We hear it all the time, calls for democracy to somehow fix political problems, calls to support pro-democracy groups, to aid pro-democracy movements, to accept democratic decisions, as if democracy alone is the essential foundation for legitimate policies.
I beg to differ, summed up by the typically accurate phrase: Meet the new boss… same as the old one.
This is what we see happening again and again: some democratic change followed by a continuation of the same problems that led to calls for democracy in the first place:
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta conveyed his “deep concern” to Egypt’s military ruler over police raids on pro-democracy groups, the Pentagon said, after a major clampdown this week drew a torrent of criticism. Some of the organisations targeted in Thursday’s swoops on 17 offices of local and international NGOs charged that the security force action ordered by Egypt’s military rulers was worse than that under the veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak whom they replaced in February. (source)
And in Russia,
Medvedev said in his state of the nation address that Russia “needs democracy, not chaos” and that the government would strongly resist foreign pressure. (source)
In Pakistan, president Asif Ali Zardari,
told tens of thousands of people gathered at the Bhutto family shrine at Garhi Khuda Baksh in the southern Sindh province that the best way to pay tribute to his late wife, killed while campaigning in elections in 2007, was “to defend and protect democracy and democratic institutions in the country and foil all conspiracies against it. (source)
The call is ubiquitous when it comes to trying to end conflicts and to fix political problems, from Serbia to China-Taiwan relations, to Syria’s ongoing revolt, as if holding presidential elections in Haiti, Afghanistan, and Iraq will help magically establish functioning and stable democratic countries. This is a pipe dream, doomed to failure.
Democracy is not the cure and neither is the lack of it the problem. Democracy – full, participatory, one person one vote democracy – is but a symptom of a healthy political structure built upon something else, something necessary, something that works, something that is practical and consistent, something enlightened, namely, the principle of reciprocity writ large: equal human rights recognized as the basis of law.
Without this cornerstone, democracy is nothing but mob rule susceptible to control by a strongman, ineffective and inefficient to create and sustain political and economic peace and prosperity. But with this cornerstone, democracy is the inevitable result, the final if temporary arbiter in political differences and directions for a set amount of time.
Without equal human rights recognized as the basis for authority of law, democracy and the rule that comes from it becomes nothing more than a tool to justify the tyranny of the majority, allowing abuses to be inflicted on minorities without care, redress, or recourse. And this is exactly what we see happening where democracy is inserted on a population undeveloped in law respecting equal human rights. This is what we see in Tunisia and Libya as the leadership begins to undermine equal human rights with the imposition on all of Sharia. This is why the Arab Spring – to bring freedom and democracy to all – will fail to take root, fail to flourish, fail to address the real problems of inequality: their largely illiterate populations will democratically try to remain tyrannically democratic until a leader comes along who can reduce the accompanying violence from oppressed minorities and impose order, pockets of peace, and some small measure of prosperity for the favoured.
As long as the basis OF law is represented by something other than the willingness of those who are ruled to be treated fairly, honestly, and reciprocally IN law, democracy alone is an inadequate substitute FOR law. Calling for it under this inadequacy is not a political solution or even an improvement but the wrong call altogether. It is a temporary diversion at best, a way to galvanize people to come together under a popular banner until old power is replaced. It is a false clarion, an empty promise, a tyrant in waiting. Pretending that democracy not built on the legal foundation of equal human rights is somehow a solution is like believing a weather vane directs the wind; it is just another backwards belief.