Now, sad things about democracy
Columns, Point of View

Now, sad things about democracy

May 21, 2019

By T.J.S. George

Two days from today, India will change.  That change will affect the country’s fundamentals. If the BJP wins a majority, the ongoing attempts to recast the soul of India will be triumphantly accelerated, altering the original DNA that was configured by the nation’s founding fathers.  If a non-BJP coalition gets control, our messy democracy will go into an initial devil’s dance, but the freedoms we value will be reinvigorated; citizens will be able to think and speak and write without fear.  Either way, the change will be historic.

It is strange that democracy can offer such contrasting scenarios.  That anomaly must have been one reason for Winston Churchill’s remark that “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried.”  A generation after Churchill, even backhanded compliments seem out of place. The ground has been shifting unnoticed by the general public, but recorded by vigilant scholars. Two books with remarkably similar titles paint a picture of democracy that should make us sad.

How Democracy Ends by David Runciman, who teaches politics at Cambridge University and How Democracies Die, co-authored by two Harvard Professors, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, came out last year.  The first study is British in its approach, the second American oriented. Both tell us that democracy as we understand it, is “ending” or “dying.” (Is there a difference?). In other words, all the hullabaloo we make about elections may be so much sound and fury signifying nothing.

In the old days, democracy was disabled by military chiefs taking over government or political bosses staging a coup d’etat.  Runciman rejects that kind of “alarmism” in today’s world.  Rather, he argues, forces come up and undermine democracy from within, usually invisibly.  In the old days, public opinion could be mobilised over issues such as nuclear disarmament.  But not any longer.  Digital revolution contributes its bit, too.  Twitter has lend legitimacy to populism of the irresponsible type.  New media that spreads populism is loyal only to its profit motive.  Moral: Down with morals, up with money.

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What does this mean in practical terms? Runciman puts it bluntly.  “Elections will still have lots of sound and fury,” he says.  However, because of technology and the structures of modern life, the system that emerges “may not be either democratic or authoritarian, but rather a kind of ‘half-life’ democracy.”  A possible tactic, he elaborates, is strategic election manipulation.  That is, unseen powers will avoid outright tampering of elections, but will use just enough manipulation to get the results they want.  Does this sound like a report on Indian elections 2019?

The Harvard Professors move along similar lines of analysis and argument as they watch the dying of democracies.  They show how democracy can be subverted even if those who do it are elected leaders and they are using majority decisions of Parliament; it happened in Hungary, Turkey, Poland, Sri Lanka, Philippines. (Lucky for us that they hadn’t heard about our Finance Minister pushing through some self-serving laws as “money bills” when they were not money bills.  But then, he is not an elected leader, so why not?)

The Harvard pair’s list of things that should not happen but are happening is familiar: Politicians treat rivals as enemies; free press is intimidated; institutional buffers of democracy are weakened; government leaders say and do things that are unprecedented; right-wing extremists score electoral victories, some even gain power through elections; in America, a man with no experience of public office and with clear authoritarian tendencies gets elected as President.  The rise of a new kind of regressive leadership and a new kind of electorate that sings hurrahs for them is a theme examined in this book.

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However, the professors share the American notion that socialism and Stalinist communism are synonyms indicating the end of the world.  They picture Salvador Allende as an autocrat under whom Chile saw an “erosion of democratic norms” which finally led to the “military seizing power” and ruling the country for 17 years. How easily they skip facts such as Allende’s attempt to introduce socialism in Chile, Nixon’s America going berserk over “communism’s” attempt to conquer South America, Henry Kissinger arranging a coup that killed Allende and  Chile going under the dictatorship of one of the cruellest autocrats of the 20th century, Augusto Pinochet. Well, the danger of socialism was avoided, wasn’t it?

It’s only appropriate to let John Adams, America’s founding father, have the last say: “Democracy never lasts long.  It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself.”

Two days from today? So be it.

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9 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Now, sad things about democracy”

  1. Srikrishna Bhagwan says:

    The author is confused and contradicts himself when he says,”If a non-BJP coalition gets control, our messy democracy will go into an initial devil’s dance, but the freedoms we value will be reinvigorated; citizens will be able to think and speak and write without fear.”

    The very fact that his article, freely written and freely read by 1000s shows that dissent and free expression of opinions is not only allowed but flourishing. One major problem with Liberals who always complain is they never offer a solution nor will they attempt to fix the issue. All they do is bitch about the situation created by themselves. They forget that the root cause for the present situation is the very parties they are supporting. Absence of rule of law , impartial Police and Judiciary.

