Kirchhof. The significance of the political boundary is not only to the older notion of political independence and territorial integrity, but also to the very democratic nature of the polity. A parliament is, on this view, an institution of democracy not only because it provides a mechanism for representation and majority voting, but because it represents the Volk, the nation, the demos from which derive the authority and legitimacy of its decisions.
The State "über alles": Demos, Telos and the German Maastricht Decision, for footnote see original.
This democratic-nationalist position is accepted by most modern democrats, and all existing democratic states. Democracy therefore reinforces nationalism as a state formation ideology. This is not only wrong in itself, but in this way the modern ideal of democracy contributes indirectly to nationalist atrocities, during the formation of new nation-states. New nation states are comparatively rare (about one per year on average), and some were formed without bloodshed - such as Slovakia. But blood was certainly shed to found some new nation states,or save an existing one. That happened partly because nationalists (on both sides) believed their nation-state was essential to democracy.
Testable propositions: fortress democracy
The combination of the nation state and global inequality has created a historically unique pattern of 'islands' of wealth co-existing with oceans of poverty. The island metaphor is not entirely accurate, since most rich countries border on other rich countries. They are not in fact surrounded by extreme poverty - it is generally further away from their borders. Mexico, for instance, is no longer a poor country: the poorest immigrants at the Rio Grande come from its southern neighbours. Similarly, most illegal immigrants who cross the Strait of Gibraltar come from sub-Saharan Africa, not from Morocco itself. However the island metaphor is accurate at global level: those who are born in a rich society will live in a rich society, those who are born amid extreme poverty will die there also. The outward transfer of wealth is minimal: development aid has fallen to 0.25% of rich countries GDP. But above all the inward transfer of population is minimal. Never before has it been cheaper to travel from one continent to another, never before has the gap in incomes been greater, but migration into the rich western democracies is deliberately kept at a low level. This is what is historically unique, and it does seem to be specific to democracies, in the form suggested by these propositions
the monotony of democracy, the lack of utopia
The uniformity and conformity of liberal-democratic societies has been criticised, for almost as long as they exist - from the 19th century on. At first, these criticisms amounted to a nostalgia for aristocratic individualism, and it is still a favourite tactic of democrats to label all criticism of democracy as 'elitist'. John Stuart Mill is typical of this type of criticism, directed at the emerging mass society:
It does seem, however, that when the opinions of masses of merely average men are everywhere become or becoming the dominant power, the counterpoise and corrective to that tendency would be, the more and more pronounced individuality of those who stand on the higher eminences of thought. It is in these circumstances most especially, that exceptional individuals, instead of being deterred, should be encouraged in acting differently from the mass. In other times there was no advantage in their doing so, unless they acted not only differently, but better. In this age the mere example of non-conformity, the mere refusal to bend the knee to custom, is itself a service. Precisely because the tyranny of opinion is such as to make eccentricity a reproach, it is desirable, in order to break through that tyranny, that people should be eccentric. Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character has abounded; and the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigor, and moral courage which it contained. That so few now dare to be eccentric, marks the chief danger of the time.
On Liberty, John Stuart Mill 1859.
(Chapter III: On individuality, as one of the elements of wellbeing).
However not all anti-conformist criticism can be dismissed as aristocratic nostalgia, and certainly not since 'The Sixties'. In the 100 years since Mill wrote, the aristocratic culture of noble eccentricity became culturally marginal. The Sixties (at least in the media stereotype version) provided new forms of individualist 'eccentricity', from within mass culture itself.
Such attacks on conformity are primarily criticisms of liberal society, rather than against democracy as a political regime. Democracy in itself can not be blamed for a uniform culture, a static culture, or social conformity. But in their political culture, democracies have failed to match the image they present. Pro-democracy propaganda, for instance in eastern Europe just after 1989, presents democracy as politically dynamic and internally diverse. In reality, all western democracies have stable party systems, dominated by elites: together they form what in Italian is called the classe politica. It is extremely difficult to break open this 'political class', from outside: the system is neither dynamic, nor open to innovation. As a result, it is not a force for social and cultural innovation either.
The idea of increasing political conformity and uniformity is difficult to operationalise, but these propositions could be investigated...
Democracy has brought societies which are monotonous and uniform, at least to some of the people who live in them. But not only that. Democracy has failed to bring utopia. That is, it has failed to bring into existence any proposed ideal society, or any other proposal of a 'utopian' type. Indeed to some people that is a virtue.
Democracy itself can be labelled a 'utopia', and the present liberal-democratic societies are historically unique - nothing like them existed before the 19th century. So, in that sense, democracy has brought at least a new democratic society, which is itself an ideal society for some people. But nothing else. No dramatically new type of society has emerged among the democracies, differing from the standard model of these societies. And most liberal-democrats would in fact be hostile to the label 'utopia' being applied to these liberal-democratic societies.
The liberal tradition is resolutely hostile to utopias: anti-utopianism seems a defining characteristic of liberal ideology. That hostility has shaped the present liberal-democratic societies. Liberal anti-utopianism and democratic anti-totalitarianism are in practice the same thing. Some liberals explicitly equate the two, and see totalitarianism as the result of utopian ideals. They believe that the 20th-century totalitarian regimes derive from the European utopian tradition. The early-modern ideal city, the ideal city-states of the type described in Thomas More's original book "Utopia", were for them the source of all later evil. (Many postmodernists share this distaste for utopia, and the belief that there is a direct line from Thomas More to Auschwitz). In other words, there are liberal-democrats who believe that the political system should be so structured, as to save society from utopian experiments. To them, democracy is (at least partly) a mechanism to prevent utopia. I think they are right about the nature of democracy: but it is democracy, not utopia, which must go.
....historical inevitability dictated the triumph of individual human rights that was inherent in the political transformation that mankind was experiencing, particularly in the phenomenon of mass political awakening with which we wanted to identify the forces of democracy and freedom.
This was our response to the challenge posed by the notion that so dominated our century: that a coercive utopia derived from dogmatic hubris, that a perfect society, a form of heaven on earth, could be constructed by political compulsion.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, Morgenthau Memorial Lecture 1995.
The resistance of democracy to innovation, is clearly related to the reluctance to accept any criticism of it. Although pro-democratic theorists often say they are not claiming democracy is perfect, in practice it does have a semi-sacred status. So in democratic societies, criticism of democracy, even without questioning its fundamental principles, is regarded with suspicion and hostility. Especially, democrats are reluctant to accept that a democratic system can be corrupted. They may try to associate this criticism with fascism: corruption and 'decadence' were indeed major themes of anti-democratic propaganda in the 1930's.
Some recent criticisms of democracy are about classic corruption - politicians taking bribes. But most are about the way western democracies have evolved in the last 50 years. For instance, about the US presidential elections as a contest between personalities - not even real personalities but the image created by the campaign managers. Or the 'focus group democracy' in Britain under Tony Blair, where policy is adjusted week by week, to maximise the approval rating among the core electorate. A series of leaked internal memos showed that this kind of rating is the primary factor in Blair's decisions.
But if democratic societies refuse to accept criticisms of democracy as 'corrupt' or 'degenerate', then logically there is an underlying belief that it is in some way 'pure' or 'perfect'. In turn this creates a tendency to social self-worship, a concept used in the theory of nationalism. Widespread belief that the existing society is perfect or quasi-sacred, creates a climate for complacency and social conformity, not for innovation. Sacralisation is, by definition, a contra-innovative social phenomenon: the sacred is preserved, to abolish it is sacrilege.
the cultural effect of democracy
Democracy prevents the substitution of a complete utopian alternative, in place of the present society. But it also prevents the substitution of elements in that society and its culture - at least when that is against the democratic choices. So although democracy in itself does not specify the details of culture, it preserves some of them.
The clearest example is in democratic prohibitions, such as drug prohibition or alcohol prohibition. The national alcohol prohibition in the United States, through a constitutional amendment, was a result of democracy. Since there was (and is) no 'right to drink', the Christian anti-alcohol majority could simply use the democratic process, to make their values the national values. Successful prohibition movements are a special case of the inherent anti-minority bias in democracies: more on that in the section on the ethics of democracy. 'Prohibition' was repealed in 1933, but the 'War on Drugs' of the last 20 years is at least as comprehensive in terms of policy and effects. These prohibitions derive from cultural preferences, in the anthropological sense. They are not in themselves part of democracy, but it is certainly democracy which sustains them. Given the present electorate in the United States, the only way to legalise all drugs would be a pro-drug military coup, or something comparable. An unlikely scenario.
The opposite to a prohibition is compulsion, and democratic majorities do impose cultural preferences in this way also. Democracy does not 'specify' commercial TV, for example, but it does specify that it should remain - if the only way to abolish it was a military government. Again, that is probably the extent of political change that would be necessary, to end commercial television in most western democracies.
So there is a category of culture and social structure within the democracies which is removable only by extreme measures. Much culture and social structure within the democracies falls into this category, both compulsory features and forbidden features. Accordingly, these cultural and social features will not disappear. An acceptance of democracy, amounts to a de facto acceptance of these aspects of culture. For all reforms and innovations that can only be implemented by undemocratic means, democracy is a guarantee of non-reform - by definition. The free market itself benefits significantly from this.
"NATO democracy" - vehicle of the free market
All over Europe, "democracy" has come to mean the expansion and intensification of the free market. The "introduction of democracy" means privatisation, market-oriented polices, and the resulting inequalities. Whatever the original definitions, democracy no longer exists separate from the free market. There are good theoretical grounds, for regarding democracy as equivalent to the free market, certainly within the recent definitions of democracy (see the section on definitions below). The basic rights, which a free market requires, are also fundamental to the market. The right to property is both a liberal-democratic right, and a precondition of the market. Freedom of association (especially as a legal entity) is also the freedom to form a business enterprise. In liberal democracies, the rule of law guarantees freedom of action to associations, provided their activities are legal - and generally, competition in itself is not illegal. It is a historical reality, that a market economy already exists in most states, and that goods and services are already produced by competing enterprises. A rights-based democracy will automatically facilitate that economy. Conversely, full state control of the economy would be impossible. The emergence of the modern market economies may be historically contingent, but democracy amounts to permanent recognition of this historical pattern. Certainly, no state would now be accepted in the west as a democracy, if it did not have a free market. In this way, democracy has become a vehicle for the injustices of the free market, both inside and outside the democracies.
When western democracies use military force, to implement democracy and human rights, they also impose the free market. That is certainly the case in Bosnia and Kosovo. It is true that a free market existed on these territories prior to the intervention. Nevertheless the free-market economy, that now exists in Bosnia and Kosovo, is the preferred system of the occupying forces. It could not exist without their support. It would certainly be impossible to abolish it in these territories, without first inflicting a military defeat on SFOR or KFOR.
Internally, democracy certainly has created a 'market culture'. The democracies are characterised by collective commitment to pseudo-ethical goals such as 'competitiveness'. 'Pseudo-ethical' means that they are treated as self-evident goals, with the status of moral obligations. Most politically active citizens in the democratic nations, for instance, would be shocked by the proposal to deliberately make the nation uncompetitive. Yet this would be a legitimate (although inefficient) strategy, to transfer wealth at a global scale.
Another example is the way that the Dow Jones index, or its national equivalent, is seen as the most important single measure of the success of the nation. Many people in western societies believe that their society has failed, if its main stock index collapses. These beliefs are probably not historically inherent in democracy, even market democracy. In 1850, for instance, the idea of a multiparty parliamentary democracy was familiar, and stock indices existed already. Nevertheless, it would have been difficult to predict in 1850, that the Dow Jones index would become the most important icon of social well-being. But inherent or not, democracy is increasingly interlinked with the free market, with the neoliberal intensification of that market, and with the creation of a market society. That is the kind of democracy that now exists. It is the alternative - a market democracy without any market culture or market society - which seems inherently unlikely.
It is therefore no surprise, that the friends of democracy are the friends of the free market. The Center for Democracy and Technology (their website is usually first if you search for "democracy") is funded by
Guilt by association? There fact that these businesses and foundations support democracy reflects the fact that business in general supports democracy, and not only in the United States. That would not be the case, if democracy was inherently egalitarian (or inherently disadvantageous to the entrepreneur in any other way).
the costs of transition to market and democracy
The post-1989 transition in central and eastern Europe has provided, for the first time in history, an indication of the negative effects of democracy. (At least, of liberal democracy in combination with the free market, which is certainly what western media and governments mean when they talk of democracy in eastern Europe). In the older democratic states, the present model of democracy was formed over 100 or 200 years. Britain in 1800 can not be compared with Britain in 2000 anyway: the huge differences are not simply 'the result of democracy'. In eastern Europe, modern states acquired a new political and economic system within a few years - with a complete statistical record. Russia in 1985 can be compared with Russia in 1995: the difference is largely due to the economic and political transition. The effects of both aspects are difficult to separate, but the UN Development Program has listed 7 social-economic costs of the process. Here are the main points of the list (the reference to "life expectancy levels achieved in the 1990s" should apparently read "1980's"):
The process of transition in the region has had huge human development costs, many of which still continue unabated....
Summing up the seven costs of transition across the whole region underscores the dramatic and widespread deterioration of human security....
- The biggest single 'cost of transition' has undoubtedly been the loss of lives represented by the decline in life expectancy in several major countries of the region, most notably in the Russian Federation, and most strikingly among young and middle-aged men....Most regrettably, the trends in life expectancy have meant that several million people have not survived the 1990s who would have done so if the life expectancy levels achieved in the 1990s had been maintained....
- The second cost of transition has been the rise and persistently high level of morbidity, characterized by higher incidence of common illnesses and by the spread of such diseases as tuberculosis that had been reduced to marginal health threats in the past....
- A third cost of transition has been the extraordinary rise in poverty - both income and human poverty....
- A major contributor to the increase in poverty - along with falling incomes and rising inflation - has been the rise in income and wealth inequality, and this has been a fourth cost of transition....
- A fifth cost of transition has been rising gender inequalities. During the Soviet era, quotas for women helped to incorporate them into positions of economic and political decision-making and authority, but the advent of more democratic regimes has led paradoxically to lower percentages of women in such positions. Women have found themselves progressively pushed out of public life. Simultaneously, their access to paid employment has declined and their total work burden both within the household and outside it has increased....
- A sixth cost of transition has been the considerable deterioration of education....
- A seventh cost of transition has been the rise in unemployment, underemployment and informalization of employment....
TRANSITION 1999: Human Development Report for Central and Eastern Europe and the CIS, UNDP (Chapter 1).
The report itself has more detail on all of these aspects, and especially on poverty. In historical perspective, this is clearly not indicative of a voluntary choice for emancipation and progress. Instead these characteristics are consistent with the traditional historical pattern of expansion by conquest: more on this 'democratic conquest' below.
So, on the evidence from eastern Europe, what would happen if the existing market democracy was abolished , in an older liberal-democracy such as Britain? The effects (on this model) are that...
These are only expectations. Since the comparison is with eastern Europe in the 1980's, an exact equivalence would mean recreating those 1980's 'Soviet-bloc' societies, in present Britain - which is impossible. But supporters of democracy themselves use social and political comparisons between very different societies - for instance between Stalin's Russia (or Hitler's Germany) and the present USA. The western lobby in favour of the transition process in eastern Europe also quote its successes - again using longitudinal comparisons of non-comparable societies. If cross-generational, cross-cultural, cross-societal comparisons are acceptable in justification of democracy, it would be inconsistent not to use them in criticism of it. The statistics, on transition in eastern Europe, indicate possible benefits of a reverse transition in western market democracies themselves.
