Aristocratic Democracy | Sunday Observer

Aristocratic Democracy

17 January, 2021

“Although the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful, must be reasonable”  Thomas Jefferson

Recent events unfolding in the USA clearly show that the much revered Democracy that they preach around the world is gasping for a breath of air in their own chambers. There have been over 60 court cases since last November’s US Presidential elections, claiming voter fraud and illegal procedures. Some Republican Senators, who won their re-election this year support Trump’s battle to overturn the results of the election. It is hard to understand how they have missed the fact that they themselves won by that same ballot paper and if for some reason these ballots are disqualified, then their own victories will also be nullified.

If the ballots are not thrown out, then they are essentially admitting the fact that they have won the Senate seat through an illegal election. Either way, they are admitting and accepting an illegitimate win. Since the Judiciary did not recognise the legitimacy of any of the cases filed against the election procedures, President Trump and his supporters tried to overturn the results of the election by attacking the lawmakers and destroying the evidence of electoral-college counts in the capital building.

Live telecasts and webcasts showed the world that their democracy is no better than that of any other Banana Republic on the planet. Whether it is throwing pepper powder at lawmakers in Parliament in Sri Lanka or taking them hostage within the halls of Congress in the USA, the underlying message highlights the troubles in these ironically named 'democratic systems'.

Economic and social issues

Some political scientists identify economic issues as main reasons for such failures while others argue that social issues such as race, religion and immigration are to blame. What is more important to understand is, the fact that economic and or social issues only become problems if politicians, parties and governments don’t recognise and respond to them in a timely and satisfactory manner.

Dissatisfaction with democracy is growing across countries with a general belief that it is unable or unwilling to deal with citizens’ demands and concerns. The role of money in politics has also increased to an extent where politicians pay attention to the issues or demands of people or organisations who contributed the highest amounts to their campaigns. Government policies are then shaped by the economic elites and organised groups.

Demands of the poor and minorities usually fall on deaf ears. Politicians promise to bring legislature to reform campaign finance laws during their campaigns before elections of course, but just drop the idea once they get elected.

The rise of an unelected technocracy is another factor shaping government policies making the ordinary citizen disappointed and frustrated. The only satisfaction those citizens will have is voting off those politicians who didn’t listen to their demands, in the next election. President Trump experienced this even though he is not willing to accept it and give due respect to the power of the vote. Some experts say that the deterioration of the American democracy was put on the fast track during the four years of the Trump Presidency. However, the election results and the support he gets from some of the other republican lawmakers clearly show that it is not only the President who should take the blame for the downfall of American democracy today.

Democracy is, by definition, “rule by the people”. That is why Abraham Lincoln once said that the soldiers sacrificed their lives that the government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth. Are there true democracies in the world today? Even North Korea calls itself “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”. Political equality is at the heart of democracy. No citizen or a group of citizens should be more powerful than another. But the moment citizens elect a group of people to rule their country it creates the two groups called the rulers and the ruled.

Rulers and their confidants and sponsors become more powerful than the ruled, violating the fundamental condition of equality expected in a democracy. It is hard to recognise, much less solve social and or economic problems that the general public is facing, if politicians and governments are only responsive to elites or special interest groups.

True democracy

Sometimes people just need a sympathetic ear even if the rulers couldn’t bring a satisfactory solution to their problem. People want to feel that their voices were given due respect and a genuine effort to understand the problem and find a solution was shown by the rulers. We are living in a time where true democracy is nowhere to be found. The moment one is excluded from the decision-making process one is likely to find the decision not satisfactory due to some factor(s) perhaps unique to that individual. Sri Lanka has a long history of monarchies and the more successful ones had kings whose style of ruling the country was more democratic than others. What most of the countries experience under the guise of democracy is aristocracy. Between monarchy as the rule of the one and democracy as rule of the many, is aristocracy, rule of the few.

People in general like to feel equality with others and therefore resist being subordinated to anyone else, therefore, organising into a democratic system is easily accepted. Even if the first settlers of a land agree to such a democratic system, they tend to look at late comers or immigrants as second class citizens who should be ruled by them.

This thinking gives rise to an aristocratic system where the immigrants are excluded from the decision making process. Immigrants also do not object to being excluded from the political process as long as they are happier with their individual economic standards, especially compared to their past.

Aristocratic systems can also work well as long as politically excluded groups are not being abused by the system and their legal rights and well being are given enough attention by the rulers. Political systems, as everything else, will undergo change. As it is evident through history, some systems lasted for hundreds of years and some did not survive that long. Democracy, as we know it, may not last much longer either.

The writer has served in the Higher Education sector as an academic for over twenty years in the USA and fourteen years in Sri Lanka and he can be contacted at [email protected]