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Monday, 6 July 2009

Further on Fault lines of Democracy

Democracy. Democracy is one of many different forms of government. Like every other form of government, democracy has its own social setup and its own culture. In words of Aristotle, democracy is the form of government that strives for the interest of majority of population (1). Generally, the majority of population consists of poor people, it would not be wrong to categories democracy as government of the poor. Although democracy seems to be a very popular form of government in today’s world, rather it seems to be the only acceptable form of government. It has become something for which people give up their lives and for which they fight very enthusiastically. It order to avoid giving it a “yes”, without thinking about it, it would be important to look at what all of the great political philosophers of past have said about it. In words of Aristotle, from his famous work “Politics”:

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

Another one of very famous philosopher of medieval time, Al Farabi says in his book “On the Perfect State”:

The aim of its (democratic city) people is to be free, each of them doing that he wishes without restraining his passions to the least.” (2)

From the statement of Al Farabi it may seem to be a very positive stance. In fact all it says is that there is freedom, while this freedom could be positive or negative. This may differ from society to society as discussed earlier in, “Menaces of Democracy and Problems of it”.

Today a democracy is popularly defined in words of Abraham Lincoln that he used in his Gettysburg address, “Government of the people, by the people, for the people” (3).

As clearly indicated from above mentioned references democracy is government of majority of people. Therefore I deem it necessary to study people, their behaviour and role they play in the society and its political standing to be able to understand democracy better.

Every society can be divided into three broad categories in terms of their political and moral attitudes. These three segments of society operate differently in the political arena of any democratic setup. The first segment is of those people who are sincerely and honestly interested in doing something good. These people are educated enough to understand the problems and strive hard in order to achieve their goals of collective good for the whole society. These people generally tend to remain within the legal and moral limits of the society and therefore try and bring positive change while using means available in those limits.

Second segment of society consists of those people who are corrupt. These people would serve their own purposes alone. They would struggle in every way possible to achieve that they desire. These desires sometimes might corroborate with the desires of the society and sometimes they might be antagonistic towards popular demands. These people because of being corrupt would have more resources and would be able to achieve more because they are not bound by any legal or moral restrictions but only by their own intelligence and desires.

Third segment of the society consists of those people, who are indifferent to the political direction of the society. They are indifferent about what laws are made and how the country in governed, as long as they get what they want. These are the people who struggle in their life to make their ends meet. They do not necessarily have to be poor, they can be rich people as well, but they are not bothered about the government policies as long as they do not negatively affect them. In today’s world this only refers to financial affects, therefore as long as it does not pinch the pocket of these people they are not concerned about anything.

The behaviour and the eventual political outlook of a society will depend on proportion of each of these segments. Lets us assume the first case, where heavy majority of population is of the category of people who wish to do something good, who honestly want to contribute in a positive way. In such a situation the minority would be divided among other two categories. If it is like this then democracy should perform very efficiently and can end up being one of the best forms of government.

Second case would be if corrupt are in majority and thus they hold the power. This would be one of the worst forms of government because the worst people from the whole society would be rulers. Here minority would be consisting of other two categories of people. These other segments of society would be crushed and persecuted by the corrupt elite to the benefit of rulers. This kind of situation is fairly obvious in almost all of today’s third world countries, though not exactly the phenomenon of majority being corrupt rather that of corrupt being in power. While this situation is present in rest of the world as well but not visible due to reasons discussed later.

Another case would be when majority of population belongs to those people who only concerned with their day to day lives. As long as they are enjoying life and living comfortably it does not matter to them who are in power. These people are mostly not very politically ambitious rather they do not desire any political power or office for themselves. Therefore in such a case it is upon other two minority groups to try and influence this majority and get them on their own side. In my opinion this is the situation in most of the western world including US, UK, France, Germany, Australia, etc. For obvious reason of coming to power, both minority groups will try and influence the indifferent majority to their utmost. It may seem like a fair competition, but unfortunately the corrupt do not know anything about being fair unless it is for their advantage. Corrupt would use all methods legal and illegal including cheating, conspiring, lies, deceit, calumny, defamation and everything that they can use, in order to win the majority consent. While because of the very nature of those who are honest, they will try and gain majority support using all the available legal and morally correct means. Thus, there seems to be higher probability of honest group losing the consent of majority. Now people may argue as to why the honest people not use the same methods to achieve power? The simple reason of this is that you cannot use the same ways as of those you and ideologically fighting against. You can not commit injustice in order to fight against injustice for it will kill your own cause while giving opponents an opportunity to tell the masses of hypocrisy for they propagate one thing while they themselves do the polar opposite.