1a. definitions of democracyDefinitions of democracy follow a standard pattern, a sign of a stable and established ideology. Often, as in the version by Thomas Christiano, the definition separates the historical ideal, and the structure of modern democracies. The historical ideal is either given in abstract terms as 'rule by the people', or it is a description of classic democracy - usually Athenian democracy. However this this not mean that there is any real continuity between ancient and modern democracy. The comprehensive survey Antike Traditionen in der Legitimation staatlicher Systeme shows that most western political regimes appealed to classical predecessors.
a) Reiche in der Nachfolge des Imperium Romanum.
b) Absolutistisch verfaßte Fürsten-Staaten.
c) Aristokratische Stadt-Republiken.
e) Herrschafts-Vikariate und Kolonialverwaltungen.
f) Konstitionelle Republiken.
g) Demokratische Republiken (i. S. eines parteilichen Volksbegriffs).
h) Konstitutionelle Monarchien.
i) Moderne Diktaturen.
k) Moderne imperiale Systeme.
l) Moderne internationale Gemeinschaften.
Antike Traditionen in der Legitimation staatlicher Systeme, Christian Gizewski, TU Berlin.
It is very unlikely that they all correspond exactly to some regime 2500 or 2000 years ago. The appeal to classical models is itself a tradition in western culture - not an absolute historical truth. As modern industrial societies, Nazi Germany and democratic Britain probably had more in common with each other, than either of them with ancient Athens.
Robert Dahl's version is the best known of the dual definitions. He was one of the first to revise the simple definitions of democracy, and introduced the word 'polyarchy' to describe modern democracies. The polyarchy definitions, which emphasise political pluralism and multi-party elections, have become the standard political science definitions of democracy. The newest definitions emphasise democratic rights, rather than the democratic regime itself.
Remember that most definitions of democracy (including those quoted below) have themselves been written by supporters of democracy. No neutral definitions exist...
- ...the Greek democracies were not representative governments, they were governments run by the free, male citizens of the city-state. All major government decisions and legislation were made by the Assembly; the closest we've come to such a system is "initiative and referendum," in which legislation is popularly petitioned and then voted on directly by the electorate. The Greek democratic states ran their entire government on such a system. All the members of a city-state were not involved in the government: slaves, foreigners, and women were all disbarred from the democracy. So, in reality, the democratic city-states more closely resembled oligarchies for a minority ruled the state - it was a very large minority, to be sure, but still a minority.
World Civilizations general Glossary: Democracy, Richard Hooker
- Let us focus more closely on the basic ideals of democracy. First, in a democracy, the people rule. Popular sovereignty implies that all minimally competent adults come together as one body to make decisions about the laws and policies that are to regulate their lives together. Each citizen has a vote in the processes by which the decisions are made and each has the opportunity to participate in the deliberations over what courses of action are to be followed. Second, each citizen has the right to participate as an equal. Political equality implies equality among citizens in the process of decision-making....Third, each citizen has the right to an opportunity to express his or her opinions and supporting reasons to every other citizen as well as a right and duty to hear a wide spectrum of views on subjects of public concern. Each has a right, as well as a duty to participate in open and fair discussion. These are the ideals of democracy.
These ideals are partly realized in features of modern democratic societies. One-person one-vote is observed in the process of electing representatives to the legislative assembly; anyone may run for election to public office; in elections, a number of political parties compete for political power by advocating alternative visions of the society; the political campaigns of candidates and parties consist in large part in discussion and argument over the worth of these opposing views, and everyone is permitted to have a say in this process; and the society tolerates and often encourages vigorous debate on all issues of public interest.
Thomas Christiano (1996) The Rule of Many: Fundamental Issues in Democratic Theory. Boulder: Westview. (p. 3).
- ...polyarchy is a political order distinguished by the presence of seven institutions, all of which must exist for a government to be classified as a polyarchy.
1. Elected officials. Control over government decisions about policy is constitutionally vested in elected officials.
2. Free and fair elections. Elected officials are chosen in frequent and fairly conducted elections in which coercion is comparatively uncommon.
3. Inclusive suffrage. Practically all adults have the right to vote in the election of officials.
4. Right to run for office. Practically all adults have the right to run for elective offices...
5. Freedom of expression. Citizens have a right to express themselves without the danger of severe punishment on political matters broadly defined, including criticism of officials, the government, the regime, the socioeconomic order, and the prevailing ideology.
6. Alternative information. Citizens have a right to seek out alternative sources of information. Moreover, alternative sources of information exist and are protected by laws.
7. Associational autonomy. To achieve their various rights, including those listed above, citizens also have a right to form relatively independent associations or organizations, including independent political parties and interest groups.
...all the institutions of polyarchy are necessary to the highest feasible attainment of the democratic process in the government of a country.
Robert A Dahl (1989) Democracy and its Critics. New Haven: Yale University Press. (p. 221-222).
- Democracy literally means rule or government by, or power of, the people. Logically and historically implicit in this is the notion of majority rule. Representative democracy is a form of democracy in which the people govern indirectly, through elected representatives, rather than directly governing themselves.
Constitutional implications from representative democracy, Jeremy Kirk
- ...democracy in its 20th Century form means:
- regular elections for the most powerful government positions,
- competitive political parties,
- near universal franchise,
- secret balloting, and
- civil liberties and political rights (human rights).
Democracies don't fight non-democracies, Rudolph J. Rummel. (Peace Magazine)
- It is by now a truism that what's most important is not a country's first election, but rather its second and third. And what matters is not simply that people have the right to vote, but that they are offered a real choice, under conditions that are truly free and fair.
Elections, moreover, are but one note in the democratic symphony. A full orchestra is required, including markets that reward initiative; police that respect due process; legal structures that provide justice; and a press corps that is free to pursue the facts and publish the truth.
lecture by US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright
- In der alten DDR war es also mit der demokratischen Legitimation nicht weit her, wie in allen autoritär-kommunistischen Staaten, auch wenn eine erste Grundbedingung erfüllt war: es existierte eine formal-demokratische Verfassung. Diese Bedingung ist aber nicht hinreichend.
Die Verfassung muß zweitens auch materiell rechtsstaatliche Verfahren, die Willkür ausschließen, garantieren.
Drittens müssen Grundrechte und Grundwerte durch Verfassung und Rechtspraxis auch für kritische Minderheiten verläßlich garantiert und geschützt werden.
Viertens müssen diese Verfahren und Grundrechte vom Bürger anerkannt werden, und er das Vertrauen haben können, daß er sich auf sie verlassen kann.
Probleme der Demokratie und der demokratischen Legitimation, Ulrich von Alemann.
- Entgegen der wörtlichen Bedeutung des Begriffs sind bislang Versuche, das gesamte Volk direkt an der Herrschaft zu beteiligen (zum Beispiel in Form von Räten), nirgendwo dauerhaft verwirklicht worden. Grundlage der meisten westlichen Industriegesellschaften ist die bürgerlich-parlamentarische Demokratie. Sie hat sich im Kampf gegen den Feudalismus herausgebildet, blieb aber auf die Vorherrschaft der Bürger bedacht. Nach der Durchsetzung des allgemeinen, gleichen und geheimen Wahlrechts hat das Volk die Möglichkeit einer indirekten politischen Mitwirkung:.... Das Hauptkennzeichen von Demokratie ist die Möglichkeit des Machtwechsels ohne Blutvergießen, das heißt ein Machtwechsel nach anerkannten Regeln.
- What exactly is democracy? We must not identify democracy with majority rule. Democracy has complex demands, which certainly include voting and respect for election results, but it also requires the protection of liberties and freedoms, respect for legal entitlements, and the guaranteeing of free discussion and uncensored distribution of news and fair comment. Even elections can be deeply defective if they occur without the different sides getting an adequate opportunity to present their respective cases, or without the electorate enjoying the freedom to obtain news and to consider the views of the competing protagonists. Democracy is a demanding system, and not just a mechanical condition (like majority rule) taken in isolation.
Democracy as a Universal Value, Amartya Sen, Journal of Democracy. (US Congress publication).
- At a minimum, a democracy is a political system in which the people choose their authoritative leaders freely from among competing groups and individuals who were not designated by the government.
Freedom House Annual Survey
- Voor wie de klassieke idealen van de democratie wil handhaven, lijkt het daarom voor de hand te liggen, in een zekere analogie tot Dahl, onderscheid te maken tussen democratische idealen en democratie. Deze is dan een specifiek procedureel en grondrechtelijk kader dat gebaseerd is op de democratische idealen van vrijheid, gelijkheid en volkssoevereiniteit en waarin deze idealen tegelijk in open competitie staan met andere doelstellingen. Zo is elk land waarin dit kader bestaat een democratie.
Uwe Becker (1999). Europese Democratieën: Vrijheid, Gelijkheid, Solidariteit en Soevereiniteit in de Praktijk. Amsterdam: Het Spinhuis. (p. 11).
- Democracy is a form of government in which the major decisions of government -- or the direction of policy behind these decisions -- rests directly or indirectly on the freely given consent of the majority of the adults governed.
- Democracy is a political system in which different groups are legally entitled to compete for power and in which institutional power holders are elected by the people and are responsible to the people.
Tutu Vanhanen (1997). Prospects of democracy: a Study of 172 Countries. London: Routledge. (p. 31). The book summarises definitions of democracy of the last 40 years on p. 28-31.
- Most contemporary definitions of democracy have several common elements. First, democracies are countries in which there are institutional mechanisms, usually elections, that allow the people to choose their leaders. Second, prospective leaders must compete for public support. Third, the power of the government is restrained by its accountability to the people. These are the essential characteristics of political democracy.
Some writers add additional criteria to the list of what makes a polity a democracy. Larry Diamond argues that a democracy must have "extensive civil liberties (freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom to form and join organizations)." Samuel Huntington recognizes that democracy "implies the existence of those civil and political freedoms to speak, publish, assemble and organize that are necessary to political debate and the conduct of electoral campaigns."
Why the United States Should Spread Democracy, Sean Lynn-Jones
- Guillermo O'Donnell on minimalist Schumpeterian and polyarchy definitions
It is now standard to include political and/or civic rights in the definition of democracy. Below a well-known example of the typical rights listed, from the Freedom House Annual Survey. First the political rights checklist:
These rights are associated with the alternation of government: they allow one government can be replaced by another. The polyarchy definitions of democracy insist, that there must be a possibility to change the government, through democratic procedures. However all democrats insist, that there should be no other possibility to change the government.
- Is the head of state and/or head of government or other chief authority elected through free and fair elections?
- Are the legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?
- Are there fair electoral laws, equal campaigning opportunities, fair polling, and honest tabulation of ballots?
- Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system open to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?
The Freedom House checklist on civil liberties and the rule of law includes:
- Are there free and independent media and other forms of cultural expression?
- Are there free religious institutions and is there free private and public religious expression?
- Is there freedom of assembly, demonstration, and open public discussion?
- Is there freedom of political or quasi-political organization (political parties, civic organizations, ad hoc issue groups)?
- Is there an independent judiciary?
- Does the rule of law prevail in civil and criminal matters? Is the population treated equally under the law?
- Is there protection from political terror, unjustified imprisonment, exile, or torture, whether by groups that support or oppose the system?
- Is there open and free private discussion?
- Is there personal autonomy? Does the state control travel, choice of residence, or choice of employment? Is there freedom from indoctrination and excessive dependency on the state?
Note again that this is largely a checklist of rights, yet I am quoting it as a definition of democracy. This is simply a reflection of the current idea of democracy, among theorists of democracy (and in general in democratic countries). In the theory of democracy, the categories of civil rights, political rights, and democratic government have merged. Rights checklists seem to be the emerging standard definition of democracy. The online paper The theory and measurement of democracy (Gizachew Tiruneh) includes a list and comparative table of indices of democracy: most are rights checklists. The section on alternatives to democracy reconsiders the nature of modern democracy, and gives a different definition of democracy.
the opposite of democracySupporters of democracy may use Hitler and Fascism as references - usually to imply that anyone who opposes democracy is a fascist, or "like Hitler". Usually this is a term of abuse, rather than an attempt to define an opposite of democracy. Western political science usually contrasts democracy with dictatorship, authoritarianism, and totalitarianism. The last of these is indeed based on the Nazi regime, as a historical model.
The theory of totalitarianism is a Cold War product. It was formulated largely in the United States in the early 1950's, in a climate of anti-Communist hysteria. Central to the theory of totalitarianism is the claim, that the ideology, the regimes and social systems under Hitler and Stalin were more-or-less identical. Yet until 1945 the United States and the Soviet Union were allies against Hitler. The geopolitical 'reversal of alliances' at the start of the Cold War made the theory of totalitarianism an attractive propaganda instrument.
Coined in the interwar years, but coming into wide usage only after 1945, the term pointed to features of Nazi and Communist regimes that were said to make them "essentially alike" and that distinguished them from traditional autocracies....Whatever the theory's analytic merits, in the 1940s and 1950s it performed admirable ideological service in denying what to the untutored eye was a dramatic reversal of alliances. It only seemed this way, the theory asserted; in fact the cold war was, from the standpoint of the West, a continuation of World War II: a struggle against the transcendent enemy, totalitarianism, first in its Nazi, then in its Soviet version.
Peter Novick (2000). The Holocaust in American Life. New York: Houghton Mifflin. (p. 86).
By the 1960's the theory was out of fashion, although the comparison Hitler-Stalin is still used by liberal propagandists. And 'totalitarian' is still the word most democracy theorists would use, if they were asked to name a political system opposite to democracy. (Second would probably be 'authoritarian').
With hindsight, the definition of totalitarianism is too obviously a description of regimes and political styles of the 1930's and 1940's. Like George Orwell's "1984", its image of oppression now seems dated (the book was written in 1948). These are the 5 defining characteristics of totalitarian societies, listed by Carl J Friedrich in 1953:
- 1. An official ideology, consisting of an official body of doctrine covering all vital aspects of man's existence, to which everyone living in that society is supposed to adhere at least passively; this ideology is characteristically focused in terms of chiliastic claims as to the "perfect" final society of mankind.
- 2. A single mass party consisting of a relatively small percentage of the total population (up to 10 per cent) of men and women passionately and unquestioningly dedicated to the ideology and prepared to assist in every way in promoting its general acceptance, such party being organized in strictly hierarchical, oligarchical manner, usually under a single leader....
- 3. A technologically conditioned near-complete monopoly of control (in the hands of the party and its subservient cadres, such as the bureaucracy and the armed forces) of all means of effective armed combat.
- 4. A similarly technologically conditioned near-complete monopoly of control (in the same hands) of all means of effective mass communication, such as the press, radio, motion pictures, and so on.
- 5. A system of terroristic police control. depending for its effectiveness upon points 3 and 4 and characteristically directed not only against demonstrable "enemies" of the regime, but also against arbitrarily selected classes of the population, such arbitrary selection turning upon exigencies of the regime's survival, as well as ideological "implications" and systematically exploiting scientific psychology.Carl J Friedrich (1954) 'The unique character of totalitarian society'
in: Totalitarianism. New York: Grossett & Dunlap.
An "official ideology... to which everyone living in that society is supposed to adhere at least passively" is also characteristic of democratic societies: all citizens are expected to be democrats. But in general, this list is historically specific to the time it was written. Historically, the vast majority of regimes were non-democratic, but most of them do not fit this profile. And today, a society, with none of these characteristics, might also be seen as fundamentally undemocratic. In 1953 'human rights abuses' were not mentioned - yet they are now considered a definitive characteristic of non-democracies. So the concept is not usable as a general 'opposite of democracy'.
