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Wrong perceptions about democracy

By Luc Loranhe (2006)

I am strongly in favor of personal freedom for me and everybody else, but I do not equate democracy with freedom. Why should I? I refuse to be trapped by the common US propaganda in this respect.

The term "democracy" just describes a procedure by which a government is constituted: by a more or less direct vote of a large number of people. The government thus constituted may or may not preserve a high degree of personal freedom for its people.

Hitler was elected in a democratic process, and Iran has, by any standard, genuine democracy. In either case, it neither means that the elected government allowed or allows a high degree of personal freedom, nor that, for that matter, it has been or is beneficial for those who have elected it.

In most countries of the world, the average voter is not capable of comprehending what political powers will do him good. And anyway, most people would not vote for political powers that would do them good, even if they could identify them. Rather, people vote for political powers of which they believe that they will be even worse for those with whom they have scores to settle than they will be for themselves.

It's the most basic recipe of populism: play the resentments of a large number of rather uneducated people, and they will vote for you. This is the appeal of campaigning on a wave of hatred towards successful minorities (as Hitler did in Germany), or foreigners who are doing good. It's also the appeal of campaigning on a wave of envy towards a country's upper classes, or on a wave of jealousy towards those who are in a position to enjoy life better than the average voter.

Precisely for this reason, the implementation of direct-vote democracy in poor Third World countries typically means that there is a flood of new legislation that specifically interferes with the personal freedom of those who have the means to enjoy their personal freedom to a higher degree.

Anti-sexual legislation is an example. When the majority of poor people have the say, then the possibly libertine lifestyle of richer people will be criminalized not so much because it would contradict the religion of the land, but because those who can't have it themselves are in no mood to grant it to others. A good number of people who cannot enjoy a libertine lifestyle (as North African immigrants in European countries where they have a low sexual market value) may even turn religious not because of a genuine conviction of the truth of a religion but because certain religions (as Islam in Europe) provide a natural home for those who want the worst for those who can enjoy what they themselves can't. This is why such religiousness is a trend, not something that would result from individual contemplation on a religion's truth.

US-style democracy may work in the US where the voting population is largely homogenous in its diversity throughout the country. Compared to countries especially in Africa and Asia, there are, in the US, few regional loyalties. Californians will not necessarily vote for Californians, but Hutus will definitely vote for Hutus and Tamils for Tamils. There is no crossing of ethnic lines. Furthermore, in Iraq Schiites vote for Shiites and Sunnis for Sunnis. Anyway you turn it in such countries, direct democracy is a recipe for disintegration. This is the case because those ethnic politicians who exploit ethnic or religious hatred will be elected, and not those who play a tune of interethnic understanding. The reason is obvious: people vote for what is bad for those they hate; they do not vote for what is good for them (see above).

That I object against the US model of democracy does not mean that I would be in favor of monarchies or military dictatorships. But there are other alternatives. For example indirect democracies in which rather small groups of people elect delegates who then elect either legislative and executive leaders, or, even better, who then elect again a group of delegates who elect legislative and executive leaders (three tiers).

For example: neighborhoods elect delegates who elect city delegates; city delegates then elect legislative delegates, and legislative delegates elect executives. Such a system will strongly reduce the window for populism, both left and right. For in such a system, there is much more incentive to make everything work, and to do so by means of compromise. There is also more incentive to maintain a level of personal freedom that can be enjoyed by those who likely have the means: the delegate class (let this be many thousands; the more the better).

This form of democracy can be further sophisticated by integrating delegates from outside political parties - a system Suharto established in Indonesia to achieve an amazing level of stability for more than 30 years; delegates in Suharto's Indonesia were not only from political parties but included traditional ethnic leaders and delegates from religions. Why not, in a modern country, have delegates from universities, the industry, labor unions, and environmental protection groups?

Even though the Suharto era in Indonesia was a dictatorship, and even though there were widespread massacres at the onset of the Suharto rule, he did not need a large military and police force to stay in power. Actually, if the military would not have deserted him, his government would not have ended as it did. Suharto ruled on a basis of finely tuned alliances from all quarters of society.

The weakness, obviously, of political systems like Suharto's is that they stand and fall with the power broker at the top. For this reason alone, the Suharto model would have to be discarded.

Another existing alternative to US-style democracy is a single party state as the one in China. The structural ideology for such a state is Leninism, but China is the perfect proof that Leninism can be implemented without Communism, and that it can generate a high degree of economic and personal freedom, with a few exceptions that are of little concern to most people (no political careers outside and in opposition to the party; no US-inspired religiousness; no access to mass media that willingly or unwillingly supports the hidden US agenda of destabilizing China).

Most Americans who have no first-hand experience of the current China wrongly assume that the average Chinese is more restricted in his daily life (and thus less free) than the average American. But this is not the case. In fact, the one country in the world where people's everyday life is possibly regulated to the highest degree is not China but the US. In the US, you have to have a fairly high level of legal awareness in order to not break the law unintentionally (especially when it comes to sexual conduct). And punishments in the US are severe (which is why the US has the highest prison population in the world, measured as a percentage of the general population).

On the other hand, democratizing Asian countries along the US model has often resulted in severe restrictions of personal freedom, especially if populist politicians who get elected democratically play religious tunes. A recent example is Indonesia. Suharto, though a Muslim, was strictly secular, and religious rules were there to follow by those who wanted to follow them. Now, Islamic religious rules are increasingly forced on everybody in Indonesia, including even those whose religion is another one. It's democracy alright, but democracy cannot be equated with freedom.

So why is the US so interested in promoting worldwide democracy?

Occasionally, it's just stupidity, as in the case of Iraq.

But normally, the US has a vital interest in promoting its own brand of democracy. For it's strongly destabilizing in many parts of the world, and thus undermines potential competitors for world domination. It worked perfectly for the former Soviet Union (and the US would love to repeat that feat in China). And it has kept other countries weak and poor (as the Philippines).

But it's predictable that the US will sooner or later realize that trying to promote democracy just anywhere isn't in their interest at all. A democratically elected government in nuclear weapon-equipped Pakistan would be a nightmare, and from Algeria to Saudi Arabia , the US are better off with what there is now than with what they would get if democracy were to be given a genuine try.

Large segments of the local populations of these countries should be thankful. The dictatorships protect them from the potential ill effects of their own envy-based voting attitudes, and anyway, who wants to follow strict religious regulations is free to do so.

Why Democracy Is Not Freedom

The Rise of Illiberal Democracy

Once Again, Democracy Is Not Freedom

Democracy Does Not Ensure Liberty

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Copyright Luc Loranhe