Secondly, the corrupt because of their inherent nature are going to be rich people of the society. This does also give them the ability of buy the loyalties of those from among the majority by using their wealth. This does not only mean to give money to people and ask them to vote for you. But rather by showing false kindnesses or for example, buy a tractor to farmer’s family. In this way they will buy the votes from not only the family of the farmer rather from many other people surrounding and their relatives. In the beginning it might look like a really nice thing to do and the person may be able to portray himself as messiah to people, but the problem would emerge when he would gain power. That is when he would not only take the money he “invested” in the election process but would also look for interest on that money, although not asking the same family for returning the whole thing which would be disastrous, rather making the coffers of public money to pay. This does not only include taking out the money directly from treasury but also bribery on government projects or giving of public tenders to personally or family owned corporations.

If corrupt people take government in a democratic society, they would also try and make more and more people from the segment of the society which is their opponents to those who are indifferent for they are easier to control and manipulate. This would further weaken their opposition and make their rule more lasting.

In today’s world media is one of the important instrument of conveying news and events and more so for the perception management of population. It has changed into propaganda machinery, which would propagate and strive for the interests of certain groups who own these media outlets or provide financial support to them. Media through its various means of television, radio, newspapers, movies and internet rules the hearts and minds of population (4).

The introduction of media makes the above given argument even messier. If we look around, most of the international media or even domestic media is owned by rich conglomerates who in the hands of its rich owners manage the perception of virtually everything around. Let us then re-examine our above analysis including this new factor.

The first case where the majority of people are honest, in this situation there is a high probability that honest people would be the ones running media outlets as well. But at the same time the corrupt cannot be stopped in a democratic society to have media outlets for them as well. Corrupt while being rich might be able to have more media outlets than their competitors. In these circumstances the corrupt although being a minority would be able to slowly and gradually creep into the base of the society and make more following for them until they form a majority.

In the second case corrupt people already form a majority therefore they would keep media firmly under their grip. This would allow them to further plunder wealth of people and get away with it. While media will either not report it or just give a vague account and keep the population distract to non-essentials.

In the third case where indifferent people form a majority, this time around corrupt people find it much easier to convince the population to their own cause. By the use of mass media corrupt elements of a society will be in a much better position to attract more and more people first to their cause and then to make honest people to defect from their cause and join the indifferent segment of the society. In this way they will be in a better position to prolong their own rule and amass their own wealth at the expense of public money.

Let us now consider an example case that I believe is closer to reality. Let us assume a nation of 10 persons. Out of these 10 let us say that 5 are the ones who are honest, 3 are indifferent while 2 are corrupt. Now because corrupt would inherently also be rich, they would provide the indifferent with what they want and thus buy their loyalties for themselves. Because these indifferent people are the kinds who live Friday to Friday, the rich people can easily influence them thus turning them on their own side. After introduction of mass media into the equation, it makes it easier for the corrupt to influence indifferent people and provide them with false satisfactions. While the media does also serve as an instrument to cause say 2 persons from the honest segment of the society to defect due to intensive propaganda campaigns. In this way corrupt people will be able to form a government with a majority of 70%.

Therefore, after all the above discussion I believe that democracy will eventually lead corrupt elements of any society to power. While when these corrupt elements gain power at once it is easier for them to retain it as well. The corrupt element do not necessarily have to be financially corrupt which nevertheless they are in most cases, they can be morally corrupt or ethically corrupt and when they would rule a society they would cause of downfall of the society. Degradation of values and increase of crime rate as is evident from the condition of most of third world.


1. Aristotle. Politics.

2. AlFarabi. On the Perfect State. [trans.] Richard Walzer. s.l. : Great Books of Islamic World. 1-871031-76-1.

3. Abraham Lincoln Online. The Gettysburg Address. Abraham Lincoln Online. [Online] [Cited: 4 July 2009.] http://showcase.netins.net/web/creative/lincoln/speeches/gettysburg.htm.

4. Nisar, Muhammad Shemyal. I Think- Menaces of Democracy and its Problems. I Think Blog. [Online] 05 January 2009. [Cited: 05 July 2009.] http://mshemyalnisarthinks.blogspot.com/2008/12/menaces-of-democracy-and-its-problems.html.

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