Probably, the early theorists of totalitarianism did not intend to write a universal 'definition of non-democracy' anyway. That is simply the way the word has come to be used. It has acquired a secondary meaning of 'non-democratic'. And since the definitions of democracy are increasingly checklist definitions, the word totalitarian is used simply to mean a regime of government without free elections, without political pluralism, without a free press, and without all the other elements on the checklists. So although most pre-modern regimes of government had none of Friedrich's characteristics, they are sometimes thrown into the general category 'totalitarian'.
A similar problem exists with 'authoritarian' and 'authoritarianism' (and often with 'autocratic' as well). Although specific definitions exist for specific types of authoritarian political system, the term is often used to mean simply 'non-democratic'...
Are Democracies Stable? Compared to What?, Marc Stier and Robert Mundt.
Samuel Huntington and Clement Moore (eds., 1970), in their 'Conclusion' of Authoritarian Politics in Modern Society: the Dynamics of Established One-Party Systems New York: Basic Books. (p. 509).
When Huntington and Moore wrote that in 1970, the one-party state seemed the definitive modern form of non-democratic state. Like the definition of totalitarianism, however, that now seems too historically specific, too obviously based on the 'Soviet Bloc' state.
Because western political theorists have no comprehensive theory of the alternatives to democracy, they can not categorise non-democrats. This leads to absurd 'shopping list' definitions of anti-democratic forces, which are structurally similar to right-wing conspiracy theories. The best example of this approach is the Standing Group on Extremism and Democracy of the European Consortium for Political Research. The group's introduction, and especially the list of members interests, include a wide range of 'anti-democratic extremism'. Yet the only common factor seems to be the researcher's distaste:.
This list is bizarre, if the intention is to suggest that this is some kind of joint political movement. These beliefs, people, and groups, share no common anti-democratic ideology. The use of the label "extremist", which is always relative anyway, indicates the lack of theory here. Democracy has no good theory of its opponents - and there is no comprehensive secular anti-democratic theory either.
Any definition of democracy should include the ideology of democracy itself. Besides the concept of democracy, there is also 'democratism' - that is, there are people who believe in democracy, as a goal. Indeed it is possible to define democracy from this perspective:
There is a general reluctance among democratic theorists to consider democracy an ideology, or even to use more neutral terms such as 'belief system'. Its supporters think that democracy in some way rises above ideology. Liberal-democrats emphasise the procedural nature of democracy, and claim it is politically neutral. But the very fact, that there are supporters and opponents of democracy, undermines this claim.
defining the democratic ethic: legitimacy
From an anti-democratic point of view, it is easier to start with the 'democratic ethic' instead of a definition of a democratic system. In a perfect democracy with no anti-democrats, the inhabitants would all adhere to this ethic. Two of its basic principles are given below. It is not fictional or hypothetical - most inhabitants of the democracies do indeed think like this. However, that is a historical development, and not inevitable. The fact that large numbers of people are democrats, can not in itself justify democracy.
The first and most important component of the democratic ethic is so obvious, that it is rarely explicitly named. It is the principle of ethical and political legitimacy:
In normal election years, voter discontent with the electoral process is a complete non-issue. Most US Presidents were elected by a minority of adult citizens anyway, and no-one complains. Compare that with, for instance, Northern Albania. There, the normal attitude is to reject unfavourable national election results. Armed demonstrations after elections are standard practice. Although Albanian national unity is accepted, decisions of the 'Tirana government' are not - regardless of whether it won the election.
The political legitimacy of a state is therefore a question of attitude: your willingness to accept a government which you have not chosen. The concession statement of Al Gore, and the victory speech of George Bush, were textbook examples of successful political legitimacy. They also illustrate how that is itself dependent on the perception of a single demos, coinciding with 'national unity'.
Now the U.S. Supreme Court has spoken. Let there be no doubt, while I strongly disagree with the court's decision, I accept it. I accept the finality of this outcome which will be ratified next Monday in the Electoral College. And tonight, for the sake of our unity of the people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession....
I know that many of my supporters are disappointed. I am too. But our disappointment must be overcome by our love of country.
CNN transcript, Albert Gore, 13 December 2000
In reality, there was no reason for Gore to accept the Supreme Court decision. There was no reason to accept the composition of the Electoral College, and therefore no reason to concede defeat to George W. Bush. No Albanian politician would concede defeat under these circumstances. But Albania is not a model of a successful democratic political culture, even though its OSCE-supervised elections meet formal democratic criteria. The legitimacy is missing: a belief in an overriding shared political culture and values. This is what George W. Bush appealed to...
Our nation must rise above a house divided. Americans share hopes and goals and values far more important than any political disagreements. Republicans want the best for our nation, and so do Democrats. Our votes may differ, but not our hopes.... Together, guided by a spirit of common sense, common courtesy and common goals, we can unite and inspire the American citizens.... I have faith that with God's help we as a nation will move forward together as one nation, indivisible.
CNN transcript, George W. Bush, 13 December 2000
The essence of legitimacy is not that Gore and Bush say these things: the essence of legitimacy is that Americans believe them.
In the normal course of affairs, democratic states rely on legitimacy to preserve their own existence and cohesion. Overthrow of the government is totally off the political agenda: it is taboo to even discuss it. There is no large army to suppress armed revolts, because there are no large armed revolts - and no small ones either. The United States is a nation of gun-owners, but despite a month of political feuding over the Gore-Bush election result, not a shot was fired for political reasons. This is a remarkable achievement, for a country with a history of secessionism, Civil War, and military conquest of ethnic minorities. The 'normal course of affairs' is historically not normal at all.
What would happen if legitimacy disappeared completely? In principle, you could hold free and fair multi-party elections in an open society - and then overthrow the democratically elected government, after each election. That could happen every week, but it would not be considered 'democracy'. This emphasises the formalism and proceduralism of democracy: once followed, the democratic procedures are claimed to produce legitimacy. The government which is elected by the democratic procedures, becomes the absolutely legitimate government. If legitimacy is strong, then it becomes culturally taboo to overthrow it, it even becomes taboo not to see it as 'our government'. It is the fact that US citizens think this way, which makes the US politically stable.
To be a democrat means, that you think this should happen: you believe that the democratically elected government is legitimate and must be accepted as legitimate (unless it is itself anti-democratic). The procedures are not an ornament, they are the essence. This legitimacy claim is a major ethical defect of democracy - because procedure is no substitute for morality. Most democrats go much further, and would claim explicitly that
As far as ethics are concerned, this formula is the heart of democracy - and it is unacceptable. It indicates the absolute nature of the moral claim made by democrats - the claim that no value may override democracy. All states claim political legitimacy - that their laws should be obeyed, that their judges are entitled to judge, that they may raise taxes. However, the formula above is at least an implicit claim to ethical legitimacy, to moral authority. It is more like the infallibility claim made by the Catholic Church, which asserts that certain declarations by the Pope are the absolute moral truth. The democracy theorist Christiano writes...
Other values may compete with democratic ideals and sometimes override them...
Thomas Christiano (1996) The Rule of Many: Fundamental Issues in Democratic Theory. Boulder: Westview. (p. 4).
In the democratic ethic, the only remedy for any defect of democracy is democracy itself. In a democracy, there is certainly no political authority external to the democratic process: there is no 'appeal to a higher tribunal'. No other method or process is accepted as a legitimate response to the democratic process, and certainly not the use of force. The word "undemocratic" is used as a synonym for "criminal" or "hostile". It is used to suggest an attack on society, some form of terrorism.
Christiano and other theorists of democracy are ignoring these political realities, if they suggest democracy is not an absolute. In practice, democrats accord an absolute moral priority to democracy, and an absolute legitimacy. The evidence for this is simple: they will concede nothing that overrides it. Not even principles such as justice: the democrat will simply say that democracy is itself justice, or at least the path to justice. If democrats deny that any moral principle can override democracy, then it is correct to say that they treat democracy as a moral absolute.
The claims for democratic legitimacy indicate the primary function of democratic theory in western democracies. It serves to legitimise the existing order, however wrong that order may be. (A secondary function is to legitimise political support to pro-western allies in other countries). Pro-democracy theorists have a lot on their conscience.
defining the democratic ethic: secession and the indivisibility of the demos
Another core principle in the democratic ethic concerns secession. Unlike the legitimacy claim, the democratic principles concerning secession are often discussed - for instance in Canada, in connection with Québec secessionism. The central question was explicitly stated by Abraham Lincoln after the attack on Fort Sumter, the start of the American Civil War:
It presents the question, whether discontented individuals, too few in numbers to control administration ... can always... break up their Government, and thus practically put an end to free government upon the earth.
see Genocide, world order and state formation
Unlimited secession would indeed make democracy pointless. If free and fair multi-party elections are held in an open society, but anyone who disagrees with the result can set up a separate state, no democrat would accept that as a democracy. For democrats there must be a unit, beyond which secession is not permitted: this unit is the 'demos'. Again, its modern expression is the democratic nation state. The indivisibility of the demos is also at the heart of democracy. President Lincoln, of course, explained what happens to those who question it:
So, viewing the issue, no choice was left but to call out the war powers of the Government.
The reliance on legitimacy collapses in the face of secessionism. An appeal to national unity assumes a positive public attitude to a particular nation. If people come to believe that it is an oppressive empire, the appeal is a farce. When a population decides that the government is a foreign government, they no longer feel any obligation to its laws, institutions, and policies. The government can then either concede every secessionist demand - or adopt a strategy of repression. A democratic government ultimately depends on military power to sustain itself in office, and to prevent the unlimited secession of minorities. This too is part of the democratic ethic, the part that brought democrats into alliance with nationalism. No guns, no democracy.
2. the myth of moral superiority of democracy
At best democracy is a system of government, no more. But the culture of western democracies has elevated it to a sacred status. It has become a taboo to question democracy. Yet there is no moral basis for this cult of democracy, for this sacralisation. As Bhikhu Parekh says of liberalism:
Unless we assume that liberalism represents the final truth about human beings, we cannot indiscriminately condemn societies that do not conform to it.But the general assumption in democratic societies is indeed, that democracy represents the final truth, about the political life of human beings. And all non-democracies are accordingly condemned.
Bhikhu Parekh (1993). The cultural particularity of liberal democracy, in David Held (ed.) Prospects for Democracy: North, South, East, West Cambridge: Polity. (p. 169).
origins of democracy
Democratic states can claim no morally superior origin. Their own mythology places their origins in the political movements of 'the people' (starting with the older western democracies).
Let me sum up the past two hundred years of democratic history. The intertwined histories of democratic legitimations, social movement activism and institutional changes generated, in some of the world's states, a significant democratization of the institutions of government. Despite antidemocratic countertrends, the long run direction of change in some of the states was a democratization of state power.
Globalization and the Future of Democracy, John Markoff.
(Journal of World-Systems Research, Vol. V, 2, 1999, 277-309)
The NATO actions in Kosovo were the first explicit "war for democracy" in Europe, since the end of the Cold War. With hindsight, this seems an inevitable development. By the end of the Second World War in 1945, citizens of western Europe or the United States, found it normal to enforce democracy by war. During the geopolitical stability of the Cold War, however, fear of a nuclear holocaust eroded that attitude. Now, it is back. Europe has returned to a phase of democratic expansionism, where democratic values are explicitly claimed to justify war. Most democratic regimes in Europe were enforced from outside - by invasion, occupation, or as a condition of economic aid. Democracy in Europe comes from the barrel of a gun, or from the power of the dollar, but rarely from the people....
Breakdown of central government after collapse of Communist regime in 1990/1991: stable democracy made a condition of foreign aid. Italian troops stationed to aid democratisation process.
Accession of east German regional governments (Länder) to the Federal Republic of Germany in 1990, automatically brought them into its system of government.
Interim military government established by invasion of US, British and Canadian forces in 1944, re-established democracy after US pressure in 1945.
Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro)
The present democracies in Europe do not match the democratic mythology. They are not the product of popular uprisings against absolutist monarchies or totalitarian regimes. A far more appropriate term is 'democratic conquest'. From a long-term historical perspective this is what happened: an alliance of democratic states set out to conquer the rest of the world, with success. There is nothing inherently noble, admirable, or moral, in such a war of conquest.
Tutu Vanhanen reviews the explanations for democratisation in Prospects of Democracy: a Study of 172 Countries (London: Routledge. 1997. p. 10-21). At least, the explanations which have been proposed in English-language political science, including the many theorists who say there is no single factor. The list includes no mention of military intervention (or economic warfare) as causal factors in the transition to democracy. Yet all the quoted theorists are well aware of American crusades for democracy: the gap in the theory is politically motivated. A theory of colonialism which did not mention the colonising powers, and suggested the transition to being a colony was a process internal to each colony, would be unacceptable.
If democratisation was categorised historically on the analogy with colonial conquests, these hypotheses could be researched...
Even when the explanation of democratisation is expanded to include non-internal factors, there is a reluctance to mention military force. Laurence Whitehead suggest three basic models for the international spread of democracy: contagion, control and consent.
The essential point is that approaching two-thirds of the democracies existing in 1990 owed their origins, at least in part, to deliberate acts of imposition or intervention from without (acts, moreover, that were undertaking within living memory). Given this, an interpretation which excludes from consideration the roles played by external actors, their motives, or their instruments of action is bound to produce a highly distorted image of the international dimension of democratization...
Laurence Whitehead (1996) Three international dimensions of democratization, in The International Dimensions of Democratization: Europe and the Americas Oxford: OUP. (p. 9).
It seems an additional distortion, to avoid words like 'invasion' or 'conquest'. But at least this book breaks with the mythology of the internal uprising, for instance around the so-called "Velvet Revolution" in Czechoslovakia, and examines the interventionist role of the democratic powers. Since it was published, there have been more explicit examples of the 'international dimension'. The type of pro-democracy intervention funded by USAID (the official US aid agency), indicates the range of external factors...
USAID's democracy programs will support:
- Constitutional mechanisms, including technical and organizational assistance to constitutional conventions and constitution-makers.
- Democratically elected legislatures, including programs to improve the material, technical, and decision-making capabilities of legislatures.
- Legal systems, including independent judiciaries and civilian-controlled police, and alternative and informal mechanisms for resolving disputes.
- Local government entities, particularly those that have recently acquired additional institutional authority and responsibilities.
- Credible and effective elections, where voters have confidence in the process.
- Local, national, regional, and international organizations that protect human rights, including the rights of workers, indigenous peoples, minorities, and women.
- Trade unions, professional associations, women's groups, educational entities, and a wide range of indigenous NGOs, particularly those that are partners in development programs.
- Political parties and other national mechanisms of political expression in a strictly nonpartisan manner and, consistent with statutory limitations, in a manner that does not influence the outcome of an election.
- Independent media outlets and groups formed to promote and protect freedom of expression.
- Improved civil-military relations, including effective civilian control of the military establishment.
- Institutions and organizations that increase government responsiveness and accountability at the national, state, and local levels.
- Educational efforts for children and adults that reflect community participation, promote the development of local NGOs, and encourage tolerance within society.
- Finally, as a natural complement to longer-term democracy-building efforts, USAID, in consultation with other U.S. Government agencies and with adequate human rights safeguards, will support programs in transition situations for the establishment of democratic political institutions and for the demobilization and retraining of soldiers and insurgents.
USAID'S Strategies - Building Democracy
This is quite different from a popular uprising. By definition, no process initiated by USAID or other external agency, derives 'from the people' inside the territory concerned. In Bosnia and Kosovo, democratic powers can implement such a democratisation programme under military occupation. Generally, this means funding of pro-democracy parties, groups and media. The funds go to a small elite: perhaps for that reason, no multi-ethnic political system has yet emerged, in either Bosnia or Kosovo.
