The original title for this blog post was going to be “The Failure of Modern Democracy”, but in thinking about the content for the blog post, I have eased up on my original position. What originally spurred me was the fact that democracy seems to have been a real letdown lately, hasn’t it? Democracy was originally conceived as a check on governmental powers, an assurance that whoever was elected as head of state was done so by the people, and thus less likely to screw everyone over.
Yet, as the Panama Papers show, even democratically elected officials don’t always have the public’s best interests in mind. Other times the government is so inept it’s depressing how much money has been wasted, and ineptness is the best case scenario. I live in Canada, so I get the best of both worlds (which is the worst).
However, it’s always best to put things into perspective before throwing down a final judgement, and so I invite you to consider with me the pros and cons of democracy, supported by various events events in democracy’s short history up until now.
Is it really that bad?
In just about every first-world country, one of the wrongdoings that piss the most people off is the misuse of taxpayers’ money. From wanton spending to deliberately using funds for personal gain to plain ole mismanagement, it’s the case that whenever you give someone or a group of people a lot of money, they’re gonna use it in some way other than for the good of society.
But this is far from the worst thing a government can do. A parallel here with communism is that a communist government overtly seizes their citizens’ properties with the intention of redistribution, but the end result is the same. It seems democracy’s only shortfall here is that those in power have to be more sneaky about it.
Furthermore, annoying as it is to admit, wasting our money is the lesser of many evils a government can commit. Bloggers: in certain countries, governments imprison, exile, and even execute our counterparts for criticizing their rule. Freedom of speech is a privilege that usually only members of a democratic society can enjoy.
Many other governments persecute their citizens on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation, and political inclination. Such injustice is unlikely to happen in a democratic state (though it has happened), because the people theoretically control who’s in power, and no one wants to live in a state of fear. Thus, it seems in a democracy people can expect to be protected from cruel treatment by those in authority.
The Lesser of Several Evils?
But is that really a defense? Just because democracy isn’t as bad as other forms of government, doesn’t mean it’s the best, or even good in of itself.
Here it gets a little muddy, because we approaching the deep end of the philosophical pool. How much are citizens allowed to expect from their governments? Is a form of government the best if it’s better than all other existing forms?
For those of us living in first world countries, we sometimes see the downside of democracy. It was democracy that allowed the sterilization of innocent women in Sweden, it was democracy that put Hitler in charge of Germany, and while Donald Drumpf isn’t the leader of a Nazi regime, democracy is the reason a racist with a long list of criminal charges has a shot at becoming President of the United States.
In these cases it’s not the will of one person or a group of persons, but rather the ignorance and fear of the multitudes that plunges a state into economic or social turmoil. Do we really want to say this is better than a dictator persecuting against minority groups? In a democracy it’s what the majority wants, after all, and that sounds way worse (and scarier) than one crazy lunatic in power.
This criticism of democracy highlights a fundamental weakness: sometimes the best person for the job isn’t elected. Sometimes the voters are easily swayed by propaganda or misplaced fear, and bad decisions are made. Whether elections are held or a dictator hogs all the power, it seems the masses have no control over their rulers. If the president or prime minster sees fit to go back on their word, they’ll do it. Even if democracy enables voters to kick out unwanted leaders, the damage has already been done, and who’s to say the next one will be any better?
I don’t think it’s the case that any form of government allows or fosters corruption any more than the other. Those in power have probably always been corrupt and self-serving, since it’s likely how they got into power in the first place, and how they plan to stay in power. That is why democracy will never be free from corruption. It only serves as an inconvenient hurdle for those looking to line their own pockets. Bad people will always find a way to get on top.
Blog Segment IV: A New Hope
If I stuck with my original intention for this topic, this fourth segment would’ve been the conclusion. However, I thought about the topic more, and I realized that my originally pessimistic view ran contrary to my basic ideology with regards to humanity: the fact is that we are always constantly improving ourselves.
As much as I want to hate and complain about how our current government system is inefficient and provides too many loopholes, the fact remains that we have come a long way from the days where kings and feudal lords could rape their subjects and take their land because they wanted to.
It’s not the vote that is the most important feature of a democracy, but what the vote symbolizes. In every democracy, everyone has a voice, and because of that, we can have conversations, instead of violence. Alright, sometimes the violence happens anyway, but, more importantly, sometimes it doesn’t. When the people speak together in one voice, united by something that can be as simple as common decency, good things can happen. The voice can speak out against corruption; it can demand accountability. No other form of government has this. It is only in a democracy that people have the chance to say something freely and without fear.
Indeed, it is worrisome that the shortcomings of democracy have the potential to destroy itself. Due to the events of the past two decades, democracies have limited their own voices and freedoms, in an effort to combat terrorism. The great irony, of course, is that this is how terrorism ultimately wins. I wish I could somehow make people realize that the answer to fear is not to be more afraid, or to be more suspicious of our neighbours, but rather to endure and stand strong by one’s own ideals. I can’t spread this message to everyone in an instant, which is why I’m writing a blog post, but at least this blog post represents my voice.
It is only in a democracy that we can have a conversation about what to do with migrants and terrorist suspects, rather than have one dictator decide that all members of an ethnic group need to be rounded up. It is only with a democratic frame of mind that the Panama Papers were able to be leaked, discussed, and be relevant, because the Panama Papers are meant to stir our voices.
And so my objective with this blog post transformed from lamenting the failure of democracy to reminding myself of why democracy is important. Personally I don’t think democracy is the optimal form of government, because there are still so many loopholes and problems. Maybe the perfect form of government doesn’t exist and never will, but for now we may have the next best thing.
Don’t scoff at a voice. Every story begins with a sentence, and every idea starts with one person brave enough to say it out loud; that’s how protests turn into revolutions. Your voice may be a whisper now, but say it often enough to as many people as you can, and it just might resonate with what everyone else is thinking but not saying out loud. Then the whisper becomes dialogue, and when multiple voices speak together, it’s a unified voice shouting together for what is decent, what is right, and what is fair. It all starts with having a voice, and only in a democracy is that possible, so let’s all try our best to remember just how important our voices are.
Thanks for reading.
Featured image originally from Wikipedia.