Thursday, January 31, 2008

today: I argue against democracy

Of the many hundreds, one of my main criticisms of the Bush administration is that its rhetoric on freedom and democracy is so fuzzy and simplistic. Is America a stale democracy already? Because as far as I understand, part of the democratic ideal is to robustly stick to a continuum of self examination by re-asking - ad infinitum - the questions about what democracy is and what it means.

Any solid and unmoving notion of democracy is a myth. American democracy is as imperfect and troublesome as Canadian democracy. In France the democratic process has different implications than it does in Germany. Her in Britain the defining character of our democracy is that it was never imposed by revolution or constitution, but is basically a way for the historically powerful to drip feed enough power to their powerless subjects, to stop them demanding a constitution by way of revolution. It is hideously unrepresentative, blockily inefficient and really not very engaging.

Which is why America disappoints me. The country on earth with the the most diverse academe, the largest body of thinkers in the world seems to have stopped re-asking the questions. It is at this point that things become rather dangerous. Unwavering self belief is only a whisker away from arrogance.

But it is hard for me to disagree with George W Bush's statement that people everywhere yearn for freedom and self-determination. Of course I am not actually against democracy; just wary of other peoples' definition of it.

The disconnect I have with Bush on this point is that I don't believe that an imposed system of 'freedom' and 'democracy', borne out of an arrogant an unquestioning self-belief is a solution to this yearning. America has got itself into big trouble in the past by playing with big ideas but doing so in a reductive and simplistic way. The Domino Effect, for example. Or listening to Milton Friedman's anti-humanist absolutist free-market nonsense.

The world always was post-modern and post ideological. It's just that various people tried their big ideas out on it. Some worked: some failed. The ones that worked probably did so due to luck and mathematical probability rather than the cleverness and correctness of the ideas.

Which leads us to Africa. I know little about Africa, but one thing I do know is that is a pretty big surprise when Kenya erupts into tribal violence. We saw it in Angola, Rwanda, Sierra Leone Darfur and many other places. But Kenya being the next country where we would witness people being macheted on the streets was an outside bet. This is a stable, relatively prosperous country that has moved its way towards free and fair elections since independence and was more or less behaving itself.

What this highlights to me is the failure of post-colonial democracies to cope because they are post colonial. We know lots about how the Rwandan genocide was the result an imposed and manipulated fracture in that society. I wonder if the Kenyan violence is also because its democratic mechanisms, installed and overseen by an outgoing colonial power are also a failure?

My main point is that we are constantly seeing the results of historical meddling by colonial powers. Identity and self esteem appear to be intimately connected to land. The minute land is taken from a people is the minute that history is fractured. It's almost like breaking electrons from an atom - the forces involved are mysterious, massive and terrifying. Sometimes, as in 'Yugoslavia' these forces can take many generations to play themselves out.

Yes, freedom and democracy are crucial, but just as crucial is allowing those ideas to spring from the land, traditions and culture of people, rather than imposed from without by arrogant ideologues.

1 comment:

  1. The interesting thing about democracy is it works great until certain people realize they can raid the treasury through request. Raiding government funds has become big business, and as we all know, business needs to constantly grow in order to exist. Halliburton and The Carlyle Group, for example, as well as hundreds of spin-off franchises, can't exist without the huge assets that only large governments possess and they'll never get these profits if peace breaks out and chaos doesn't rule.

    So, democracy is alive and well, only it's controlled by a handful of greedy bastards who know how to work the system.

    It seems democracy and freedom are inversely proportional. Given the choice, I'll take freedom, as would most of humanity.