ONE blogs – JOHN CALDER – Man for Monday: IS DEMOCRACY A GOOD THING?

Is democracy a good thing? According to Plato who was able to observe it in its early days in Athens, which first invented it, definitely not. It is too open to corruption, either by those who use it through demagogy or whipped-up prejudice or bribery to take advantage of the naivety of simple people to achieve their own ends, or because most people are too unaware of what is best for them to be able to make the right choices. All that remains true today. Plato saw how Socrates, probably the greatest thinker and teacher of his time, was driven to his death by corrupt democracy. Indeed, if it were not for Plato we would not even know of Socrates’ existence, let alone his ideas because he appears to have written nothing down.

Looking at democracy from a different perspective, Brezhnev said “what was the point? We always know what the result will be.” In fact the polls usually tell us just that, so why bother to have a vote?

Western countries, and most especially the United States, have tried to force democracy on other cultures with very little success. Those who built empires during the last two centuries – Britain, France, Germany, Russian and Japan in particular, and Spain before that – were certainly not keen to see democracy grow in their conquered territories that were there mainly to be exploited, but they had to concede where they had wiped out the original population to create colonies for their own nationals, however reluctantly. On the whole these have worked not too badly, especially in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. India achieved democracy with its independence, thanks mainly to Sir. Stafford Cripps, only because a left-wing Labour government realised that the alternative was a war of independence like the American Revolution with the United States supporting it.

In fact, looking around the world today, the only real democracies that are working well are the Scandinavian ones, all of which are also monarchies, and Switzerland, artificially created, which has a history and tradition unlike any other country, but has fostered a discipline of citizenship which is unique. A high level of education, which admires, encourages and promotes elitism, lies behind the success of Switzerland, as well as an awareness of the danger of being surrounded by larger and sometimes hostile neighbours. What it shares with the Scandinavian monarchies is a strong national awareness, a high level of education and a minimal ethnic or cultural mix. Where such a mix is present there is always a danger of violence, persecution and civil war which can only be avoided by strong social programmes, high employment and general well-being. The economic slump of the last two years, which will not peak until at least two years ahead, promises major trouble and in many countries with a large immigrant population it will ultimately lead to some form of civil war and revolution that will require strong government action, that may well lead to a fascistic regime and the end of democracy as we know it.

In the meantime we are fighting hopeless wars in other countries. Having ruined Iraq, we are currently engaged in Afghanistan in activities that will increase Islamic militancy everywhere and bring much terrorism to the homelands of the invaders, who are of course terrorists themselves.

Behind the growing crises that we have ourselves created lies one simple element: the total lack in those who have been elected by a very flawed democratic system of any knowledge or understanding of history. We have elected a body of members of parliament and local councillors who are incredibly ignorant and incompetent, in thrall to a global capitalism that has failed miserably, and thanks to some newspapers and whistle-blowers is now seen by the public generally as what they (our elected representatives) really are. The old, much attacked parliamentary system of rotten boroughs, where landowners decided who could stand for a constituency at least put into the House of Commons men of high intelligence and often principles as well, such as Edmund Burke, and even after the electorate increased, but not all that much, in 1832, the people of the calibre of Disraeli and Wilberforce could be elected. Even as late as 1947 it was possible for men of high intelligence to represent us, and the nomination of distinguished men associated with the arts, academe and the learned professions to the House of Lords made it still possible for men of competence and knowledge to speak out on major issues. But now the word ‘elitism’ is thrown at anyone who does not share the lowest level of knowledge and culture with those in the village pub or the factory production line. Some countries, usually with a fairer electoral system than ours, such as France, which also has higher standard of living, social benefits, health service etc. contain elitist schools, which train people to run, not just the country and its services, but industry and commercial enterprises as well. The schools have to be secular by law, so that religious bigotry and hatred only exist in a few extremely right-wing places where social conditions are lowest.

These few pages are not suggesting answers, but inviting those who read them to ask questions: about democracy, about the many dangers threatening civilised life at a time of severe recession that can only get worse, and about the dangers of civil war and its consequences. Especially it is to encourage readers to reject the lies, denials, ignorant policies and disastrous endeavours that are being dreamed up to move us back to an illusionary world of global greed, heavy debt and logicless growth in a world that is running short of everything, and has to learn to ration its resources as fairly and sensibly as possible in the interest of all and not just a few who care only about themselves.

John Calder 2/09/09