Google analytics

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The rise of illiberal democracy

by John MacBeath Watkins

Francis Fukuyama, in his 1992 book The End of History and the Last Man, said that:
What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.
He failed to anticipate the resiliency of authoritarianism. They still hold elections in Zimbabw, Russia, and Iran, but not just anyone is allowed to run and not just anyone is allowed to publish opinions about who people should vote for.

Elections, the press, and the judiciary are subjugated to a strong leader or oligarchy. Russia, for example, now has a record of not just silencing its critics, but of killing them, even if they live abroad. People like Vladimir Putin, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, or Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe may think they need the trappings of democracy to have legitimacy as a government, but they do not tolerate its substance.

One of the marks of such regimes is that they silence the press or find ways to bend it to their will. A tactic often used is to set people against each other, Mugabe, for example, instigated genocide against the Ndebele people, killing about 20,000 people. Claiming there was an internal threat enabled him to consolidate one-party rule.

An internal threat can be used to silence critics, as Turkey's Recep Erdogan is doing in Turkey, detaining lawmakers from the opposition party based on claims that they were associated with Kurdish militarists and arresting the editor and about a dozen journalists from a left-of-center newspaper which had embarrassed him. He claimed the newspaper had ties to a cleric living in exile in the United States, who is supposed to have been the inspiration for a failed coup attempt.

It has long bothered me that some on the far right seem to regard the constitution as a rough draft, constantly wanting to change it to comply with their agenda on issues like same-sex marriage and the balanced budget (legislators could, of course, simply pass balanced budgets if that's what they want.) Would-be strongmen take this approach as well, for example when Erdogan decided the Turkish constitution needed to give the Turkish president more power, or when Chavez, at the peak of his popularity, held a referendum to revise Venezuela's constitution to give him more power.

The problem is, when you vote in someone who does not really believe in democracy, it's hard to get rid of him (and it usually is a "him.") When the same party controls both the legislature and the executive branch, and allows only its own picks to get on the courts, only the leader's own party can control a drift to authoritarianism. And, if they are getting their agenda passed by the strongman, why would they?

Only a strong commitment to democratic principles on the part of all powerful parties in a system can stem the authoritarian drift. The question for our nation is, do we have that?



No comments:

Post a Comment