The modern Western world loves the (cultural) diversity. Sometimes, it is ready to resign of (and forget) its own true achievements, to promote diversity. But are there no exceptions? How about democracy? A Western system of government which is considered as perfect for everyone – no matter the cultural diversities. Is it true that the modern (liberal) democracy is suitable for everyone? Especially, that there were (and still are) other pretenders to the title of ‘the perfect system’ – like the more or less orthodox communism or the sharia law.
Why it is not OK, to say that the art of a nation or the culture itself is inferior – because our art or culture are better; but it is perfectly OK to say that their system of government is inferior – because our democracy is better. Is not the system of government a product of the culture – history of the people? Does it not smell a little Orwell, when we say that: “anyone is allowed to have his/her own truth” and he or she may live in conformance with that very truth as long as it is not an entire community, or a nation. Because it is not allowed to resign from the ‘benefits’ of the liberal democracy.
Yes. I know. It is not the only thing that smells Orwell in the contemporary world. There are many, many other things, which smell much worse. But the prejudice of the perfect system of government – one for them all – is quite old and the mechanisms used to promote it are now widely used to promote all the other fashionable ideas. It’s the primal sin and everything else stems from it.
Before I begin, a short explanation is needed. The current subject is “social” – it is a product of the human minds, human behavior. I cannot provide a detailed, logical, based on facts proof here. A true scientific proof. That’s impossible. Everything here is, and always will be, questionable, open to interpretations, disputable. Simply non-objective. Because there are no objective laws here. And I’ll show it better in my forthcoming texts. But still, I can give examples, some common sense arguments. They should be enough for anyone, who is not hostile towards everything what contradicts his/her way of thinking, his/her worldview.
The modern liberal democracy originates (mainly) from the systems developed in England and the US in XVIII-XIX century. It is therefore a child of this very culture. And of this very time. Today this culture, as it was present at the beginning of the modern democracy is hard to find in real life. It is easier to find it in the pages of books. For example the popular “Anne of Green Gables”. It’s the culture of the post-Enlightenment Anglo-Saxon Protestants. A WASP culture. And each element weighs heavily. Each is indispensable and in the synergy with others.
The (post-)Enlightenment thinking values rationality – the primacy of reason and the fundamental belief that human reasoning, logic and science are the answer for every question. This belief was one of the reasons for the Reformation and it is strongly present in the Anglo-Saxon legal system. The Protestant’s virtues were: hard-work, modesty-austerity and strong conviction that people should decide (and be responsible!) of everything: religion, system of government, justice, education. Responsibility – in many dimensions – is the key principle here.
Responsibility doesn’t always mean the same. It is not the 0-1 quantum physical world. People of every time and geographical location were responsible. In a way. The lack of responsibility leads to extinction. But the exact meaning of this word; the behaviors, the ways of thinking that were seen as “responsible” may differ a lot.
Here, I consider a very exact, specific meaning. The one that was characteristic for the very people of the very time and culture I mention. You can find it in some great books of the Anglo-Saxon writers of the XIX century. It is something to always bear in mind: the same words (concepts) have different meaning for different people, cultures, times. It is very easy to be deceived by our own language. If democracy does not fit somewhere, it does not mean that people living there are irresponsible.
The contemporary democracy was therefore ‘invented’-‘constructed’ as the system of government for the WASPs. It fitted their mentality, their worldview. On the other side, their mentality, the virtues they praised guaranteed the success of democracy. Stability and development. It was simply a very good match.
But is it enough to reasonably assume, that since democracy worked for the nations of the UK and North Americans and several other Western nations like Germans, Scandinavians or the French; is it enough to assume that it shall work for every other nation, society, or even the tribal/clan groups? When and how did the Western world conceive the idea that modern democracy is the perfect fit for every culture? No matter the mentality, worldview, religion. Did anyone, ever, really thought it through? Did we first learn the culture, the way of thinking of the other people, to come up with the answer: “Yes. Democracy is going to work for them!”? Or was it rather the old, colonial way of thinking of the White people: “We are the wisest. We know best, what is good for others. Especially for those primitives from Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, South America. They are not wise enough to decide for themselves. That’s obvious.”