Although the details will only be revealed in the coming years, it is possible that western governments spent much more in Yugoslavia, than in Bosnia and Kosovo. Yugoslavia is bigger, and no military occupation force protected the 'democratisation programme' there. That in itself suggests that more resources would be allocated. Measured in funds allocated per voter, the Yugoslav case may be the biggest financial intervention to secure democracy. That contributed to the election victory of the opposition candidate Kostunica, in turn the signal for the October 2000 protests.
There can be no purely internal transition to democracy in Yugoslavia. The images of a popular revolution - mass protests and a burning parliament - do not necessarily indicate the pure 'people's victory' of democratic mythology. They are not comparable with similar images from 1989: none of those 'transitions' was preceded by the force deployed against Yugoslavia. NATO forces never fired a shot against the governments which fell in 1989, and no sanctions were in force against them. If in 2001, there are democratic governments all the way from the Austrian border to the Greek border, that is the outcome of a series of wars with several hundred thousand dead, and millions of refugees. Not 'the people', but the NATO, ended these wars, and it did so by military force. The NATO, not 'the people', created the New Balkans.
exclusion of the undemocratic
The claim of democrats to be morally superior is partly based on the treatment of persons within democracies. Democracies, especially liberal democracies, also claim to be politically neutral. Nevertheless, even model democracies exclude (and often politically persecute) anti-democrats. In this respect, a democratic system is like all other regimes: it takes measures to ensure its own survival. The western Cold War slogan "at least there is free speech here", usually did not apply to undemocratic organisations. That is still true in the liberal democracies. Anti-democrats are often excluded from the use of human and political rights, and anti-democratic parties are sometimes forbidden. The new European Charter of Fundamental Rights contains such an exclusion:
Prohibition of abuse of rights
Nothing in this Charter shall be interpreted as implying any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms recognised in this Charter....
Draft Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union
The Charter also includes the basic political rights now used to define democracy, including voting and candidacy rights. Article 54 therefore constitutes an exclusion of anti-democrats from those rights. The German Constitution is another example: for historical reasons, the 'defence of democracy' plays a greater role in German political culture, than in other democracies.
Artikel 18 - Einbüssen von Grundrechten
Wer die Freiheit der Meinungsäusserung, insbesondere die Pressefreiheit (Artikel 5 Abs. 1), die Lehrfreiheit (Artikel 5 Abs. 3), die Versammlungsfreiheit (Artikel 8), die Vereinigungsfreiheit (Artikel 9), das Brief-, Post- und Fernmeldegeheimnis (Artikel 10), das Eigentum (Artikel 14) oder das Asylrecht (Artikel 16 a) zum Kampfe gegen die freiheitliche demokratische Grundordnung missbraucht, verwirkt diese Grundrechte. Die Verwirkung und ihr Ausmass werden durch das Bundesverfassungsgericht ausgesprochen.
Article 18 [Forfeiture of basic rights]
Whoever abuses freedom of expression of opinion, in particular freedom of the press (Article 5 (1)), freedom of teaching (Article 5 (3)), freedom of assembly (Article 8), freedom of association (Article 9), privacy of letters and secrecy of post and telecommunication (Article 10), property (Article 14), or the right to asylum (Article 16a) in order to combat the free democratic basic order forfeit these basic rights. Such forfeiture and the extent thereof is determined by the Federal Constitutional Court.
Constitution of Germany
The suppression of political parties is normal practice in established liberal democracies. In an article on party bans in Israel, Raphael Cohen-Almagor gives the typical justification for this practice:
This article argues that it is neither morally obligatory, nor morally coherent, to expect democracy to place the means for its own destruction in the hands of those who either wish to bring about the annihilation of the state, or to undermine democracy, and who take active steps to realize those ends.But if you substitute the word "dictatorship" for "democracy", this formula justifies the suppression of democratic parties by a dictatorship. The line of argument is not itself coherent: it is morally arbitrary. Nevertheless it indicates the pro-democratic fervour of democracy, which is directed at anti-democrats. Democracy is not above the parties: the democratic forces are themselves a party. In the September 2000 Yugoslav elections, western media and governments referred to the opposition candidates as 'the democratic forces'. Similar approval was given to 'democratic forces' in other transition countries: the implication is that they have a special claim to be elected. If democracy was politically neutral, candidates support for democracy would be irrelevant. In reality, democrats are pro-democracy - as you would expect - and democratic systems are pro-democracy.
Raphael Cohen-Almagor (1997) Disqualification of political parties in Israel: 1988-1996
It is possible to define democracy by these characteristics, although it would be an incomplete definition:
A democracy is a political system where democratic forces hold absolute political power, at least in relation to non-democrats. In such a system, the persecution of anti-democrats is institutionalised, normally in the form of prohibition of their political organisations, censorship of their publications, and often also by the criminalisation of their political activity.If democracy were truly a superior system of government, then it would (presumably) not need this harassment of its opponents.
In democracies, negative measures against anti-democrats are less prominent than the positive pro-democracy culture. Again, the need to teach democracy in schools (for instance) undermines the claim of moral superiority. A truly superior system would not need such propaganda.
Yet all democracies maintain a culture of democracy - a parallel to the 'national culture', which all nation states support. It is the exclusive political culture. There can be no other political culture in a democracy, no 'culture of totalitarianism' for instance. Paradoxically, in the stable democracies, this has created a 'total democracy', with the characteristics attributed to totalitarian culture. In the liberal democracies, democracy and democratic attitudes pervade all aspects of life.
Democracy also pervades the educational system, and not only at the primary-school level (where children are not expected to question basic social values anyway). Standard political science courses on democratic theory, at universities in liberal democracies, include only pro-democratic theorists. Indeed a typical introductory course on political theory for political science students, is a course on democracy. This (random) example from Essex University in Britain
"seeks to introduce students to the real world of politics, and also to the academic study of politics, via a detailed exploration of the theory and practice of democracy. Most of us think of ourselves as democrats, but do we really know what democracy is and what it entails?"The course textbooks are pro-democratic: The Concepts and Theories of Modern Democracy (Anthony Birch, 1993) and Robert Dahl's Democracy and Its Critics (1989). Despite the title, Dahl's book presents no comprehensive criticism of democracy as such. Most of it is directed at improving democracy: there is also a parody of anarchist and elitist criticisms. Perhaps there is no recent anti-democratic theorist to quote anyway.
Introduction to Politics: Professors Anthony King and Albert Weale
The other books listed are David Held's Models of Democracy and Prospects for Democracy; Sanford Lakoff's Democracy: History, Theory, Practice; Dahl's On Democracy, and Albert Weale's Democracy . The course introduction makes clear, that students are not encouraged to question democracy itself. This Essex example is representative of such introductory courses: I followed a similar course myself. Even political science students in democracies, at most, learn to think about making democracy more democratic. Not about whether it is justified, or what can replace it. This attitude dominates the academic study of democracy: for instance, the CSD website Democratization Resources on the Web includes no anti-democracy material.
In the 'total-democratic' societies, social criticism tends to be in the language of liberal democracy. Social inequality is attributed to insufficient liberal-democratic principles, not to liberal democracy itself. An example is the legal proceedings, in US and Canadian courts, in defence of the right of beggars to beg, as a form of free speech. It is an ideological triumph of liberal democracy, that people react to inequality in this way. Instead of a redistribution of wealth, the poor are allowed to ask the rich for money (if they are lucky - most democracies now have harsh anti-begging policies).
equivalence of democracy and freedom?
Democrats make another implicit or explicit claim, for the superiority of democracy: that living in a democracy is equivalent to "freedom" (usually meaning political freedom).
The classic example is again the Freedom House annual survey, which claims to show how many countries are 'free'. It is often quoted in the media as factual truth, without any further analysis. Many of the leading theorists of liberal market democracy work on Freedom House projects: that group overlaps with the US foreign policy establishment. (The academic advisors included Larry Diamond, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Seymour Lipset, Alexander Motyl, and Daniel Pipes). Their definition of freedom overlaps the definition of a liberal democracy: it is no surprise that liberal-democratic countries get the best scores for 'freedom'. But this is no more than circular reasoning: if political freedom is defined as 'living under a democracy', then democracies have political freedom. Anyone who uses that definition of political freedom is a convinced democrat anyway.
|Are you free, in your democratic state? Is it 'freedom' to live there? An alternative checklist.|
|Are you a member of the people? Are all permanent residents a member of the people? Are immigrants allowed to join the people?|
|Can you appeal against the democratic election results?|
|Can you appeal against the people's choice of government, and against its decisions?|
|Can you obtain compensation, for election results which disadvantage you?|
|Can you take legal action against political parties, to prevent them advocating policies which harm you?|
|Can you take legal action against voters, who vote for policies which harm you? Can you obtain compensation from them?|
|Are conscientious objections, to the democratically elected government, legally recognised?|
|Is there a procedure to secede, if you have moral objections to the democratically elected government, its values, or its policies?|
|Is it legal to promote secession, to ask others to secede? Is it legal to form associations for the purpose of secession?|
In social and economic life inside the democracies, people are also unfree - in ways that seem specific to liberal market democracy itself. In general it is the market which limits social and economic freedom, rather than their political regime. (Most liberals and neoliberals would deny that the market can limit freedom. There is simply no common ground here, for a neutral definition of economic and social freedom).
The operation of the labour market, and the conditions of employment, provide the best examples. Some US employers in the services sector require their employees to smile permanently, at least in the presence of customers. In a few cases, employers have required plastic surgery, as a condition of employment. These are impositions, and restrict personal freedom. The point about them is that they are apparently culturally specific to the liberal market democracies. Unlike, for instance, poverty or inequality, they are not reported in any historical non-democratic societies. Apparently, the market democracies have certain specific unfreedoms, which are structural in nature.
2a. The illegal immigrant and democracyMany of the pretensions of liberal-democratic states are undermined by their treatment of illegal immigrants. Unlike many previous 'democratic deficits', this can not be remedied inside the political structure of these states. For instance, until the time of the First World War women could not vote, in many of the western democracies. That democratic deficit was remedied by the introduction of universal adult suffrage in the 1920's. Still, the 'demos' in the democratic system continued to be the same nation, that formed the nation state. Britain was no less British, when British women got the vote. But conceding full citizenship to anyone who can cross the border (legally or illegally), would ultimately change the population structure of the western nation states. Most democratic theorists are apparently unwilling to welcome 500 million new African fellow-citizens: and so they defend a 'demos' equivalent to existing populations of nation states.
The fifth and final criterion for the democratic process is, then, as follows: The demos must include all adult members of the association except transients and persons proved to be mentally defective. Admittedly the definition of adults and transients is a potential source of ambiguity.
Robert Dahl (1989). Democracy and its Critics. New Haven: Yale University Press. (p. 129).
How does a typical western democracy, such as the Netherlands or Britain, appear to an illegal immigrant? Again the Freedom House checklist can be used - this time to check on the people who wrote it, or at least the system they defend. First the political rights of illegal immigrants, the 'transients'...
- Can illegal immigrants vote for the head of state and/or head of government in free and fair elections? No.
- Can illegal immigrants vote for the legislative representatives in free and fair elections? No.
- Have they equal campaigning opportunities? No, in practice, since any public activity can lead to their arrest.
- Do illegal immigrants have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice? No. Formal legal registration of any association would be difficult: registration of the party for electoral purposes would be in practice impossible, since the illegals would have to disclose their address. Such a party could operate only by using legal residents as a front.
The civil rights checklist, especially, indicates the second-class status of illegal immigrants...
It is clear that the treatment of illegal immigrants in western countries would be called 'repression', if it was applied to political dissidents or ethnic minorities elsewhere. That applies also to the treatment of asylum seekers, although they are legally in the country while their application is being processed. In fact their treatment is so obviously in contradiction of the democratic rights promoted by western governments, that it is a model for any non-western government. Instead of harassing members of the Falun Gong sect, for instance, the Chinese government could simply give them the same status as asylum seekers in Britain. They would be deprived of the vote and of their Chinese citizenship. They would lose their jobs, and be forbidden to work legally. Since they could no longer afford the rent of any normal housing, they could be provided with basic accommodation in remote areas of the country, and food vouchers. They would have little choice but to accept these conditions - and if they resorted to begging, they could of course be arrested.
- Can illegal immigrants have their own free and independent media and other forms of cultural expression? No. Any offices of a newspaper, any TV studio, would be subject to possible police raids and detention of the illegals. Their media would also have to operate through a front.
- Have illegal immigrants free religious institutions, and is there free private and public religious expression? Yes, in private. Police in the EU member states rarely arrest immigrants at a mosque, for instance. But public expressions, religious or otherwise, expose the speaker to arrest and detention.
- Is there freedom of assembly, demonstration, and open public discussion for illegal immigrants? No. A demonstration or meeting, specifically for illegal immigrants, would be an invitation to the police to detain all the demonstrators. In practice immigrants can only participate in demonstrations or meetings organised by legal existing groups. They must rely on the political influence of the organisers, to prevent their arrest during the activity.
- Is there freedom of political or quasi-political organization for illegal immigrants? No. Again, any organisation specifically for illegals could not operate from a fixed address, or with legal registration. Illegals who participate in existing political organisations must trust that organisation to protect them from arrest.
- Is the population treated equally under the law? No. Illegal immigrants are excluded from participation in the legal system, as judges and lawyers, and as jurors in countries with a jury system.
- Is there protection from unjustified imprisonment and exile? No. In fact this is the standard fate of the illegal immigrant: detention and deportation. (The term 'exile' implies that native-born citizens somehow suffer more from a deportation than an immigrant - a racist distinction).
- Is there personal autonomy for illegal immigrants? Does the state control travel, choice of residence, or choice of employment? Yes, the state controls all of these, or attempts to. In the Netherlands you must have a valid residence permit to travel on the tram, rent a house in the social sector, or get a legal job. If these kind of controls limit personal autonomy, then illegals do not have full personal autonomy.
The ethics issue for the defenders of democracy is this: if a democracy can treat one group like this and still be a legitimate democracy, why not others? From the point of view of an illegal immigrant, a western democracy such as Britain or the Netherlands has most of the characteristics attributed to dictatorships or 'authoritarian regimes'. Yet they meet the criteria of Freedom House: the Netherlands had the highest possible score. If a clever dictatorship can arrange repression, in such a way as to meet the standard of 'democracy' and 'freedom' applied to illegal immigrants, then why is such a dictatorship wrong? And if any dictatorship can meet these standards, merely by clever administrative arrangements, than why is dictatorship fundamentally wrong?
3. democratic expansionism: a world of democratic nations
There is a real ideology of democratic expansionism, of "democratisation" (this word is also used for the intensification of democracy in an existing democracy). There is, for instance, an academic journal dedicated to the subject, "Democratization". It is possible to study for a masters degree in democratisation. There are organisations in western states (government-funded and private) which exist for the specific purpose of converting other states into democracies.
There are also real organisations of democratic states, such as the Community of Democracies, which first met in Warsaw in June 2000. Such organisations indicate a willingness to form some sort of democratic bloc:
We will seek to strengthen institutions and processes of democracy. We appreciate the value of exchanging experiences in the consolidation of democracy and identifying best practices. We will promote discussions and, where appropriate, create forums on subjects relevant to democratic governance for the purpose of continuing and deepening our dialogue on democratization. We will focus our deliberations on our common principles and values rather than extraneous bilateral issues between members. We resolve jointly to cooperate to discourage and resist the threat to democracy posed by the overthrow of constitutionally elected governments.Proposals for a Union of Democracies existed before the Second World War, and there were older proposals for unions of 'civilised states'. At the time both of these meant the US, Britain and its 'white colonies', and a few west-European and Scandinavian states. The movement had some influence on the later formation of the NATO, but was eclipsed by the rise of the United Nations. As it evolved, the UN became a general organisation for all nation states, including both Cold War power blocs. After the end of the Cold War the idea of global government, and the idea of democratic unions have enjoyed a revival. They are at present contradictory ideals, in the sense that some states would be excluded from unions of democracies. In the long term however, if all states become democracies, the union of states and the union of democracies would coincide. A relatively new aspect of normative globalism is the attempt to specify some form of 'global ethic'. It would in effect prescribe the core values of all states, and so indirectly their political system. Despite lip service to other ethical traditions, most proposals for a global ethic derive from western liberalism. All of these ideas are indicative of the mood of democratic expansionism, especially among policy-making elites in the liberal-democratic countries.
