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Democracy: An Introduction for Democratic Practice

Prajatantra: Prajatantrik Avayas ek Parichaya (Democracy: An Introduction for Democratic Practise)


Published Year: 2006

Published by: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES)

Author: Prof. Dr. Thomas Meyer

Translator (into Nepali): Ram Humagain

Price: Not mentioned, Pages:72

 

BY RITU RAJ SUBEDI

In this twenty-first century, 'democracy' has become a cherished word for both its foes and friends. With the end of Second World War and Cold War, democracy emerged victorious and unrivalled beating communism, fascism and Nazism. Thus, democracy that recognizes periodic elections, rule of law, human rights, free media and freedom to expressions and associations, has already proved itself a better political system.

Dr Meyer first tries to prove the supremacy of democracy. He argues that democracy is not a personal property of the rich and the elites but a system better ensures a just distribution of wealth than any other political system. "Democracy is not a luxury to be indulged in by rich countries citizens but an indispensable instrument of control for ensuring a development that satisfied the basic needs in every country," he writes. He strongly opposes the idea that democracy is a by-product of the western civilization and a 'dubious legacy of colonial rule.' This line of argumentation was used as an objection to democracy in the debates of the 80's and 90's of last century.

He says that ancient people in Africa practiced it for conflict resolution while it existed in the form of local self-governance in the South and South East Asia long before it was developed by the West. He further states that in the long history of the West from the spread of Christianity (since the 4th century) to the bourgeois revolutions of the 18th century, democracy had virtually no role to play. "Democracy is founded on a sober, realistic conception of man that is not dependent on any particular cultural, ideological and religious base."

His presentation of four theories and two model of democracy are noteworthy. According to him, currently there are four theories of democracy -- economy theory, radical grassroots theory, populist media and participative party. The models are - presidential or parliamentary democracy and representative or direct democracy.

In economic theory, political elites offer alternative solutions to the political problems and people choose between them while the radical grass root democracy calls for the direct self-government of the governed to satisfy the full claim of democracy. In the populist media democracy, the mass media, particularly television, greatly influences the public opinion and the actions of politicians and political institutions. But author defends participative party democracy, in which political parties can effectively coordinate all political levels through uniform actions, thereby giving a goal-oriented shape to entire polity.

Likewise, his distinction between Left and Right parties, and liberal and social democracy is crucial to understand the current politics in sophisticated democracies of West and the US. Parties that stand for a free market economy, the exercise of authority, the acceptance of inequality and rigorous law and order policy are considered to belong the Right. Parties that, on the other hand, support a more liberal law and order policy besides backing the welfare state, political intervention in the economy and greater equality are considered to be part of the Left, he writes.

The author points out religious-political fundamentalism as a temptation for weak democracies with corrupt political elites. His description of 'defective' democracy is tantamount to our democracy that undergoes through various jerks and jolts in its transitional phase. He writes: "Defective democracies are characterized by the fact that although they have created an important basis for democracy by introducing the universal and equal right to vote, they either do not or only very inadequately fulfill democratic norms in other important respects."

Dr Meyer finally points out that democracy is both robust and vulnerable: "It is robust because it can withstand and process conflicts of interests and values that could break dictatorships. It is vulnerable because it sis not sustainable without people reposing confidence in it and without a practical implementation which is in consonance with its spirit."

The book is extremely useful to know the basics of democracy. But it would have been more reading worthy if he had presented the particular examples in describing his theories and models. He has not also touched on one of the most perplexing questions: Why did democracy fail to save mankind from the horrific wars? If the democratic system is unrivalled and the best, why does it frequently fail to prevent its practitioners from engaging into wars? The First and Second World Wars took place when the Europeans were practicing liberal and social democracy. The problem of wars remained a tough philosophical discourse in every century. Is that democracy allows 'the deadliest and harshest' means to gain its cherished goals? If not so, how did George Bush, president of the US that champion democracy in our time, went to war against Iraq? Is it vulnerability of democracy when the elected presidents and the prime ministers succumb to power as their military and economic power reach at critical level? The modern theories of democracy must give satisfying answers to these questions. Likewise, Dr Meyer does not bother to talk about the fate of socialism in the 21st century. If the classical communism is dead, has socialism also lost its individual identity and found place in the wider framework of democracy?

Source: People's Review (16-22 March 2006)

 
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