Did democracy work well in any African country? Does it work well (providing success, stability and wealth) in South America? In other parts of the world? For every ‘successful’ implementation (“successful” often in the eyes of the apostles of democracy, only), it is easy to give a dozen of failures. But as with all the other ideological prejudgments, the negative answers given by reality are disregarded. Who cares about the failures, when we know that it is the best system. And every other is worse, simply because it is not our wonderful, perfect system.
Ideological blindness can be a dreadful thing. In case of communism it resulted in billions of victims. (counting all that suffered and keep suffering in all attempts to make this ideology work). The ideological approach to reality can bring horrifying results. We should acknowledge it, finally. The modern, liberal democracy is not an ideology. However, the “liberal” chunk drags it closer and closer to become one. Anyway, the belief, that it is suitable for everyone, and therefore have to be applied everywhere, is a good example of the ideological thinking. Simply put: an ideology.
Many, very many people nowadays say that democracy is in crisis. It is probably the only statement, that the Trump supporters and his opponents could agree with. It would be an agreement as for the mere fact, only. The reasons, logic and everything else would be different. But the fact that: “It is wrong that…” is undisputable. Such situation has its longer history. First symptoms could be seen decades ago. Now it is clearly visible.
What’s the explanation for this? What is the reason, and what is the process we do observe? The reason is simple: the contemporary Americans are not the same people as their predecessors depicted by Lucy Maud Montgomery. Modern democracy is a system invented for the post-Enlightenment Protestants. Both elements are indispensable. Because they constitute a specific values-mentality-culture-worldview. The further is a group of people (a society) from this mentality, the worse are the effects of democracy for them. Although, they do not have to be Protestants, indeed. The citizens of Bavaria in Germany are mainly Catholics. But living in the fatherland of Martin Luther, the fatherland of Reformation, surrounded by Protestants, they adopted much of the Protestants values and mentality. And that is what really counts.
The austere Protestant values (like order, humility, hard-working) are more and more alien for the modern Americans. And the Enlightenment way of thinking happens to become more and more post-Enlightenment. With the emphasis on the “post”. The Enlightenment gave some promises of answering the fundamental questions. But it failed. The more we know, the harder it is to defend things, that in the era of the Enlightenment was taken for granted.
And therefore we see the results. The less the citizens of the US, the UK, Canada and other Western countries are similar to their predecessors living in the XIX century, the harder it is to defend the claim, that democracy is the best system of government. And there are many other examples to support my argument. In Italy or Greece the Enlightenment was never strong. Even less the Reformation. Have democracy ever worked well there?
Of course, one could argue, that there are different mentalities. Italians were never like Germans. They are different nations. Different kinds of people. But that’s exactly my point. However, I wanted to identify what is the prerequisite for the success of the modern democracy. Obviously, there are things much more fundamental here. Which were the reason, why Italy was never such “pro-Enlightenment” as France, or so “Reformation-ready” as Scandinavia. But I cannot dive into details so deep in my text. Cause I would end up writing a complete world’s social history.
For the need of this text, I want a litmus paper for the success of democracy. And the ”Enlightenment-Protestant” attitude seems to be a very good litmus paper here. Probably the best we can find. Even if it is only a result of much deeper historical and cultural differences. One could even say: it’s a sign of different civilizations.
But then, if even among the Western, European countries, there are visible differences resulting in situations which prevents us from saying: “Modern democracy worked well for Italy”. Because of the corruption and instability – governments falling one after another. If even among the Western countries there are exceptions, how can anyone sane support the claim that democracy shall work for the African tribal societies?
It’s like a claim, that since a parachute works for decreasing the speed of falling on Earth, it shall work as well on the Moon (where there is no atmosphere). Who cares about an atmosphere, when we know the parachute works! Who cares about the fundamental differences in history, culture, and mentality of the Africans, when we know that democracy works! That’s what I call the ideological blindness.
As for now, it is easy to argument like for instance: “You see, Italy is as it is. You cannot prove that it would be better with any other system of government”. And this is right. Just like no one can answer the question what would be if Napoleon Bonaparte would had won the battle of Waterloo. Or if England and France would had accepted the Polish proposal of a preventive war against the Nazi-Germany in 1933. These are the unanswerable questions. But in case of democracy, we have at least a few good examples.
Once, there lived a man whose name was Kemal Atatürk, He was a Turk. He knew and understood the mentality, the behavior, the way of thinking and understanding the world of the Turks. He invented a system of government for Turkey, based on the primal role of the army. I know, there has been long (kind of never ending) discussions between Turks (and non-Turks) about this Atatürk’s invention. And this is natural in a way. Every social, political system should be questioned. And improved, corrected, etc. But here, I want to focus on some very general remarks.