Final Warsaw Declaration: Towards a Community of Democracies
Most democrats believe that they are entitled to impose democracy, without limit in time or space. Indeed most of them would claim - like US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott - that this cannot possibly be an imposition.
Democracy, by definition, can never be imposed. In any country under any circumstances, it's dictatorship that is, by definition, an imposition, while democracy is, and can only be, a choice.This is a clear denial, of any human freedom to choose a non-democracy: and the NATO has the means to act on its philosophy.
Strobe Talbott to NATO foreign ministers, December 1999
Inherent in democracy is a claim to a democratic world order. By definition, any such claim is a monopoly claim. Democracy will have no non-democracies before it. Yet a democratic world order (for instance a world order of liberal democratic nation states) is like a prison covering the whole world. The 'prisoners' can escape, but only into an identical cell. And that model approximates to the emergent world order, of liberal (and neoliberal) market-democratic nation states.
Democracy intensifies itself, and maximises its spatial extent. Democratic governments increasingly favour the expansion of democracy by military force. Historically, as soon as one democratic great power emerged, it became likely that democracy would expand to cover the world. Francis Fukuyama was right on this point, despite all the scepticism he attracted.
The idea of democracy is inextricably linked to the national identity of the United States...The United States is vigorously engaged in all corners of the globe, acting as a force for peace and prosperity. Expanding the global community of democracies is a key objective of U.S. foreign policy.
Democracy and Governance, US Agency for International Development, USAID
Five different versions of the history of democratic expansion are compiled at Steve Muhlberger's site Chronology of Modern Democracy: Five Different Views - those of Francis Fukuyama, Samuel P. Huntingdon, Tatu Vanhanen, the Freedom House's End of Century Survey, and Matthew White. The last includes online maps of regime types at 10-year intervals. Multiparty democracies are coloured blue (the traditional colour of conservatism), and in the map series a wave of blue is slowly covering the planet. However, unlike many historical phenomena, this is accompanied by an explicit normative theory. The democratic theorists are not just describing what is happening, they say clearly that want it to happen.
David Held is the most explicit theorist of the democratic claim to control of the planet. In the past he has explicitly advocated a democratic global government. More recently he proposes a liberal-democratic global legal order, militarily enforced against non-democrats ("tyrants", in his words). It is typical of the beliefs of expansionist theorists: Held finds it self-evident that a democratic rule of law at global level is right. He believes that its opponents may legitimately be killed, certainly if they try to change it...
...the use of force remains a collective option in the last resort in the face of tyrannical attacks to eradicate democratic international law.
David Held (1993) Prospects for Democracy: North, South, East, West. Cambridge: Polity (p. 43).
Yet there is no inherent moral reason, why all the planet should have one system of government, and why all others should be forced out of existence. Any system or regime of government, or regime of law, which is not known to be perfect, should allow escape and evasion. A pan-democratic world would not allow this escape. Non-democrats would have no choice but to live in a society which regarded them as evil "supporters of tyranny", as people alien to its own foundational values.
David Held's maximum demand is probably summarised in the characteristics of "cosmopolitan democracy', formulated in 1999 (based on an earlier version by Anthony McGrew).
Who should govern? The people through communities, associations, states, international organisations, all subject to cosmopolitan democratic law. Form of global governance? Heterarchy - divided authority system subject to cosmopolitan democratic law. Traditions of democratic thought Liberal democratic theory, pluralism and developmental democracy, participatory democracy, civic republicanism. Ethic of global governance 'Democratic autonomy'
David Held et al. (1999) Global Transformations: Politics, Economics and Culture. Cambridge: Polity (from Table C.1, p. 448).
A world order based exclusively on democratic principles, and on universal democratic law, is clearly not a 'heterarchy' in the sense of allowing multiple forms of rule. Someone - some form of global authority - will enforce the global law (and suppress the tyrants).
In contrast to a world order of democratic nation states, or single global nation state, a post-democratic world order could be characterised by large states, with a great diversity of internal zones. Identity would not be a binding factor in such large states, and there would be high levels of internal mobility.
democracy as an instrument of recolonisation: the democratising protectorates
Democracy can be seen as a system of government, but also as a war against anti-democracy. In global politics the emphasis is shifting to the second of these approaches. Democratic expansionism is, from a global perspective, a planetary civil war between democrats and anti-democrats. When the democrats have won, the planet will be democratic: from their perspective a war of conquest is logical.
Yet the minimal NATO definition of democracy, in places such as Kosovo or Serbia, is simply 'rule by democratic forces'. A similar definition is being applied on Timor. In order to rule, these democratic forces must kill (or at least defeat) the anti-democratic forces. But the 'democratic forces' in such territories are generally a small elite: pro-American, English-speaking, and usually upper-middle-class. On this definition, the new democracy leads to the creation of a specific political structure in such territories. Bosnia, Kosovo and Timor have seen a remarkable development in geopolitics, unforeseen by most IR theorists - the return of the protectorate.
In the new protectorates, the majority of the population are excluded from the political and administrative structure, by language and cultural barriers. On Timor, there were riots when the UN administration made knowledge of English a condition for employment - excluding 90%, perhaps even 99%, of the population. Here and in other countries, 'democratic transition' and 'democratisation' are processes administered in English. The place of the local population in the civil administration is taken by imported administrators (the so-called 'internationals'). The administration is externally financed, at least in the beginning. The powers of these administrators are very great - including in Kosovo the choice of music played on local radio stations.
The accurate term for such political regimes is 'colonial'. They display the classic characteristic of a colonial regime, namely the imbalance in the exercise of power. Australian troops impose a new Portuguese-financed civilian administration in East Timor, but the Timorese population is not given a piece of Australia, to administer by their standards. Nor are they allowed to vote in Australian or Portuguese elections. Kosovars are not given a piece of the United States, where they can tell the local radio stations what to play. Yet this one-sided process is described as 'democratisation'. Although the prevention of war and atrocities was the justification for the arrival of the troops, the democratisation becomes the justification for their stay. A new type of territorial unit has emerged - the democratising protectorate - but it is firmly within the general category of 'colonies'.
The next 20 years might see a spectacular growth in the number of protectorates, amounting to a general recolonisation. Much of Africa is affected by intermittent or endemic conflicts, including 'official' wars among states. All of these are potential justifications for intervention, and often there are pro-intervention lobbies in the west. The most serious are the Ethiopia-Eritrea war, the Sudan civil war, and the interconnected wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ruanda and Burundi. Asia could also be the target of interventions, especially in Indonesia and Afghanistan. A few Latin American states with endemic internal conflicts, such as Colombia, might also become protectorates: they are already targets of military intervention in varying degrees. A general recolonisation, unthinkable during the Cold War, is now a serious possibility.
Why is there now a trend to recolonisation, after a historically unique decolonisation in the 1950's and 1960's? Developments in the last 15 years have reversed western attitudes to colonisation. They include:
There is an important difference with earlier colonial practice: recolonisation is at least formally not in the hands of one state, but nominally part of international structures...
- a strong feeling of cultural superiority in the west, and the belief that liberal values are universal
- the renewed western image of non-western countries as "barbarian" - a sea of atrocities
- the emergence (from the peace movement and Third-World movements) of intervention lobbies: NGO's with good access to the media
- the fusion of these lobbies with the traditional foreign-policy, diplomatic and and security elites, in western countries (symbolised by the appointment of Médecins sans Frontières founder Bernard Kouchner as UN governor of Kosovo)
- the creation of a western-funded and usually English-speaking NGO elite in the "target states" - the countries of possible intervention
- combination of the western NGO elite, and their client NGO personnel in the target states, into the self-proclaimed "global civil society" - with claims to some form of global political power
- the acceptance of interventionist doctrines by the UN, and the denial of the claim to independence (sovereignty)
- the creation of interventionist military doctrines to replace the traditional "ceasefire-line" presence of UN troops
Recolonisation is not necessarily the same as democratic expansionism. The wave of colonisation in Africa from 1870 to 1910, the 'scramble for Africa', was not driven by any ideals of democracy. It was driven by commercial pressure and great-power rivalry, and legitimised by doctrines of racial superiority and the 'civilising mission'. However, the western crusade for democracy and human rights, in Bosnia, Kosovo and Timor, has become a structural equivalent of the 'civilising mission' in these places. Global democratisation could become the 'civilising mission' of a global recolonisation. In a worst-case scenario, about 1000 million people could live in democratising protectorates in 2020 - ruled by administrators from Europe and North America, and a local English-speaking elite. Influenced by a global pro-democracy elite, western public opinion might genuinely believe that this is the final triumph of democracy.
If democracy is simply the militarily-enforced rule of non-European ethnic groups by imported administrators (as in colonial states), it is difficult to claim it has any special moral legitimacy. Especially if the local 'democratic forces' are a closed elite, and the administration is inaccessible through cultural and linguistic barriers.
Testable propositions on language and democratisation...
For the European Union, there are recent statistics which support the second proposition: in Denmark, Germany, Spain, France, Austria, Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands, over 90% of all secondary school pupils learn English.
4. ethical defects of democracy
This section includes some more abstract objections to the basic principles of democracy.
The primary ethical objection to democracy is that it blocks the transition to a post-democratic world. Democracy is for ever.
Self-preservation probably characterises most social structures. In liberal-democratic states, there are usually specific legal prohibitions against overturning democracy. These include the constitutional restrictions on anti-democrats mentioned already, which are now duplicated at the level of the European Union. All such prohibitions are unethical, for it is unethical to block change. If necessary, innovation should take precedence over democracy. However, democrats claim that democracy itself has priority over other values: the abolition of democracy would at least prevent them from enforcing this value preference.
Historical process does not legitimise the permanence of democracy. In Europe, the first modern democracies followed absolute monarchies. That does not mean democracy should never disappear, and certainly not that any future non-democracy is a restoration of absolute monarchy. The implicit historicist claim in this type of argument is: "everything in the present is better than it was in the past, therefore it should never be abolished". But change does not consist of accretion only. That which came, can also go - without implying a 'return to the past'.
Not only is democracy for ever, it is for ever becoming more democratic. More than any other regime of government, it is concerned with its own maximisation. It is normal for democrats to demand more democracy: it would be unusual for a monarch to demand more monarchy. It is not simply a monopoly in time and space. It goes beyond monopoly: even if all the world is democratic, for ever, many democrats will still insist on more democracy, further democratisation. For them, 100% democratic is not enough.
who owns the future?
The use of futures scenarios, in regional and urban planning, has raised a new moral question about democracy. When decisions are being taken about the future, can democracy claim any special legitimacy? A typical futures study claims that a democratic city government may legitimately decide, on the future shape of the city. Yet many of the people who will live in the future city are not alive today, or have no vote. In the case of long-term planning (50 years or more), most of those who elected the present administration will be dead.
If a present population takes decision for a future population, the future population is (by definition) excluded from the process. No political procedure can correct that exclusion. In this way, democracy allows the present population to "rule" the future population - in contradiction of its own logic of representation and participation. It is obvious, that this is an inbuilt advantage for conservatism. If political concerns shift from immediate issues, to the future shape of society, this defect of democracy will become more important.
ethics of nation-only decision-making
The equivalence of demos and nation undermines the legitimacy of democratic decisions. As an example, imagine a referendum on the prohibition of pork (pig meat). If the referendum is held in France or Germany the result will be: no prohibition. If held in Saudi Arabia, there will be prohibition. If the referendum is only for women, world-wide, then there will probably be no prohibition. But if the referendum is only for veiled women, then pork will be forbidden. You can get any result in this referendum, by choosing the unit of decision.
That is a general characteristic of democracy (although to get some decisions, you would have to be very selective). Supporters of democracy claim, that a democratic decision is legitimate, because it is the result of a free and fair decision-making process. But what if the opposite decision can be obtained, in an equally free and fair democracy, with different voters? Why is one free-and-fair decision to be respected, and the other not?
In practice the legitimation of the decision is historical. The unit of decision is the nation state, based on a historic group. A non-national referendum or election is theoretically possible, but in practice this possibility is simply ignored. Only national communities (and their local administrative units) are privileged with elections and referenda.
The objections to such collective choice procedures are related to the objections to social-contract theories. If the group is formed prior to the choice, the freedom to choose has been limited. Do two people have a right to harm a third person, by claiming that they form a community, in which they are a majority? Can two people come up to me on the street, tell me the three of us form a nation, and then decide by majority vote, that I must enter military service under their command?
The geopolitical reality is: if they try that trick with more than one million people, they can probably succeed. In the last 100 years, many people have suddenly found themselves in newly established nation states - which then demand their patriotic loyalty. In such cases, the principle of democracy is used to retroactively legitimise the formation of the national unit. National liberation movements usually claim to be democratic, at least since the late 19th century. So, having forced people into a political unit, they attempt to legitimise it - by holding an election within that unit. Democrats usually accept this form of legitimisation, provided the elections are fair. However, the democrats are wrong: an election can not retroactively legitimise the involuntary formation of the electorate.
exclusion of non- nationals
The opposite of democracy is usually said to be autocracy, authoritarianism, or totalitarianism. However, it can also be given as xenocracy - a rare term for rule by foreigners. In practice all democracies limit immigration, to preserve existing community.
If democracy was intended to give maximum power of decision to individual persons, then all democracies would allow voting from outside. During the formation of many existing nation states, democracy was indeed equated with 'non-xenocracy', even if that word was not used. The claim to democracy was treated as equivalent to the sovereignty claim, and both claims as implying the removal of foreign populations. Sometimes only a few colonial administrators were expelled, sometimes millions of people. People are not only forced into nation states, they are also forced out of them. Again, the fact that an election is held afterwards can not legitimise expulsions, on purely ethnic grounds. But historical expulsions are not the main explanation for exclusion from voting. Most 'excluded potential voters' were not expelled from the democracy: they never lived there anyway.
If the idea of a fixed territorial-political unit was abandoned, anyone could arrive to vote. In real-life democratic states, non-resident aliens are never allowed to vote. The fact that a nation is democratic, is said to legitimise its immigration laws. But this is a circular reasoning: if the potential immigrants were allowed to vote, they would usually outvote the resident population (and grant themselves citizenship). Again, an election can not in itself legitimise exclusion from that election, no matter how fair it is.
The controversial government in Austria, a coalition of the ÖVP and Jörg Haider's FPÖ, illustrates the exclusionist character of democracy. Because the 'demos' is limited to within Austria's borders, people in surrounding countries are excluded from voting. As a result, a government has been elected which is hostile to these 'outsiders' - for simply not being Austrians. And inside Austria, anti-racists are forced to live under a racist government - for no other reason than that they are a minority. These are the non-theoretical, non-abstract reasons to abolish democracy in such cases.
There is no single non-democratic alternative: there are at least four possible models of exit...
These models indicate the possible futures, which can follow a democracy, and in that sense constitute an alternative to it. Totalitarianism is only one of these options. Adjusting the demos can also end a specific democratic government, without necessarily resulting in an authoritarian or totalitarian system. A completely non-national world order, where 'adjusting the demos' is standard practice, also constitutes an alternative to democracy.
