Democracy Is Wilting; The Real Threats To It Are Islamism, Evangelism, Left Extremism And Imperial China
“Universalism” and “internationalism” are acceptable ideas in themselves, but only if they acknowledge diversity as the norm and not adherence to one single idea of God, or society.
The cry, “democracy in peril”, can be heard in many parts of the world today. Unfortunately, this cry is being reduced to the targeting of specific individuals or popular leaders whom self-certified democrats hate. They got elected precisely because undemocratic “liberal” elites ignored the voices and concerns of a large chunk of their population by imposing their version of “democracy”.
You can put anybody you politically dislike in the box called “threats to democracy” (Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, Viktor Orban, Jair Bolsonaro, Rodrigo Duterte, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, even Narendra Modi in the Indian context), but very few would actually fit the bill in toto. The exception would be China’s Xi Jinping, who runs a complete autocracy that Hitler would be jealous of.
In the information age, where it is almost impossible for truth to be hidden from those who actively seek it, Xi runs an information control regime that would render Goebbels’ crude propaganda as amateur effort. Xi is surely a threat to pluralism and democracy not just in China, but the whole world.
Every politician who gets elected through a reasonably fair democratic process, and who is perceived to have some centralising tendencies, is not necessarily a threat to democracy.
If you believe in democracy, the same process that got them to power can be used to remove them. What is undemocratic is the view of some “liberals” that some people they hate have no right to be in power, people you cannot tolerate for reasons of your own ideological predilections.
So, if you are holding the banner “democracy in peril” in the belief it is about preventing somebody from becoming the next “Hitler”, you are missing the point.
Democracy is in peril not because of some individual politicians but because true democrats have failed to realise two paradoxes of democracy. One is the Hegelian idea that every proposition (even electoral democracy) contains within it the seeds of its own destruction; the other is the question Karl Popper asked: can the tolerant be tolerant about the intolerant?
You can see America tearing itself apart over the #BlackLivesMatter protests, which have often been violent even as “liberals” looked the other way when mobs indulged in arson and looting, terrorising communities and small businesses in many cities.
You don’t have to be a racist to oppose mob rule of the streets, but such is the political divide in America, that the average Left-Liberal believes in “cancel culture”, where any idea that is opposed to their own is seen as sacrilege, an assault on democracy and liberalism itself.
A democracy that does not learn to live with strong opinions on the other side is no democracy at all, but this view is lost on the liberals now destroying American democracy. Nor is their silence over mob rule.
The Hegelian rule to apply here is this: democracies cannot remain democracies if liberals privilege anarchy using the freedoms guaranteed by democracies. You then need undemocratic ideas – like the use of police force against mobs, and the silencing of voices that call for cancel culture (shutting down other voices) through the use of an undemocratic judiciary – to enforce the free speech rights of unpopular voices.
You also need to put down effectively, by force if necessary, those who take the law into their own hands – as is the case with the US protests now pretending it is about Black Lives.
Anarchy cannot always be put down by giving in to people who want to destroy lives and properties. This is why you should never rule out the idea of Donald Trump returning to power. Ordinary people know that anarchy is not the answer to racism.
The Karl Popper paradox, which asks whether the tolerant can afford to be tolerant of the intolerant, is particularly relevant in the global context today, where mobs take to the streets, as we saw in Sweden the other day and in Bengaluru last month, allegedly over a “derogatory post” that offended one community.
The democratic method of protesting is not to attack police stations and private properties, but peaceful protests. But we didn’t see any of this in these community-based mob violence and intimidation of the police forces.
We saw the same bid to create chaos in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh protests, which were ostensibly “peaceful” but where incendiary comments were made. These “democratic protests” were about denying the larger community the right to move about freely on a public road.
The base of the Shaheen Bagh protests, ostensibly targeting a lawful attempt by the government to fast-track citizenships for persecuted minorities in three neighbouring countries, was undemocratic, for it was about forcibly denying other citizens their right to free movement in public spaces.
The intolerant did not win only because the Covid-19 crisis intervened, making it easy for the government to remove the blockade without using too many strong-arm methods. If this had happened before Covid, it would have been labelled as another assault on democracy and “peaceful protesters”.
No democracy can allow any group to disrupt the lives of others even if they are protesting against some laws that they think are unfair.
If one were to look deeper into the roots of intolerance, one should also examine the larger Western idea of “universalism”, where only one idea has the right to prevail at any time.
Universalism is quite the opposite of pluralism, which is India’s calling card, and was the way of life in pagan cultures. Pagan cultures and tribes, even though they had enough quarrels over resources and other issues, never thought they alone held the truth, or that rivals needed to be annihilated.
Truly genocidal and annihilating impulses came only with the idea of “universalism”, where it is my “one true god” or the devil, where it is my ideology or the highway, where it is dictatorship of the proletariat versus the bourgeoisie.
“Universalism” and “internationalism” are acceptable ideas in themselves, but only if they acknowledge diversity as the norm and not adherence to one single idea of God, society, or whatever.
Universalism fails when it is not about truth, but about backing bad ideas, including the idea of group rights over individual rights, as is the case with the idea of minority rights in India or Black rights in the US. No universalism can privilege the rights of “minorities” – a term that is poorly defined in the Indian context – over the rest.
Islamism, which believes it has the right to rule over the whole world, and evangelical Christianity, which too shares the end-goal of global domination, but by using more refined methods to achieve it, are not universalisms, but imperialisms.
While Islamists are at least clear that they don’t believe in democracy, evangelical Christianity pretends it does. Imposing its definition of universalism over other is no different from imperialism.
A true democracy that can overcome the Hegelian proposition and the Popper Paradox will be one that can learn to live, and contain, its contradictions, and yet does not allow anarchy and destructive forces to win in the name of “democracy” and one-sided rights to free speech.
Democracy is in peril, but it is its alleged defenders who are undermining it. To put it in starker terms, Global Islam, Global Christianity, Global Communism, and the Han Chinese version of “All Under Heaven” are the real threats to democracy.
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