The Atatürk’s system worked. It secured several decades of stability and growth for Turkey, which became a (loyal) NATO member. Turkey had its own way of westernization. It was no longer a threat for Europe, as it was for centuries. The Turks have found their own way in the modern world. But their system was not a copy of what is present in the Western democratic countries. Inexcusable sin.
The Western countries kept a long lasting pressure on Turkey to change their system, to make it a copy of their own. And they finally succeeded. The Turkish army plays no longer the role it had played in 1970’s or 80’s.
And now, a few questions:
The Western world had an ally. But this ally wanted to live in their own way. But this was unacceptable for the ‘wise’, ‘enlightened’, know-all Western people: “If you want to be our ally, you have to live exactly as we tell you. And there are no excuses! Cause we know better!”. So, the Western world no longer have the ally. Was it worth? I think, it wasn’t.
For the last 150 years Russia has had three quite different systems of government. First, it was the absolute monarchy. The tsar was the (more or less) absolute ruler. Then there was the October revolution and the entire political, social and economic system had changed dramatically. Russia was no longer the absolute monarchy. Quite the contrary, one could say. And for roughly 30 years Russia was governed with the iron hand of Joseph Stalin. After him, it was governed in a more or less dictatorship manner by his followers – genseks (general secretaries of the communist party).
Now, Russia is a “democratic country”. There is a parliament, elections, and so on. And for the last 20 years the country is governed by Vladimir Putin. No matter what a scenery would be set up, Russia ends up as a country governed by a tsar. Be it a monarch, a gensek, or a president/prime minister.
Is this (much more! than) 150 years of history not enough, to accept the fact? The simple fact, that Russians are as they are. It is not a question of grading – better/worse. It’s a question of acceptance for diversity. Russians are simply different than a typical American, German, Australian. They have (their own) different history, religion, language, mentality. Expecting them to live in modern democracy as the Canadians do, is like expecting tigers to eat grass like horses do.
I’ve written a pretty long text about the obviousness. People differ. Nations differ. Cultures, religions differ. An obvious truth. But this obvious truth is accepted by Western people only superficially. For them, the differences seem to be entirely the things like a red dot painted on the forehead between the eyes, or sitting on the floor with your legs crossed instead of a chair, or different ways of greetings, dresses, etc. Of course, these are the most noticeable differences. But they are only the very peak of an iceberg. And many people simply refuse to accept this fact. Because it is easier this way. It allows them to play the wise guys. To invent new social ideas and immediately require all the people around the world to adhere to them.
The funniest thing is, that people who are the first zealots of democracy, personal freedoms, and various ‘rights’, consider the colonial period as the darkest, most shameful in the history of the West. And they want to redress to all the non-Western countries this shameful period (when the White people dictated their way of thinking and living to others) by planting there democracy and all the latest, most fashionable Western ideas. Irony in its full glory.
The basic question here is: should we adjust the people to the ideology, or the ideology to the people? Common sense answer seems obvious. But the ideologists of every era tend to give the opposite answer. Modern Prometheus is ready to sacrifice the life and suffering of self and others (especially others!), to achieve the progress and happiness. And we have legions of them. Finally, only the suffering and disturbance are real. The progress is just a mere movement, and happiness – elusive, temporal at most. Perhaps the mythical punishment of the Prometheus is the rightful reward for his modern imitators. Nothing less seems to be able to persuade the contemporary zealots, that they are wrong. Their resilience to facts, logic and reason seems infinite.
This question can be rephrased as: If we want to make the world a better place, then should we order people to live as we think they should live, or is it better to let them live as they wish/are used to live. Even if we’d like them to live differently. It is a metaphysical question, in fact. To give freedom to people – knowing that they may use it against themselves, against their own good; or: to deprive people of freedom – “for their own good, of course”. To make them live as “it is better for them”.
Metaphysics asks: Is it better to tell people the Truth, show them the way to Happiness, but still let them choose otherwise; or force them to follow the Truth and achieve the Happiness, whether they like it, or not. The deepest, most fundamental philosophical questions are eternally valid. Time cannot change it. And we can learn a lot from the true, correct answers.