All democratic theorists have to acknowledge the issue of the disadvantaged minority. Much democratic theory is concerned with showing this disadvantage is not unjust.
At its simplest, there is a pure anarchist objection to democracy> It is the demand that "no-one should decide on my life - not kings, not oligarchs, but not fellow-citizens either". However most 'anarchists' today are not anti-democrats. Instead they believe in small-scale community, often in a democratic form. They no longer object to the principle, just to the scale. Anarchism today is more a form of micro-nationalism, or localised communitarianism. As such, it is often politically acceptable to democratic nation states.
In contrast, the political individual counts for less and less, as a unit of democracy. In modern democracies there is a threshold for political influence: an organisation representing less than 1 in 10 000 of ordinary citizens is unlikely to have any political weight. Although communitarians criticise individualism, 'atomism' and egoism in modern democracies, in reality the un-organised individual is politically marginalised. So are very small minorities.
Localist neo-anarchism can not resolve the general problem of the minority in democracies. It would only work if the disadvantaged minority was locally concentrated and homogenous. Nor can the mainstream 'scale ideologies' - federalism, regionalism, urban democracy. Subsidiarity and devolution to smaller political units do not affect the position of a dispersed minority. They will be outvoted at local level, just as they are at national level. There is only one resolution of the problem of the disadvantaged minority. It can be found in some classic political theory, although usually to refute the option. That resolution is: leave the demos, secede.
Democracies can guarantee basic rights for minorities. But that is all. They can not guarantee to minorities a society built on their values. Democracy often means that a minority lives in a society, which they find morally unacceptable. Guarantees of civil and political rights can not compensate minorities, for living in a society which they consider morally intolerable. Yet the democratic process does not recognise conscience, or the moral autonomy of the person. (With some limited exceptions, such as conscientious objection to military service).
If no fundamental ethical differences exist within a society, then there is no problem. However, issues like abortion and euthanasia clearly show the limits of democracy. Democracy can not resolve an ethical issue, and there are many ethical issues in modern societies. If anti-abortion groups want abortion to be instantly criminalised, then the legislature must either accept or reject that demand. There is no third option: delay is rejection of the demand. Either way, some people will live under laws, which they can not accept in conscience.
If a democratic government allowed objections of conscience to all its decisions, then it could not be a democracy. It would not even be a government, in the usual meaning: it would be a debating society. Yet there is no reason why people with conscientious objections to a society, should be forced to live in it. If there is no other state, no other demos, which corresponds to their values, emigration is not an option either. The failure of existing democracies to allow 'freedom of exit', is a major ethical defect. Again it seems to be a structural defect: no change is in sight. There is no indication that democracies will ever allow secession on grounds of conscience, on grounds of moral disagreement. (More on the issue of exit below).
general contra-ethical effects
Democracy gives those in positions of power an excuse, not to intervene against injustice (and other wrongs) in society. They may recognise the injustice, but claim that they cannot interfere with the democratic process. Worse, they usually defend the democratic process.
Should people simply accept injustice, until such time as it can be remedied by democratic means? Even if the injustice has lasted for generations, and there is no sign that the democratic process will ever end it? That is the positions most democrats defend: they are wrong. A process, that preserves injustice in this way, deserves interference. But unfortunately democracy has created a culture of passive acceptance - acceptance of inequality and injustice. Democratic culture has in effect substituted the democratic process for moral action.
Formal procedural democracy substitutes voting for moral judgment: it destroys ethical assessment. In a pure liberal-democratic system, there are no values, only competing opinions. The extreme pro-democracy position here is, that everything decided democratically is right - and that no further ethical assessment is necessary. To decide whether something is right or wrong, the pure democrat would simply check if it had been democratically approved. Any claim, that democratic process can substitute for moral judgment, seems logically untenable. The claim can be applied to any regime of government: it is equally plausible to say, that "everything decided dictatorially is right". The choice between the two positions is morally arbitrary.
Democracy, however, forces people into debate and political activity: otherwise their interests will be eroded. Even more so, if people have principles which cannot be realised in a democracy, it forces them to defend those principles by participating in the same system that blocks them. In turn, their participation can be used by their opponents to legitimise the system. This 'democratic trap' can be traced back, in explicit form, to Hobbes. Participating in a democracy may protect the lives of principled citizens, but at the expense of their principles.
In general, democracy substitutes 'the citizen' for the ethical individual. It substitutes voter participation for the exercise of conscience. However, democracy does not impose an ethical vacuum. The ethics of all democratic nation states are the ethics you would expect: the pre-existing values of the constituent demos (nation). The democratic values in a democratic nation-state are the values of the dominant ethno-cultural group, which first constituted that nation-state. Danish democratic values are Danish values, Norwegian democratic values are Norwegian values. Rejection of these values would require an individual moral choice, and the truly democratic citizen does not exercise individual moral judgment, but blindly accepts election results. This process is unlikely to produce innovation in the core values: paradoxically the democratic regime takes its value judgments from the voters' ancestors.
Most inhabitants of democracies have experienced tens of democratic elections. Several years ago, Germany had 19 elections in one year: for Bund, Länder, and European Parliament. The (infrequently revised) CoR list of election days indicates the volume of elections in Europe. At all of these elections, the minority lose: the inevitable fate of minorities in democracies. Every election is a triumph for the majority: the election gives them power to influence the lives of others. In Austria a racist electoral majority gained power over existing and future immigrants.
A democratic election, like all exercise of political power, blocks the possibility of some people realising their ideals. In the case of Austria it was the anti-racist ideals which were blocked. That is morally wrong.
Victory celebrations are normal after elections: it is a form of public humiliation of defeated minorities. In Europe it became culturally acceptable after the Second World War. The Austrian case should remind people, that the triumph of a majority is not always something to celebrate. In the long term, democracy harms innovative minorities most of all. In this way, democracy erodes, and often destroys, the hope of change: a fundamental wrong.
4a. The justification of democracyDemocratic theorists attempt to justify democracy - that is, to explain in the language of ethics, why there should be democracy. As with the definitions of democracy, there is a standard list of justifications, indicating a well-developed and stable ideology. They fall into 3 or 4 clusters: moral autonomy and sovereignty of the individual; the requirement for consent of the governed; the basic equality of individuals or at least citizens; and the educative capability of democratic citizenship. The first two are often linked together.
There are also justifications with a more nationalist emphasis: they see the sovereignty of 'the people' (meaning the nation) as the primary justification of democracy. And in liberal political philosophy, there are justifications of democracy on the ground of procedural fairness. This justification is typical of liberalism, which can almost be defined by its claim that 'process justifies outcome'. The objection to such claims is also well known:
Morality requires that procedures tend to produce good laws and policies, and good laws and polices are not just any which happen to result from a certain kind of procedure.
William N. Nelson (1980) On Justifying Democracy. London: Routledge. (p. 33).
All these are formal criteria used to justify democracy. In the democracies, three other justifications are common: they are less formal and less philosophical. The first is the historical comparison with totalitarian atrocities, especially with the 'unholy trinity' of Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot. The second is simply the widespread belief, that there must be a democracy, and there can be no valid opposition to it. It is a justification in a quasi-religious form. Finally there are purely instrumental arguments: claiming that democracy will produce a specific desirable effect. The democratic peace theory is almost always used in this way, on the assumption that everyone wants peace.
However, some of the formal justifications can also be used, to justify totalitarian or authoritarian regimes. Even the doctrine of consent can be used in this way. Most democrats claim that government must derive from the consent of the governed, or consent of the people. However they also say, that this does not mean factual consent. Factual consent would be, for instance, a letter from me to the government, giving them permission to govern me. As noted above, some specific categories are excluded from this principle anyway, in typical democratic theory. The immigrant or asylum-seeker, who is stopped at the border of a nation state, is clearly 'being governed'. But unless they are admitted, and given citizenship, they will not be able to participate in the democratic process. And democrats often promote the military imposition of democracy - which contradicts any real consent. So the 'consent' in democratic theory is either implied, or it is a philosophical fiction. But if consent is a fictional construction, with no relation to political reality, then a totalitarian state can equally claim to derive legitimacy from the consent of the governed (especially if there is free emigration). If a dictator allows all critics to leave the country, then it is just as plausible to say that those who remain have 'consented' to the dictatorship.
is consent necessary anyway?At first sight, the doctrine of consent is self-evidently right. Imagine there was a list of all possible actions of the state, divided into two categories: 'acts with consent' and 'acts without consent'. The first category seems to correspond to the list of 'good actions', the second to the list of 'bad actions'. However, there is no automatic equivalence of this kind. Acts which are good in themselves require no consent. They can not be made wrong, by lack of consent to them.
In a more politically realistic form: certain acts, goals, and policies do not require the consent of the governed, or the consent of the people. Innovation does not require the consent of the people. Justice does not require the consent of the people. It is therefore not necessary to have a government which always acts on the basis of consent (however defined). This 'necessity' can not be a justification of democracy.
There is a second reason why a democracy can not be justified from a requirement for the consent of the governed. It is very simple: the population of a state can be so arranged as to produce the consent of the governed. This is, once again, the issue of the exact nature of the demos in democracy, once again the secession and migration issue. More on this below in the section on alternatives to democracy, but it can be formally stated here. If, for any decision of any government, a group of people can be found who consent to this decision, and these people are formally considered to be the people governed, then all government decisions have the consent of the governed. Since all government decisions have the consent of the governed, then no special political regime is necessary to guarantee this consent.
Is this a real option? Historically, it clearly is: there is a long tradition of forced migrations and population transfers of unwilling subjects. The section on alternatives to democracy lists other options for adjusting the demos. It is for the supporters of democracy to demonstrate explicitly, what they claim implicitly - that a democracy is the only structure which generates consent of the governed.
should the people govern themselves?The classic phrase "government of the people, by the people" can not be the basis of a justification of democracy, at least not of existing liberal-democracies. They are all majority-rule democracies. Exactly the same arguments, which are used by democrats against rule by an elite, can be used against rule of the minority by the majority. If the people are fit to govern themselves, then why are the minority within the people not fit to govern themselves?
It is true that in a perfect consensus-democracy, the problem would not arise, because no minority would feel disadvantaged. But in a real democratic state, any minority dissatisfied with the majority decisions, could claim to be a 'people' - and that is exactly what secessionist groups do. And that simply brings the issue back to the question of what constitutes a legitimate people, a legitimate demos, or a legitimate secession. Government of which people, by which people, for which people?
The fact that the arguments against elite rule can also be used against majority rule, does not in itself justify elite rule. But any justification of democracy should be consistent. If the principle is that 'the people' govern themselves and not a group external to that people, then the same principle should be applied to the composition of the people. If they must govern themselves, let them select themselves also. And since this would open the door to unlimited secession, it would in itself end the present order of liberal-democratic states.
self-government through participationAnother aspect of the issues of consent and autonomy, is individual freedom. Democratic theorists claim that basic political freedom exists only in conditions of where the individual is not governed by another. Participation in a democracy, in their view, makes the individual 'self-governing'. These democrats recognise, that most voters in real democracies never participate in the day-to-day running of the government: their theory on this point is intended to get around this objection.
But the ideal of political autonomy, self-government, does not imply a democracy anyway. There is no individualist-libertarian argument for democracy. On the contrary, democracy is collective, by definition. The demos decides, the people rule - not the individual. Democracy does not give you 'control of your own life', democracy gives most 'control of your life' to your fellow citizens. In many democracies, to millions of fellow citizens. And most democratic theorists reject individual freedom to choose tyranny, authoritarianism, or totalitarianism.
Rather than democracy, ideals of political autonomy imply a Robinson Crusoe 'society' - or at least an explicitly voluntary state. If the state is voluntary, the individual can reassert individual control by leaving it. In turn, that leads back to the possibility of 'adjusting the demos', and secession - one of the alternative models in the case of Austria. This approach is summarised well by Thomas Christiano:
Social organization could accord with our own will if society were like a club that we could join or leave at will. If we could enter societies that have laws of which we approve and leave societies that have laws of which we do not approve, then we would be self-governing on this view. This conception of self-government does not require democratic participation: it merely requires that we be able to leave one society to join another. We do not need the right to a vote to satisfy this liberty but merely rights to enter and exit. Even a world of small dictatorships is compatible with this liberty as long as each person can leave one for another.
Thomas Christiano (1996) The Rule of Many: Fundamental Issues in Democratic Theory. Boulder: Westview. (p. 22).
Christiano, as a democrat, rejects this option, on three grounds. First, the high social cost of migration (including perhaps learning a new language and culture), which makes it unrealistic. Second, that these costs would be more easily met by the rich, who could convert this advantage into political power. And third, that a world of many small states would require some larger authority anyway, and the issue of participation would re-appear at that level. This issue is known, after a book by Albert Hirschman, as 'exit versus voice'
Democratic theory therefore rejects a choice of societies (states), as an alternative to democracy in each society (state). But is this rejection consistent with the reality, that all democracies are free market economies? After all, the defenders of free markets emphasise, that true freedom is freedom to choose. How does the free market look, if you apply the tests of democracy? If you go to buy ice-cream or software, are you allowed to participate in the running of the ice-cream or software firms? Do you become a 'citizen' of these firms? Are you allowed to attend their deliberative assemblies, or vote for your representative there? The answer is no, not unless you are a shareholder. I am not: yet according to the theory of the free market, that does limit my freedom in any way. My 'freedom' as a consumer, consists in my ability to choose between products of different entrepreneurs. If I do not like one, I can choose another. But what the entrepreneur produces is, in market liberalism, his own business. (Even the expression 'his own business', to indicate autonomy, has been borrowed from the market).
Apart from a few producer-consumer co-ops, the economy is never run on the basis of participation. As Hirschman pointed out, in the market the principle of 'exit' applies. If you don't like the ice-cream, you take your custom elsewhere. If you go to the ice-cream factory and demand to vote on the flavour of next weeks production, they will laugh at you. They will tell you to buy your ice-cream from someone else. If that is 'individual free choice', then why is it wrong for a dictator to laugh at pro-democracy demonstrators? Why not just let them take their citizenship elsewhere, to another state?
This analogy with the free market does not, in itself, justify such a multiple-state alternative to democracy. But again, democrats should be consistent in their justification of democracy. Democrats can not claim that governments must allow participation, when at the same time they allow business firms to reject it. The market, in western democracies, determines some issues of national significance, such as the transport system, internal migration, and urban form. In many countries, health and education are also market sectors. In peacetime the market, and not the state, has the most effect on the life of individual citizens. Yet most democrats say, that choice of product between business firms (without participation) is sufficient freedom, in these market societies. What is not demanded of the firm, can not logically be demanded of the state.
equality and democracyMost democratic societies have fundamental inequalities of wealth and income. Transition from non-democracy to a democratic society almost always increases inequality. It seems strange, and hypocritical, to justify that unequal society on the grounds of equality - or at least to justify the political system, which allows the inequality. In a more formal sense it is also difficult to construct an argument for democracy, from the premise of equality. If equality is the basic value which must underlie the political system, then that seems an argument for a totalitarian-egalitarian state, rather than a democracy. If equality is a moral value then, given the statistics, democracy ought to be abolished.
