Democracy! Today we see the whole world going crazy about democracy and for the democracy. We see proponents of democracy all over the place and it has been engrained into the minds of people that democracy is the only form of government that is right, therefore should be the only one acceptable. Then we see wars taking place all over the world by these proponents of democracy into foreign lands to establish democratic governments there as well. Of all these people, I really doubt if many know what really a democracy is. Or what other options there are apart from a democracy? What are the short-comings of democracy? Is it all good and no pain? Is democracy the best type of government? To this last question someone answered: “Democracy is not the best but all others have been tried.” So are we falling for democracy just to have a different experience from the past? Besides, didn’t the ancient Greeks have democracy?
Democracy is popularly defined as, “Government of the people, by the people and for the people.” Democracy is described by Aristotle as a form of government that has in its view the interest of the majority; because majority of the people are poor therefore it is the government in the interest of poor. What this means is that the majority becomes a ruler in the state, where rulers are paid to go to the assembly.
So what other options are there apart from a democracy for the political setup of a society? The forms of government can be easily divided into four main groups, while all the rest being variations of these. These four groups are called monarchy, oligarchy, aristocracy and democracy. Monarchy or dictatorship is theoretically the same thing. Monarchy can have two extreme variations, first being a benevolent monarch or a dictator and second being the tyranny thus headed by a tyrant leader who can be a king or a dictator as is often called these days. Then oligarchy is a political setup where the rich people rule. In oligarchy again there can be two extremes of one where the rich take care of their poor populace and the other where the rich are greedy and thus loot there poor populace. Aristocracy is a political setup where the affairs of the state are run by the best people from among the population and the criterion for the best can be chosen be morally best, religiously best or economically best, where in the later case the aristocracy would be similar to oligarchy. Finally, democracy is a political setup where majority runs the affairs of the state. As generally the majority is poor, therefore democracy can be called as a government by the poor. In another case if the majority of the population of a society or state is rich, this would be same as oligarchy. In yet another case if majority of the population of a society is incoherent or racist or barbarian the government would inevitably become tyranny by many. All these forms of government can be summed in words of Aristotle as:
“Tyranny is a kind of monarchy which has in view the interest of the monarch only; oligarchy has in view the interest of the wealthy; democracy, of the needy: none of them the common good of all”
As already stated democracy is a form of government that takes care of the majority of the population or serves the interests of the majority only. This would mean that majority of the population if they want can and will make or change laws of the land as and when they want. This gives the majority the power of a monarch and thus of a tyrant ruler. If we have learned anything from the history it is that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Some would argue power if divided among many would be so little in itself that they would not be able to do anything. But the problem is that although divided it is still more than the people who are being ruled. If for example we assume that majority of people of a certain state are fascist or racist, they would try and eliminate all other nationalities from the society who fall in the category of minority. This would bring misery and injustice to the people and would morally not be correct, otherwise what Nazi’s did in Germany should not be looked down upon as Germans were a majority in that land and thus exercised the right of majority to dislike or hate the minority races and thus take any action they deemed necessary.
Again in another case when the majority rules and they are poor, they can try and usurp the property of the rich. As they are powerful thus they out of their jealousy or hatred for the rich people can try and forcefully loot the property and money of the rich, which not only is morally wrong and unjustifiable but harmful to the state itself. Therefore, if not properly taken care off or look properly at a democracy can easily turn into a tyranny of the majority. In such a state there would be no rule of law for the majority. As majority is the one who makes the laws and thus can make laws best suited to serve their own purposes.
Another phenomenon common in politics of majority is known as mob behaviour. As majority governs, when together in a group have a tendency to exhibit the behaviour of a mob or a herd. This psychological phenomenon means that people when together in a group exhibit irrational behaviour, plus they behave in the same way at the same time. This is how stock market rumours take the market to a crash. This is how ordinary citizens behave is the most irrational way during riots at sporting events or political rallies. This at times gives rise to further injustices as obviously the victims are the minorities. These irrationalities are even more evident in those classes of population who are uneducated or uncultured or emotionally charged at certain moment.
