Saturday, May 21, 2011

Dark days for democracy II

In a previous blog I noticed how democracy, in our day, has become government by, of and for the rich. As if that were not bad enough, no one seems to be particularly disturbed about this change. It is public knowledge but no one seems to care.

At the heart of democracy is the belief that the vast majority of people are very well able to make the major decisions about their individual lives, as well as about the life of their communities. If they are allowed to do so, everyone's life will be better. Having someone else – whether that be a government official or a bureaucrat in a private corporation-- make decisions for ordinary citizens will bring few benefits. Secure in that faith, defenders of real democracy work tirelessly to insure all citizens the right and the ability to run their individual and collective lives by electing representatives that will protect their interests and beliefs.

But we have lost this faith in the ability of ordinary people to run their lives by their own lights. We do not believe that about American citizens can do it. We believe it even less about people abroad.

The Obama government hesitated noticeably before it threw its support behind the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. It has now participated in bombing Libya for several weeks, ostensibly in support of democracy. At the same time it has little to say about the Syrian government killing its own people in order to put an end to mass demonstrations in favor of popular self government. It has not responded to the Saudi troops invading Bahrain in order to support the monarchy there against the demonstrations by the citizens. 
Our government was willing to support rebels in Egypt because the Egyptian military was ready to take command of the country. Stability was assured. The people's democracy was going to be kept within very tight limits by the Egyptian military – armed by us.

When our foreign policy “experts” speak of stability they are looking for an institution that is not responsive to the many currents and cross currents of popular opinion. They are looking for an established institution, preferably run top-down, and armed to enforce its decisions. Underlying all this search for stability is a profound distrust of ordinary people and an intense fear of popular movements. Our government wants other stable governments with whom they can talk and make secret deals. They want other governments whose conduct is predictable and whose ability to maintain themselves – if necessary by armed violence – makes them reliable partners over the long haul.

Obviously that leaves out genuinely democratic governments that are responsive to popular demands and the fluctuations of popular debates and opinions.

When our government claims that it is supporting democracy, it is speaking of a democracy in which the electorate is manipulated and deceived. In that sort of democracy real power is lodged in small groups, either military or corporate. The elections do not have serious effects on who holds power. They are exercises in deceiving the public.

These are very dark days for democracy indeed.