The use of the term 'equality' by democratic theorists is largely propagandist: its purpose is to suggest that all non-democratic systems are elitist. In this way the existing inequality in democratic states is camouflaged. Indeed liberal social philosophers often use formal equality, to justify extreme inequality of wealth and income. (In the last 30 or 40 years, the liberal view of society as a collection of free-and-equal individuals has been heavily criticised, especially in the United States. However this criticism has not lead to more equality, but instead to family-values communitarianism). In a choice between a non-democratic egalitarian regime and a democracy with inequalities, the moral position is clear. Real equality, such as equality of incomes and wealth, should override any formal equality created by the democratic process. An anti-democratic movement, which seeks to substitute real equality for formal equality, can not be described as elitist. Conversely, if any group on this planet can be described as an elite, then it is the rich in the democratic states.
Even leaving aside the inequality, exclusion and marginalisation created by poverty, the formal 'equality' itself has a fundamental defect. If each individual were truly equal in the democratic process, then the individual who arrives at the border would be as equal as the person inside the border. But democracy theorists refuse to accept this kind of equality. The section on illegal immigrants makes clear, that even crossing the border is no guarantee of any of the democratic rights. So when democratic theorists speak of equality they mean equality within the demos and not inter-demos equality. (Again, the demos in practice is the nation state).
So if you hear democracy supporters say "democracy is justified by the fundamental equality of persons", remember that racists are speaking. The 'persons' are those inside the border of the demos, and admitted to its citizen status. (Ask these democrats if they support voting rights for illegal immigrants). So the "equality" which is being quoted is not an equality at all. An "equality" which includes race, national, or ethnic inequalities, can not form a moral justification of democracy.
instrumentalist arguments for democracy: democratic peaceInstrumental justifications are claims that "democracy will achieve a certain result, therefore there should be democracy". The claimed capacity of democracy to educate citizens, as citizens, is an instrumental argument for democracy. The comparison with totalitarian atrocities is also largely instrumental: the inherent claim is that "democracy prevents Hitler".
The clearest example of an instrumental justification is the democratic peace theory. None of its supporters are neutral scientific investigators: they all use it as a justification for the spread of democracy. Their claim, which they often state explicitly, is that the whole world should consist of democracies, in order to bring universal peace. In recent speeches, Kofi Annan referred to a new version of the democratic peace hypothesis, the claim that democratic societies have less internal violence. However, he quotes no specific research or evidence in support of this claim.
Certainly, the record shows that democratically governed states rarely if ever make war on one another. But even more important, in this era of intra-state wars, is the fact that democratic governance - by protecting minorities, encouraging political pluralism, and upholding the rule of law - can channel internal dissent peacefully, and thus help avert civil wars. Conversely, authoritarian and highly personalized forms of governance, ethnic discrimination, human rights violations and corruption are among the root causes of many of today's internal conflicts.
Kofi Annan, Community of Democracies Conference, June 2000
As mentioned already, the evidence for the democratic peace hypothesis is not convincing. As more research was done, it became more apparent that democracies do go to war, even against other comparable countries. Supporters of the hypothesis responded, by changing their definitions to fit the observations. In every embarrassing case of war between democracies, at least one combatant is reclassified as non-democratic: the counter-example disappears. A recent book on the democratic peace hypothesis uses the categories "genuine democracies" and "well-established republics". And some wars, the author suggests, are not wars either...
We cannot study wars between well-established democracies, for no such wars have existed....There were confrontations in which democracies deployed military force against one another, although they did not quite go to war. And there were wars between regimes that somewhat resembled democracies.
Spencer Weart (1998). Never At War: Why Democracies Will Not Fight One Another
New Haven: Yale University Press. (p. 6).
Weart's case studies are typical of the methods used: redefinition and reclassification, to fit the democratic peace hypothesis. Spain in 1898 (when it fought the USA in Cuba) was nominally democratic, but "...was actually controlled by an oligarchic and aristocratic elite..." (p. 311). In 1990 there were free elections in Yugoslavia, but "The public had not learned how to choose wisely in such an election..." (p.316). And the CIA intervention in Guatemala in 1954 was not a war between Guatemala and the USA, because Guatemalans did all the fighting (p. 314).
If you allow this kind of manipulation of the categories, you can prove anything at all. The fall of the Mengistu regime in Ethiopia in 1991 led to a peaceful secession of Eritrea: that was quoted as an example of the success of democratisation in Africa. But by 1998 the two exemplary democratising states were at war, in a border dispute over desert land. Supporters of the democratic peace hypothesis will simply re-classify them as 'not fully democratic' or 'not well-established'. Since the majority of states in history were not democracies, let alone 'well-established', the hypothesis shrinks to a group of about 20 or 30 states in the post-1945 period, many of them allies of the United States anyway.
So ultimately the democratic peace hypothesis is, that this limited group of states will not fight each other. The hypothesis therefore relies on a special definition of 'peace'. It refers to the kind of peace that applies between Britain and Canada. But outside of this 'peace', some of the members of this group are engaged in quasi-permanent military conflict, certainly the United States and Britain. This is one list of post-1945 British interventions and colonial wars:
Canal Zone/Egypt 1945-1948
Northern Ireland 1947-1948
Gold Coast 1948
British Honduras 1948
The Korean War 1950-1953
British Guiana 1953
Hong Kong 1956
Muscat and Oman 1957-1959
Jordan and Lebanon 1958
British Guiana 1962
British Guiana 1963
Aden & Radfan 1964-1967
Hong Kong 1966
Hong Kong 1967
Northern Ireland 1969-
The Falklands War 1982
The Gulf War 1991
Bosnia: Peacekeeping Operations 1991-?
Montserrat 1995 & 1997
Kosovo deployments 1999-?
East Timor 1999-?
Source: Royal Navy Conflicts Index
The website has wisely started a new table for 21st-century interventions, and has already added 'Sierra Leone 2000' to the list of naval actions. This long list is clearly not 'peace', even in the limited sense of absence of war. Yet for the supporters of democratic peace hypothesis Britain is indeed at peace. Spencer Weart could find only one possible exception - the Cod War, a fishing dispute with Iceland in the 1970's. There is a racist undertone here, in the way that colonial wars and post-colonial interventions by the democracies are ignored. Democratic peace evidently means 'white peace', even while others are subjected to brutal military campaigns. This kind of double standard can not form the basis of a moral justification of democracy.
Neoliberalism is a philosophy in which the existence and operation of a market are valued in themselves, separately from any previous relationship with the production of goods and services, and without any attempt to justify them in terms of their effect on the production of goods and services; and where the operation of a market or market-like structure is seen as an ethic in itself, capable of acting as a guide for all human action, and substituting for all previously existing ethical beliefs.
Western nation states indicate a historical pattern: first democracy, then stable, prosperous and secure democracies, then neoliberal market democracies. This suggests that neoliberalism is in some way 'the highest stage of democracy' - an inherent characteristic of the western liberal-democratic tradition.
No non-democratic society ever produced neo-liberal philosophy: democracy is almost certainly a pre-condition of neoliberalism. In any case, by definition, neoliberal policies could not be implemented in an anti-neoliberal state. Such a counter-neoliberal state would not be a democracy: most democrats would regard it as totalitarian. The table below illustrates that: it simply excludes neoliberals from a Freedom House style rights checklist, point by point.
|Neoliberal government can be elected through free and fair elections||Overthrow of any neoliberal government|
|Neoliberal parliamentarians can be elected through free and fair elections||Neoliberal parties excluded from elections|
|Neoliberals elected by fair electoral laws, equal campaigning opportunities, fair polling||Neoliberal political campaigns forbidden|
|Neoliberal people have the right to organize political parties: the system open to such parties or groupings||Political system designed to exclude evil: therefore no possibility of neoliberal party gaining power in the system|
|Neoliberal media and other forms of neoliberal cultural expression are free||Neoliberal media forbidden: neoliberals not allowed to use any medium to propagate neoliberalism; public advocacy of neoliberalism criminalised.|
|Neoliberal propaganda permitted: not considered as indoctrination||Neoliberal propaganda suppressed for its content|
|Neoliberals have freedom of assembly, demonstration, and open public discussion||Neoliberal collective political activity criminalised|
|Neoliberals can appeal to rule of law in civil and criminal matters||Anti-liberalism of the state, as moral value, overrides the law: no separation of powers|
|Neoliberals treated equally under the law||Neoliberals socially persecuted, to such extent as necessary to prevent a neoliberal society emerging|
|Neoliberals have personal autonomy||The state controls travel and place of residence and employment of neoliberals, to such extent as necessary to prevent a neoliberal society emerging|
This type of repression is exactly what most democrats would consider fundamentally un-democratic. So, although being a democrat does not make a person automatically a neo-liberal, it does make them 'pro-neoliberal'. At the very least, they support a political system which permits advocacy of neoliberalism, permits neoliberal governments to implement neoliberal policies, and permits the emergence of a neoliberal society. And these things are happening in stable democracies, one after the other.
Of course democracy permits other possible outcomes. For instance, democracy permits advocacy of vegetarianism, permits vegetarian governments to implement vegetarian policies, and permits the emergence of a vegetarian society. But that has never happened: there is no vegetarian 'Tony Blair'. If consistently, liberal-democratic states both permit and produce neoliberalism, and non-democratic states neither permit nor produce it, then there is a strong case that liberal-democracy is a historical precursor of neoliberalism.
6. alternatives to democracy
Some alternatives to democracy were indicated, in the comments on Austria and on neoliberalism. Alternatives fall into these main categories
But first it is useful to reconsider what they would replace: the relevant characteristics of the existing democracies.
real existing democracy
The older definitions of democracy referred to historical origins, or simply to 'the rule of the people'. They were followed the polyarchy definitions, and later by rights-and-procedures checklists. None of these give a complete picture of modern democracy. A new definition would have to start at the global level, the level of world order. By now it is clear that democracy is not a one-country regime, not a characteristic of single states. Just as the ideology of the nation state implies a planet of nations, democracy implies a planet of democracies.
A democratic world order starts from the premise that only certain groups are a legitimate 'demos'. At any one time, therefore, there is a fixed number of legitimate regimes, each corresponding to a democratic state. For democrats, no other regime is legitimate. They claim that these non-democratic regimes may be converted (by outside force or pressure) into democracies. When this process is complete, and the fixed number of legitimate democratic states has been reached, no further change in the order of states would be legitimate. This corresponds to the claim made by nationalists, that only a world order of nation states is legitimate.
However this should be qualified by recent trends in democratic interventionism. Although the number of cases is small so far (Bosnia, Kosovo, Timor, perhaps Sierra Leone) the democratising protectorates are also considered part of democracy. That would imply a world order consisting of (mainly western) full democracies, and their democratising protectorates. Their quasi-colonial status might simply be accepted as 'democratic', and there would be nothing the protectorate's population could do about it.
However with or without protectorates, the pan-democratic world would have a fixed number of regimes, corresponding to a fixed number of states. In a world where democrats consider each state to correspond to a legitimate demos, democracy is an implicit prohibition of new state formation. Once again, the prohibition of secession appears to be a defining characteristic of democracy - far more than any of the characteristics listed in the polyarchy definitions.
There is also no place in democracy for any 'trans-demos' or 'extra-demos' political decision. Democracies can work together, but in the last instance each democratic state has its own democratic elections. In other words, no group can constitute a political unit comprising members of more than one demos. They can form associations, but not a regime or a government: that would require formation of a new state. Since a cross-demos grouping is (by definition) not itself a demos, democrats would not allow it to form a state anyway. The emergence of a single global democracy would not help. It would merely transform the cross-demos group, into an internal minority in a global demos.
So the alternatives to democracy are intended as alternatives to the emergent world order of stable democracies - a world in which there is literally no place for social and political innovation. From this perspective, it is possible to reformulate the definition of democracy. (The most relevant comments for this new definition are not the existing definitions, but Joseph Weiler's description of the eurosceptic No-Demos thesis).
This definition implies, that the most comprehensive alternatives to democracy can only be found at the level of the world order, and in state formation processes. Nevertheless there are also 'internal' alternatives.
rolling back democracy
'Rolling back democracy' (borrowed from Margaret Thatcher's commitment to "rolling back the state") starts with the checklist definitions of democracy. The outcome of the democratic process can be improved, if not all of these principles are applied to all of the people, all of the time. The right to vote is the best example, since it is considered the core political right of individuals in democracies.
Bill Gates has an individual right to vote, as a US citizen. That includes the so-called passive voting rights - the right to stand as a candidate for political office, to receive the votes of others, and to be elected. But Gates is also the world's richest man. Even without his connection to Microsoft, his influence on the US government is almost certainly more than that of the million poorest voters in the USA. The exercise of his individual vote in elections will not change that. So why should he have the right to vote? Since the rich effectively vote through their wealth anyway, why should any rich person have the vote?
The reality is that the rich (and some other categories) have a double, and more than double, vote. Depriving them of the vote partly corrects this structural injustice in western democracies. Voting and candidacy rights could be removed from such categories as:
The next step would be to restrict political pluralism. Freedom to form political parties, and their freedom to operate, feature on all the checklist definitions of democracy. The conservative effects of democracy can be reduced, by prohibiting some categories of political organisations:
Artikel 1 - Würde des Menschen
(1) Die Würde des Menschen ist unantastbar. Sie zu achten und zu schützen ist Verpflichtung aller staatlichen Gewalt.
Article 1 [Human Dignity]
(1) Human dignity is inviolable. To respect and protect it is the duty of all state authority.
Constitution of Germany
The constitution of a state could list all its fundamental values, or value hierarchy - deliberately removing them from the political arena. For instance it could place equality above property rights (a classic conflict of values). Inevitably, this would lead to more pressure for secession: the secessionists would be able to clearly indicate what values they rejected. The German nation is wrong to choose human dignity as their highest value, but placing it at the start of the Constitution at least clarifies the national values. On this ground a person can legitimately have objections of conscience to the existence of the German nation itself, the constituent 'demos' of German democracy. They can legitimately say that an entity with such a value hierarchy has no existence rights. The political case for secession is then clear: those who reject even the existence of the 'demos', are clearly not part of it. If all nation states had clear lists of national values in their constitution, many more people might discover that they do not belong in their own nation.
spatial alternatives to the system of democratic states
Secession is one of the few geographical issues, in political and moral philosophy. Usually issues of space, geography and territory are considered irrelevant to ethics. Some theorists, such as Lea Brilmayer, try to keep these issues out of democratic theory: they consider it part of a universalist ethic. But it is difficult for democratic theorists to say that secession is totally wrong - most of them live in states, which seceded in the past from a larger empire. Recognising even one secession as legitimate introduces a new ethical principle - and secession is only one category of changes in the pattern of the states and their population.
These changes are 'geopolitics' rather than 'politics'. They include secession, acquisition of territory, creation of artificial territory, transfer of territory, the division of states by barriers, the creation of new states, and transfer of population. There are historical examples of all of these processes, but very little discussion of the ethics.
The truth is, that by manipulating geopolitical factors, you can can almost any result out of any political process. The referendum examples (on prohibition of pork) show how this is possible within a democratic system. Changing the electorate changes the referendum result, and Muslims are a clearly identifiable group who will vote in a predictable way. And that is, after all, what secession means in a democracy - it changes the electorate. If it is internal to an existing electoral process, territorial interference of this kind is called gerrymandering. Gerrymandering means changing territorial units, to include or exclude specific populations, with known political preferences. Usually the units are the electoral districts. A classic example was the manipulation of the electoral boundaries in the city of Derry, in Northern Ireland - to maintain Protestant control of a Catholic majority.
The basic complaint in these areas is that the present electoral arrangements are weighted against non-Unionists...In Londonderry County Borough there was the following extraordinary situation in 1967:
Catholic Voters Other Voters Seats North Ward: 2,530 3,946 8 Unionists Waterside Ward: 1,852 3,697 4 Unionists South Ward 10,047 1,138 8 Non-Unionists Total: 14,429 8,781 20 23,210
Disturbances in Northern Ireland Report of the Commission appointed by the Governor of Northern Ireland, 1969.