Another point of concern is decaying moral and ethical standards. As majority is the sole authority in making or changing any laws, then if majority of the people are somehow convinced about certain thing either good or bad can be made as a rule of law. The process of decaying morals starts with a single seemingly insignificant step at the time that can lead to big changes in the later years. Then the minds of the majority can also be changed through propaganda campaigns. This is evident in the history as in the case of crusaders when pope was able to get people to march to capture Jerusalem. It can be sighted as an example of propaganda campaign to achieve certain objectives. In the same manner propaganda can be used as an instrument to convince people for changes in certain laws which at times does also lead to decaying moral standards. It is just 50 years ago many of the things were unlawful because of the moral standards, but somehow or the other the moral standards have been reduced and the majority has been made to accept the ideas which were previously unacceptable.
These effects are evident all over the so called democratic world and because this democratic world is the one that is ruling over the rest of the world, these effects can be seen all over the world though in varying degrees from country to country and region to region. Let us consider the reducing moral standard, not more than 50 years ago porn was considered something bad and not to be viewed. But today it has become a household thing, again varying from society to society. I think this is because of an increasing infiltration into the society by the rogue elements. These elements have managed to convince more and more people slowly and gradually to accept this phenomenon, making the moral standards to reduce. Take the other case of democracy being the tyranny of the majority. Many people will consider this idea to be bizarre but like it or not this is what has been happening in many parts of this world. Take the example of India recognized all over the world for being the world’s biggest democracy. But each year in the whole on India thousands and thousands of minority people are killed, whether they are Muslims, Christians, Sikhs or other minority groups by the fascist Hindu groups. These killing get the government cover because the Hindus are in majority they get to say what they want done and whom they would allow to live in India and whom they would kill. If this is not tyranny then what tyranny would be? Chief Minister of the state of Maharashtra is reported involved in the sporadic killing of Muslims in the state using Hindu mob groups, under the police cover. But he even then gets elected back because the Hindus are in majority. Another example from the same country would be in eastern India where thousands of Christians are killed their women raped and churches burnt by the Hindu mobs supported by powerful political parties who have been in power for ten years. But nobody raises the voice because they majority is happy and majority get to have the say. Take another case of Serbia, where thousands and thousands of Bosnian Muslims were slaughtered by the Serbs who were in the majority and thus had their say.
You might think this phenomenon is exclusive to third world and doesn’t belong to the Western Europe in particular. Some years ago in France, the government imposed a strict ban on wearing headgear. Now had this headgear belonged the majority of the population’s dressing, of course this would have been a political suicide. But this headgear was worn by not the majority, rather the religious minorities of Muslims, Jews, Sikhs and others. So as these religious groups were in minority their religious right could be taken away by the majority by the sole method of majority having the power to do so. Therefore under the tyranny of the majority the rights of the minorities were quashed and nobody even noticed.
In the recent times another factor has been introduced into the equation which is mass media and its role as propaganda machinery. Some would argue this has always been there. In some way or the other, propaganda has been part of the equation throughout the history. But in recent times this has risen to become one of the most important of the factors in the equation. Media through its various means of newspapers, television and cinema is what rules the hearts and minds of the people. People believe everything without question what this little black box tells them to be true or what the newspaper tells them. I think these are very important means of keeping people informed of what is happening around them and what are the steps their governments are taking and more importantly where the tax payer’s money is being spent by the government. This never the less helps them in making their decision in the future elections. Today if we consider United States of America only it would have got thousands of private Television Channels which work on their own agenda and are not controlled by the government. Private media without any government control should mean impartial and honest reporting so that the citizens stay informed whether the government likes it or not.
In today’s democracies these media outlets can either make or break the life of anybody they want and especially the politicians. Anybody the television tells to be a terrorist people believe him to be one blindly, or anybody this television tells to be a philanthropist and a patriot, people would believe him to be so as well without any question. Politicians need it to gain public support for their agenda and businesses need it to grow, while a common man needs this television to stay updated with the world around for the television tells him everything and plus to be entertained by it. If you consider this black box in the house, you would notice that you start liking whatever this box tells you to be good and dislike whatever this black box tells you to be bad. In other words ethics are also governed by this little machine in the house, to some extent if not totally. In a democracy where the opinion of the majority is what matters and not what is right or wrong, this invention just made the task of propaganda a lot easier and effective. People can now sit in their homes, get entertained and brainwashed at the same time to whatever the owner of that particular channel wants you to. This means that in a system where opinion of the majority is what matters, this television would be almighty and powerful for it has the power to make and break the opinion of people. Slowly and gradually when you have the majority of people conformed to your opinion you make it a law and or an adjustment in the law. All the ethical and moral standards can go down the drain.
