Few facts about the so-called Democracies
Ahmad Reza Taheri
• When we think of “democracy” we imagine “rule of the people”, a system in which the people of a country rule through any form of government they freely choose to establish, where there is free and equal representation in sociopolitical and economic participation, equal right of every person to hold any kind of belief, and where collective will does not stand against the individual will. In reality, however, such imaginary system rarely exists.
• Many of us are unaware of the fact that democracy is measured in comparison with the communities’ respective norms, values, cultures, and politics. In this case, a value might not be considered a value in another community. For example, in India “public dance” is a normal practice valued in a Hindu community. But, will it be valued in a Muslim community? In many Muslim communities it is forbidden. Based on the social structures, therefore, every community can have its own definition of democracy.
• What many of us consider democratic can be undemocratic, but then again it is taken for granted as democratic. Let’s take example of the Unites States of America, a country which regards itself as a leading democracy in the world. Leon P Baradat, in his Political Ideologies: Their Origins and Impact, writes that “While affording great opportunity to its citizens, American capitalism reserves many of its greatest advantages for those with enough wealth to buy into the system… The nation’s wealth has been placed into the hands of the few than any other time in a century, including the 1920s — the decade leading to the Great Depression. In 1995, astonishingly, 39 percent of all the wealth in the US was owned by the richest one percent of the population… In 2004, over 90 percent of all the value held in stocks in the US was owned by less than 3 percent of its people…” In the United States of America only the members of the Republican or Democratic parties can effectively contest the elections; the participation of others is formal. In this system, Baradat argues, “Citizens do not have a great deal of formal control over their political system. The US constitution discourages the people from having direct control over the government.” Yet, all of us refer to the USA as a democracy. India, for that matter, is known to be the largest democracy of the world. But, common citizens do not have effective freedom to take part in politics. Shifting the attention to the India’s social problems may further open our eyes — to see local violence such as the inter-caste conflicts. In India, the general impression upon the female gender is biased and in cases horrible. As a result, the maternity sections officially are not allowed to disclose the gender identity of infants before the birth, it is a crime. In this country, certain sections of the masses suffer from undemocratic practices. These groups can be found mainly in Kashmir and the North East regions. Yet, India is known to be a great democracy.
• The fact is that almost every country, whether developed or underdeveloped is being ruled by a number of powerful people in the name of democracy, and not by the common people. These powerful people are in control of the main resources, such as huge industrial and commercial companies, military and intelligence agencies, leading sociopolitical organizations, media, and powerful academic or scientific institutions. The commoners are taught to think of such systems as democracy. Allowing people to enjoy a number of social and political liberties does not make democracy. The common people, generally, stand far from the legislative or policy making process. The gap between the common people and the policy makers is much wider in the developing world. The masses do not have effective freedom to vote freely. The political culture of the people is influenced by the public policies, political parties, religious institutions, media, and the interest groups.
• But, what makes a developed country look democratic and a developing country look less democratic or undemocratic? In the developed countries, systems run in benevolent fashion, whereas in the underdeveloped or developing countries systems run in malevolent manner.
• Democracy or what otherwise I should refer to as “absolute democracy” does not exist. Because, in an absolute democracy, the strong get stronger and the weak get weaker; chaos will replace the law. Neither Plato (the father of political philosophy) nor Aristotle (the father of political science) did support democracy. They knew that democracy meant nothing but the “rule of the masses.” The masses, these two philosophers believe, do not have that much capacity to enjoy democracy.