Thursday, June 9, 2022

Democracy In Disarray


Yuba Nath Lamsal

In the modern era of liberal democracy, ideology appears to have lost its appeal and charm. What matters is the immediate interest and benefit. Like in economics, market rules the roost in all sectors, including politics. In other words, market is the God that determines the fate of politics, parties, politicians and even individual citizens. Politics, too, is being dictated by the market force and we are in the age of market politics.

Since market calls the shots in the larger political ruckus, parties and politicians tend to manufacture products that sell in the neoliberal political bazaar. What sells today is rhetoric, populism and propaganda which may hardly see the day of light in the world of realpolitik. Gone are the days of ideology and politics of ideals and principles. In the present era of market dictated politics, every action and move has a price tag. Values are replaced by prices and profits. This is the fundamental of neoliberal capitalist globalisation, which has emerged as the sole ideology of the present day world order. 

Social engineering 

Politics is social engineering, which needs to shape and lead the society and country on a progressive path.  However, neither the ideals of capitalist and liberal democratic values are at work nor does the socialism Karl Marx and his followers advocated could change the society in a way they avowedly promised. Lars Tvede, a Danish author of ‘The Creative Society’ is of the view that in the present social engineering neither the Greek ideas of liberty and democracy nor do Montesquieu’s separation of powers, nor John Lock’s protection of private property nor Adam Smith’s free trade are at work. The very essence of classical capitalism — competitiveness and ethics — has ceased to exist whereas profiteering by hook or by crook is the name of the game. 

Even in the United States which claims to be the champion of capitalism and liberal democracy, system appears to be broken. Ian Bremmer in his famous book ‘The Power of Crisis’ says ‘ America’s capitalist culture reveres the “animal spirits” unleashed by market forces and the entrepreneurs as the epitome of self-reliant individualism’. In terms of number, countries with democratic system far exceed the countries with authoritarian regimes. When it comes to quality of democracy, the number could be far less. Democracy is more than a form and rather it has more to do with substance. 

Countries can have democratic constitution, periodic elections and other institutions. But this alone may not make a system truly democratic unless it is translated into day to day life of the people and uplifts and transforms people’s quality of life. Democracy is not merely a system but a way of life which should be seen in the life of leaders and people visibly. Otherwise democracy becomes a sham product to be seen in a showcase but not to been joyed. This is exactly what has been the case in several countries including even the Western world. 

American political scientist Francis Fukuyama declared in his thesis in 1989 that the world saw the end of history implying that the era of ideological rivalry came to an end with the Western liberal democracy finally triumphing over other rival political ideologies. His treatise came in the aftermath of the disintegration of the Soviet Union and fall of the communist empire in the world.  The post-1990 situation definitely heralded a new era in the world order with dominance of Western liberal democracy wherein the United Stated emerged as the sole super power policing and dictating the word.  Given the present state of disarrayed politics and mismatched world order, Fukuyama’s Thesis comes to be far from reality. 

The once dominant and triumphant liberal democracy has started going downhill slide and onslaught on the liberal democratic values has come from none other than its own champions. The January 6, 2021 attack at the Capitol Hill (US parliament) by some fanatic supporters of Donald Trump rejecting the 2020 US presidential election results is its marked manifestation. In this connection, John Shattuck, who served as Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights under Bill Clinton’s presidency, accuses Donald Trump’s presidency of encouraging authoritarian model and anti-democratic tendency in the US. Shattuckeven compares Trump’s presidency with that of Viktor Orban’s Hungary citing several examples.

Champions of liberal democracy including American political scientist professor Larry Diamond are of the view that the world has once again seen a marked democratic backsliding implying that the authoritarian tendency is on the rise across the world. The number of countries adopting democratic form of government may not have declined significantly. But in terms of quality, democracy is surely on the decline.

Democratic backsliding does not merely come from military dictators, monarchs and self-declared presidents or prime ministers, it sometimes comes from within the democratic system and also from the democratically elected leaders themselves. There are a number of incidents wherein democratically elected leaders have turned authoritarian. Alberto Fujimori of Peru and Ferdinand Marcos of Philippines had once been popularly elected leaders. Saddam Hussein of Iraq, too, used to hold elections and claim victory by overwhelming majority. 


Even at present there are some leaders in some countries who have been elected democratically but their behaviour and actions are starkly contrary to the democratic norms and practices. So liberal democracy is under threat from both within and outside. One more thing that may be worthwhile to state is about the model of democracy. There is inherent fault in the understanding the model of democracy. Can or should there be a particular model of democracy or can there be different models? Democracy may have its own model depending upon the context, culture, history and social values of certain country.

Imposing one particular model in the name of democracy may be erroneous. Democratic model can be different but there should be some inherent and universal characteristics of democracy, which should be upheld and practiced in truest form. However, in the name of liberal democracy and open economy, crony capitalism has gone scot-free, which has not only played the dominant role in the contemporary globalised world but also killed the very essence of modern liberal democracy. 

(The author is former ambassador and former chief editor of this daily. 

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