Grafitti writing the letters for "democracy". Does democracy exist, or is it just some fuzzy word?

Crisis in World Democracy: Or Is There Really Such a Thing?

3 mins read

It is not much of a challenge for us in the West to perceive the rise of modern liberal democracy as the predestined fate for our nations, similar to the view of the steady establishment of the present-day nation-state. This deterministic attitude deletes not merely all other possible options, but also neatly puts an end to history, at least in our little corner of the globe. In democracy humanity found its home, which all our fellow sapiens in time will come to understand. The multiple-lane highway of world history, with its many dead-end streets and serious accidents, ends in a single narrow, perfectly paved, and signposted road, with little need for maintenance. Beyond the sarcasm is a genuine wish – from me and presumably many others like me – that this is a truthful writing of history. But alas, poor Westerners, how often wishful thoughts are left unfulfilled… 

The previous Cold War, which ended around thirty years ago, was anyhow won by us. But in the enlightening glow of afterthought, it did not turn out to be the end of authoritarian and totalitarian governments, as many suspected. It was primarily the command economy that had to give way to the free market and capitalism. Democracy did not automatically come about just because of that, which was also something many believed. Nowadays, it is common knowledge that more than simply a democratic constitution is required for a nation to be a fully functioning democracy. We need only to mention countries such as Russia, the Philippines or why not Italy to get a fairly clear picture that there needs to be a practical anchoring that makes democracy permeate the whole of society, even down to the individual level, for a true democracy to occur and to prosper. And now, when I would argue that there is a new and perhaps hotter cold war raging, democracy once again faces tyranny. This time no economic theories are acting as blindfolds to the fact that the absent battle is that between freedom and its antipode.

11 percent is a calculation often brought forward when we speak of democracy. That is roughly the percentage of the world’s population that live and hopefully relish their lives in a full-fledged democracy. Sadly, this low number will not likely increase any time soon, but rather decline, which makes democracy an elitist phenomenon reserved largely for white people. An “international community” is not really worth mentioning. Apart from the UN, it is made up of ten, generously two dozen countries at most, and their government’s views on certain questions. But the democracies are still the ones who take the lead in almost all global issues. Hope lingers on the maxim that by setting a good example, the rest of the world will follow, not just on one or more issues, but that the aforementioned insight into the superiority of democracy will come to those not yet convinced in that matter. I for my part cannot see anything wrong with this, quite the opposite in fact. How else would our small minority get our message across in this big, scary, and undemocratic world in which we live? 

How then does the future of democracy look outside of Western Europe and North America? Is it even safe here? It might not be called either false and bourgeois or radically liberal rubbish that much these days, but there is nothing that says that for example Sweden’s special position in the world as through and through democratic would survive if the principles of democracy were rocked. For I believe that democracy must be elitist. Not in the excluding and derogatory sense but in that high demands must be set both on countries that are and aspire to be real democracies. A democracy is either orthodox or not a true democracy. Luckily for the Swedes, there are very few available examples of strays from core democratic principles in Sweden, but things look darker in some parts down on the continent. Democracy cannot defend itself by means of violence and simultaneously uphold its legitimacy, which makes its defence more theoretical and thereby more difficult to implement. 

In spite of the pessimistic situation in the world as a whole, the EU, NATO, and – not to belittle – the UN, play a pivotal part in world politics and consequently in how democracy as a political system is both perceived and how it evolves. The U.S. should also receive a mention here, but its prominent role as the sole superpower on the world stage probably has a negative rather than positive impact on how democracy is interpreted. So sure, it is largely true that the democratic world appears to be in an outdrawn intellectual struggle against the rest of the world. Yet the rich and technologically advanced democracies control the global market and dominate the political issues that concern all the people on this planet. This duality will for all I know continue in the foreseeable future. In regards to that there might be such a thing as world democracy, it exists through the collective power, both soft and hard, of the Western democracies. But we are still very few and very much alone. We need to close ranks.

By Eric Axner-Norrman 

Image source: Marija Zaric

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