After all the above discussion a question that arises is that who controls this powerful thing that can make or break anything around myths, opinions, heroes, villains, demagogues and presidents. Who has control over all this power? What are the ethical and moral standards the controller follows? For he has all this power we ought to know this as well. Unfortunately, today this all powerful media is not controlled by the people with the highest of the moral standards. If you look around, most of it is in controlled by big corporations. Behind these big corporations are filthy rich business men who are doing business. Profits being the main driving force for all of today’s ventures, for these businessmen anything that would sell would be good. Now with the all powerful media in their hands they are like gods. This would mean that these people on top have the power to make or break the governments. They can make populations content or they can bring upon revolutions. They can make governments to make or bend laws in their favour. They can force governments to make peace or to wage wars on other nations. So what does it do? It changes a democracy into an oligarchy. Where only that will happen what the rich want and what suits them the best. Only those people are allowed to rise through the corridors of power who have conformed to the desires of these rich. It would increase the exclusivity of the rich and therefore they would not like newer entrants either. Having all the power in their hands they would be very easily be able to ensure this. People will not be told what they are not supposed to know and only that which does not hurt the power of these powerful men.
If anything we have learned from history that would be that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. So that would mean that private corporations should not be allowed control over such a vast amount of power. But what are the other options that we have? What other possible arrangement can be made apart from private people holding all this power? Some would argue that if all television stations would be in the hands of government the problem would be solved. Let us examine such a situation. A democratically elected government if starts to control the media, it would mean that the government would get control of the hearts and minds of the population and they can know make people to believe and like and dislike whatever they want. This would undermine the democratic process itself as it would allow those in government to over-power any opposition they have and get away with it. It means all the ills that were previously considered for the corporations can now be assumed to be for the ruler of the state and thereby democracy can in this way change into a monarchy of the head of the state where nobody can question him for he can choose what people should know and what they should not. It would imply he can very easily drift to become a tyrant ruler who would look for the benefits of himself and those who serve him properly. Therefore, a government controlled media is a potential threat to a democratic setup itself. But is free and independent media not a threat? Our previous discussion shows that free and private media is also a threat to the democratic setup. This is because it would do the same thing as the government controlled media but would only use more cosmetics.
In light of the above arguments I have managed to reach a logical conclusion. No matter how alluring and romantic a democracy may sound, democracy is not a best form of government. This is because of the irrationality of the majority of the population. Again the majority of the population is not so far sighted so as to judge the long-term impacts of short-term benefits. Most of the people are not even bothered to stand and think about the impact of the laws on the society in the long-term. Again if majority of the people think something to be right it does not mean that something is right. As evident from the entire above argument majority can be overtly or covertly be made to think that a certain something is beneficial to them and they would start and believe. People can be made to believe into much false propaganda and they would start to believe it. I think choosing democracy is synonymous to allowing people to commit suicide provided majority of them thinks that it would be beneficial to them.
What remains at large is the question of control of media. Who can be entrusted with such a powerful instrument? Should this thing be destroyed for once and for all, so that no one can use this power? But what about the contemporary methods of propaganda, as apart from television movies are very often used to portray a certain race of people to be evil so much so that the people are brainwashed to think that all the evil in the world is committed by that certain race of people. Then there are newspapers as well who make the opinions of the people. If we talk about blocking all the sources of propaganda machinery then newspapers are also a part of it and an important part of it. Should newspapers be closed down as well? Today another method being used are the video games, which the kids play and they then from their childhood are led to believe that so and so race or country are good and in the same way so and so countries are axis of evil and should always be fought against. Therefore, children are brainwashed to believe and behave in a certain way from the feeble time of their mental development. Should then the video games also be banned? Another question that arises is where should it stop? Because in this way we would end banishing everything, from television and movies to newspapers and video games and public gathering. Then certain things are for the betterment of the general people as well. For the newspapers and television do keep people updated on the national matters and concerns. People know about the problem and grievances of other people as well. So where the line should be drawn for what should be permissible and not permissible?
Unfortunately, these questions remain at large and deserve more deliberation and time. For the conclusion that seems logical maybe too harsh to implement or immature in itself to be whole heartedly implemented. But one thing is certain that a democracy is not the best form of government, rather more corruptible and more fatal to the fabric of the society as a whole.