Democratic theory says this is wrong - it rejects all internal manipulation of the electoral process. Democratic theory says there should be a 'fair' arrangement of electoral districts, or a 'fair' national voting system, without districts. But democratic theory can not say that about the global system of states: there is no clear conception of what exactly global gerrymandering would mean. For a start, it is not clear what a 'fair' global arrangement of states would be. The present system, where the African poor are excluded from voting in the rich western states, certainly does not seem fair. The system of states is also changing, although not very fast - one or two new states each year, on average. A 'national' election at global level would mean a world government, and again democratic theorists seem unwilling to concede this kind of uniform global democracy.
It is very hard to claim that the present system of states is already fair, just, or morally desirable, or perfect. If anything, it is the existing system of states which is 'gerrymandered' and unfair. So why not change it? And why stop at a few secessions? Why stop at one new state per year? Why not 100 new states, or 100 new population transfers?
The spatial, geopolitical, and territorial alternatives to democracy form a reservoir of non-democratic options for the future. They contravene the democratic order, yet they do not necessarily imply a transfer to authoritarian or totalitarian regimes. Perhaps because the options are not taken seriously themselves, there is no serious attempt by democratic theorists to criticise them.
The simplest spatial definition of a democracy is that decisions are taken by those who live in an area or zone, and that these decisions then apply to that area (zone). The hypothetical opposite to this is only possible on an infinite land surface: namely, that every possible use of a zone is allocated a sufficiently large territory to allow effective existence of that zone. Or, in social terms, that every possible form of society is allocated sufficient territory to exist. The planet's surface is not infinite, but that does not mean no such options are feasible.
Starting from these two opposites, a simple definition can be given of a post-democratic state: a state is a territory with a purpose. The conventional definition of a state, learnt by all International Relations students, is that a state consists of:
Recognition of a non-territorial nation is unlikely, but recognition of a non-national territory (as such) is far more unlikely. This is what the definition above implies: a state is a territory with a purpose, and therefore does not even need a population, in order to be a state. And if the purpose of a territory is fixed, before it has a population, obviously there can be no democratic process. Any suggestion of this type is treated with deep suspicion among liberal political theorists. No doubt they suspect it would open the door to extremely un-liberal and illiberal forms of society - and they are right.
|An anti-racist airport|
|Innovative proposals do not need long texts. This is a short proposal: it is the reactions which need long consideration.
The Netherlands has one national airport, Schiphol, outside Amsterdam. It has capacity problems, and problems with access by rail and road. An long-standing proposal to build an airport in the North Sea, is again under consideration by the government.
Like most growing sectors of the economy, Schiphol is run on an ethnic hierarchy. Management positions are almost all held by ethnic Dutch males. The lowest level of jobs is reserved almost entirely for migrants: West Africans are now taking the place of Moroccans at the bottom of the hierarchy. The airlines also operate such hierarchies: and they are also notoriously a male business. Schiphol airport is, without any doubt, a racist airport. Like most airports.
I propose that a new airport be built in the North Sea, but not for reasons of capacity. I propose to build it specifically as an anti-racist airport. The factor which makes it anti-racist is simply this: on the artificial island the death penalty should apply for discrimination. Including the operation of any ethnic hierarchy.
Introducing the death penalty, on a limited territory, with no previous inhabitants, evades the ethical objections. No-one is obliged to live or work there. The old airport would continue to operate: no-one would need to travel via the new airport. No airline would have to fly there. If people can freely avoid the death penalty, then they can not claim they are being subjected to cruelty, barbarism, or inhuman treatment. A person who is not subject to the death penalty, has no right to deny others this protection, against racism and discrimination. And if racists avoid the island, there will be no executions anyway.
Nevertheless, I expect that most middle class English-speaking residents of OECD countries (the people with access to this Internet site) will reject the proposal. They are also the most privileged 5% of the world population. Is their objection sincere - or just a defence of their privilege? Would they oppose the death penalty for discrimination, if they had to spend their working life cleaning airport toilets?
|Een voorstel tot vernieuwing hoeft niet lang te zijn, maar over de reacties moet je soms lang nadenken.|
De luchthaven Schiphol is de enige nationale luchthaven van Nederland. Er zijn toenemende problemen van verkeersgroei en bereikbaarheid. Eerdere voorstellen, tot de bouw van een luchthaven in de Noordzee, worden opnieuw bekeken.
Zoals vaker het geval, bij groeisectoren in de economie, hanteert Schiphol een etnische hiërarchie. Autochtone mannen (op een paar uitzonderingen na) beheren en besturen de luchthaven. De banen onderaan de functie-indeling zijn grotendeels voor migranten: West-Afrikanen nemen nu deze plaatsen in (vroeger Marokkanen). De luchtvaart zelf hanteert ook zulke hiërarchieën: bovendien staat het bekend als een mannenbranche. Schiphol is, zonder twijfel, een racistische luchthaven. Zoals de meeste luchthavens.
Ik stel voor, een luchthaven in de Noordzee te bouwen, maar niet om de groei van Schiphol op te vangen. Het zou specifiek als anti-racistische luchthaven dienen. Het zou anti-racistisch zijn, op grond van speciale wetgeving: op dit kunstmatige eiland, zou de doodstraf voor discriminatie moeten gelden. Ook voor het hanteren van een etnische hiërarchie.
Deze invoering van de doodstraf, op nieuw land zonder inwoners, omzeilt de ethische bezwaren. Niemand hoeft daar te wonen, of te werken. Reizigers kunnen desgewenst via de oude luchthaven: die blijft open. De maatschappijen hoeven niet op het eiland te vliegen. Wie onder de doodstraf uit kan komen, kan niet beweren dat hij of zij onderworpen wordt aan wreedheid, barbaarse gebruiken, of onmenselijkheid. Wie niet eens aan de doodstraf onderworpen kan zijn, mag anderen deze wettelijke bescherming niet onthouden. En als alle racisten wegblijven, dan komen er toch geen executies.
Toch verwacht ik, dat mensen in de industrielanden, met bovenmodale inkomens (de mensen die deze site lezen) het voorstel verwerpen. Ze zijn, niet toevallig, de 5% van de wereldbevolking met de grootste voordelen. Zijn ze oprecht in hun bezwaren - of denken ze aan hun privileges? Zouden ze ook tegen de doodstraf voor discriminatie zijn, als ze, tot hun pensioen, de toiletten op Schiphol moesten schoonmaken?
What is a post-democratic world? Three formal characteristics define the spatial order of that possible world:
The least productive grounds for state formation are the irreconcilable ethical universalisms. It would be possible to partition countries with abortion controversies (Poland or Ireland, for example) into two states: one where abortion is legal, one where it is not. However, very few people would be satisfied with this: they regard it as a moral issue, concerning in principle the whole world. On the issue of abortion, there is no ethical or cultural relativism, and there is no territorial solution to the problem of conflicting universal beliefs. State formation on this basis could only be a form of territorial clarification, an illustration of the divisions.
A second category of possible states allows for evasion of moral wrong or injustice. This category includes forms of 'refuge states', in effect an extension of the principle of asylum. It includes state formation by victims of injustice, or victims of racism. When no existing state offers asylum protection, a new state offers the only effective guarantee of protection from discrimination, persecution, injustice, racism and oppression. There is already one state which claims refuge from persecution as legitimation for its formation: Israel. However Israel has never used that as the only justification of its existence - relying instead on the more usual claim to a national homeland.
A third type of possible state is founded on non-universal ideologies or beliefs. As an example, it is possible to imagine state formation on the basis of existing political parties. In the electoral geography of western Europe, some regions have shown stable political preferences, over centuries. (Political geographers in France have been the most successful in tracing these regional preferences). Even medium-term concentrations of support for political parties, over one generation approximately, could serve as a basis for state formation. In practice, there are legitimate objections to using political parties as the basis for division of territory. They would collectively gain a near-monopoly of territory, but their active membership is rarely more than 1% or 2% of the population.
A fourth category relates to certain semi-political historical preferences, usually ignored in political theory. Many people have a preferred 'Golden Age' related to their political views. For European Christian Democrats, it is often the Catholic Middle Ages, for classic liberals the free-trade era of the early 19th century. If people wish to return to the past in this way - in whole or in part - they could be given territory to do so. State formation, based on the reconstruction of a preferred past, is a feasible way of dividing territory - 'nostalgia states'. For instance, when the territorial integrity of Italy seemed under threat during the last 15 years, proposals for the reconstitution of the Papal States surfaced. The Italian nation state has proved more durable than expected, but the political consequences of a revived Papal state are interesting. Traditionalist Catholics from all over Europe would gain a 'homeland' to which they could migrate.
These first four categories are related to familiar issues in political theory, but they are far from exclusive. There are many other possible bases of state formation. Among existing nation states it is possible to find differences in social organisation and constitutional tradition. But these are the tip of a huge iceberg. Many options of this kind are so far apart, that they could not be accommodated in the same state. A modern nation state assumes some underlying cultural unity or shared basic values: multi-cultural might work, but not multi-constitutional. This is an indicative list of the types of option involved:
Again, many of these options are related to familiar political controversies. However, an entirely different factor would probably be the main driver of new state formation, in a post-democratic world. It is a factor generally ignored in state theory and political geography: technology.
The common view is that technology is a unit, developing in a linear fashion through history. This picture of unity is false: there are technologies, in the plural. Technologies contradict each other, they are opposed to each other, they compete with each other. And in principle, each technology requires its own state, to guarantee its existence.
In existing nation states, there is a tendency to standardise not only national culture and language, but technology. This tendency will in the long term produce a world order of national technologies, parallel to the world order of nation states. There is no guarantee, that these national technologies will differ among themselves: they might be only superficially different. They are in any case limited by the number of nation states. The effect in the long term will probably be to block technological change. State formation on the basis of technology avoids this. It does for a 'dissident' technology, what the technology can not do itself: secede.
Energy technologies in Europe are a good example. The trend at present is to co-ordinate national policies involving a 'mix' of technologies - coal, natural gas, oil, solar energy, wind, nuclear energy. In reality, the mix is dominated by some technologies, and others are marginalised. Creating a plurality of states, to guarantee a plurality of energy technologies, would produce a totally different Europe. It would be a continent divided into the states of Carbonia, Methania, Petrolia, Solaria, Aeolia, and Nuclearia, among others. Such possible states, with a specific technology as core value, are alien to conventional political theory - yet this list is only one possible division. There are many technologies, and many possible combinations.
Such a spatial order does not need to consist entirely of closed blocks. In the case of energy technologies, it is possible to apply a technology with extra intensity in a core zone. (This applies to any characteristic which can be graded across territory). Each of the hypothetical states listed above could consist of a core zone where only one technology is applied, an outer zone where it is dominant, and a border zone of transition to an adjoining state with a different technology. This principle - cores and transitional areas - is familiar in cultural and linguistic geography. It has an unrealised potential as a 'design principle' for a new system of states.
The word 'technology' can itself be broadly interpreted, including, for instance, infrastructure, construction, architecture, and urban design. States based on specific urban designs, a specific urban form, are one example of a new state of this kind. Existing cities in nation states tend to reflect the national urban culture: one French city looks like another French city, and certainly if they are new cities. A post-democratic policy would mean creation of a plurality of new city-states, on the basis of possible urban forms. And here consideration of a post-democratic world returns to the issue of the 'ideal city', to the old value conflict between liberals and utopians.
Were the ideal cities of early-modern Europe wrong? The theoretical answer of liberal democracy is "yes, they were wrong because they were not the outcome of democratic process, but of autarchic will". The historical answer is also clear: Europe did not evolve into a multitude of ideal cities, but into a collection of nation states. In historical perspective, it is hard to avoid the impression, that the liberal-democratic nation state evolved to limit innovation. The abolition of the present liberal market democracies might bring the multitude of ideal cities into existence.
6a. the justification of non-democracyAbolition of democracy, and/or a non-democratic state, can be justified on grounds similar to those used to justify democracy. (See the section above on the justification of democracy). Some justifications, however, can not apply to democracy itself.
Abolition of democracy can be justified on grounds of individual sovereignty and political freedom. Specifically, destruction of the unity of the demos creates at least temporary individual sovereignty. (This is the 'anarchist justification' of non-democracy).
A non-democratic state can be justified on grounds of individual moral autonomy: the individuals political choice is not mixed with thousands or millions of others. It is characteristic of liberal democracies that they have complex procedures for ordering, weighing or summing preferences. Cyberliberal theorists of democracy see the Internet as a means to further increase this complexity (allowing multiple iterations, for example). The more complex the process, the less chance that the outcome will correspond to any individual moral choice at the start of the process. By definition, this is not moral autonomy: abolishing the democratic process (including e-democracy) would correct this.
A non-democratic state can be justified on instrumental grounds of protection - protection of the individual and minorities from the democratic process. As with illegal immigrants, the democratic majority often subjects 'despised minorities' to treatment which is harsh and humiliating, even if it is legal. In market democracies, abolition of the market democracy protects individuals and groups from market forces.
A non-democratic state is necessary to implement sovereignty and liberation of minorities, which can not meet accepted democratic criteria for secession (that is, they are not a demos).
A non-democratic state is the only way to separate of the state from the population ('the people'). In the hypothetical case that a democratic state declared all its residents illegal aliens, including its own employees, it would no longer have 'a people'. It would simply be a bureaucracy, administering a territory with residents. This is not inherently wrong: it would allow the state to adopt fundamental values different from those of the people. However, by definition, it would no longer be a democracy: the demos is gone. Such a separation is impossible in a democratic nation state - where the state is intended to express in some way the 'will of the people', and the national culture.
A non-democratic state can be justified by the necessity of creating 'consent' to options which do not have democratic majority support. In more abstract terms, 'to create the political conditions for utopia' - the utopian justification of non-democracy. Many possible projects, and entire possible societies, do not come into existence because there is no corresponding democratic decision to support them. So long as some of these possibilities have intrinsic value, they constitute an instrumental justification for non-democracy, in order to bring them into existence. This justification applies especially to reconstitution of the system of states, and redistribution of territory, to form new non-democratic states. Specifically, a non-democratic state can be justified from the intrinsic value of innovation. If it innovates or facilitates innovation, where democracy does not, can not and will not, it is justified. This is probably the most fundamental justification of non-democracy.
7. why abolish democracy?
This list summarises the arguments given in all the other sections. Implicitly, they form a program to abolish democracy: here is the 'manifesto'...
|12 reasons to abolish democracy|
|1||It is time for a change. The western democracies have been democratic, depending on the definition, for 50 to 150 years. The majority of the population has no experience of non-democracy.|
|2||To end inequality.|
|3||To end global inequality, famine and avoidable disease, by the introduction of global transfer taxes.|
|4||To end the legitimisation of the nation state and nationalism from democratic principles, and to allow innovative types of state to be formed.|
|5||To allow social innovation, to end conformist suit-and-tie societies, and to prevent the emergence of a uniform global society.|
|6||To construct utopias and ideal cities, if necessary without the consent of the people.|
|7||To construct or implement single projects - especially infrastructural projects - which are unpopular and uneconomic.|
|8||To prevent or reverse morally wrong decisions of democratic governments. This applies especially to policies targeted at unpopular minorities (witch hunts), which are a regular feature of democratic regimes.|
|9||To end the political and social marginalisation of anti-democrats.|
|10||To end the 'democracy-only' mentality of democratic societies, and allow a society with multiple attitudes to democracy.|
|11||To allow the possibility of a different world, and a different world order.|
|12||To remove Jörg Haider from office as Landeshauptmann (governor) of Carinthia.|