  2. Sunil says:

    We have to thank George and his gang that their concerted efforts to lie and badmouth modi on false narratives and bunch of lies and install an incompetent moron like Rahul , unbiased voters could see through the evil design! Rahul and Vadra were calling Modi a CHOR and lalu and Devegowda were singing along! It is like a gang of whores calling Sati Saavithri a whore!

    • Rajiv says:

      Yes, you are correct! Mainstream media and pseudo secular groups hated modi so much that they bent backwards with lies, deceit and distortion to paint modi as an murderous evil dictator! It the latest phase tgey were all so abusive that they were drowning I tgeir own like of shits m they did not even care to notice people did not believe them! To add to this, 90 percent of mainstream media is owned by anti modi Christian missionaries, Vaticans, islamists, hardcore sponsors if NDTV, foreign forces who hate Hindus and terror groups who want to eliminate India and the psedo secukar liberal! So, George is one of a sample from the same pile!

  3. boregowda says:

    Hua to Hua and emergency were imposed by the so called non BJP party. This author and his clan would be jailed for writing “freely”. Under BJP India has found a new vision and vigor.

  4. H says:

    As srikrishna is saying, one if the reasons modi is flourishing is people like George writing and spreading nonsense in desperation. No plan to fix things, no narrative, no workable positive agenda, only slogan is to defeat modi period.Mr George you are still way of the mark, please come back to reality.

  5. RK says:

    Such a sad state of democracy! Not only EVMs, even TV remotes are hacked by Modi. Any button you press, it says Congress is loosing!

  6. boregowda says:

    Now that Modi is on the verge of winning his second term, will pseudo liberals like George pack their bags and leave India? Will the big mouth Kharge commit harakiri?? Nikhil – yellidayapa????

  7. Raju says:

    By now George and his pseudo secular friends, members is Tukde Tukde gang realized that when they insulted nationalists as Bhakths, they were insulting majority of Indians! He has written lots of items hating Bjp and Hindus calling them intolerant! His views copied from pakiTani and Chinese media were liked by Congress and earned him awards too!
    But yesterday was an arrival from a US news paper telling the truth about Hindus ‘
    Here is a beautiful article from New York Times. While many of our own papers and tv channels deplore India, here is a view from
    It is truly the greatest show on Earth, an ode to a diverse & democratic ethos, where 700 million + of humanity vote, providing their small part in directing their ancient civilization into the future.
    It is no less impressive when done in a neighborhood which includes de-stabilizing & violent Pakistan, China, and Burma.
    It’s challenges are immense, more so probably than anywhere else, particularly in development & fending off terrorism — but considering these challenges & its neighbors, it is even more astounding that the most diverse nation on Earth, with hundreds of languages, all religions & cultures, is not only surviving, but thriving.
    The nation :
    Where Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism & Sikhism were born,
    Which is the second largest Muslim nation on Earth;
    Where Christianity has existed for 2000 years;
    Where the oldest Jewish synagogues & Jewish communities have resided since the Romans burnt their 2nd temple;
    Where the Dalai Lama & the Tibetan government in exile reside;
    Where the Zoroastrians from Persia have thrived since being thrown out of their ancient homeland;
    Where Armenians, Syrians & many others have come to live;
    Where the Paris-based OECD said was the largest economy on Earth for 1500 of the last 2000 years, including the 2nd largest, only 200 years ago;
    Where 3 Muslim Presidents have been elected;
    Where a Sikh was Prime Minister & the head of the ruling party a Catholic Italian woman;
    Where the past President was also a woman, succeeding a Muslim President who as a rocket scientist is a hero in the nation;
    Where a booming economy is lifting 40 million out of poverty each year & is expected to have the majority of its population in the middle class already, equal to the entire US population, by 2025;
    Where its optimism & vibrancy is manifested in its movies, arts, economic growth & voting, despite all the incredible challenges & hardships;
    Where all the great powers are vying for influence, as it itself finds its place in the world;
    Where all of this is happening, is India and as greater than 1/10th of humanity gets ready to vote, it is an inspiration to the entire World.
    — V Mitchell, New York, NY

    • Rajiv says:

      For now, George should cool off! Modi hatred and lies have not worked Chowkidaar CHOR hai! But he did not steal the money but the hearts of the people ! If George writes, only his gang like Congress and Pakistani supporters, communists and Christian evangelist hate mongers will be impressed!
      Normally MP will make the PM! Today it is the reverse! One PM made most of the Mps. So, hating Modi may be very risky that in public life somebody may slap him with slippers!


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