This week BBC aired a televised debate regarding whether democracy was good for everyone and its advocates who say so are correct, or whether each country should decide its own fate and that indeed, democracy may not be good for it. An old editor once advised me not to use the term “It goes without saying…” because if it’s true then why say it?
Democracy is another matter, however. And rightfully so because it depends on how one defines it and whether the definition stands the test of logic. Try the following two definitions, for example: Wiki: “Democracy is a form of government in which all eligible citizens participate equally—either directly or indirectly through elected representatives—in the proposal, development, and creation of laws.” And from the Royal Institute of Thailand’s Thai language definition of the word prachathipatai (democracy), “an administrative system where the will of the people [decides].”
Examples of definitions of democracy from two different cultures are offered because we are addressing the issue of whether one is good for all, and indeed, whether all are good enough for one. To explain:
At the moment Thailand is beset with internal political differences that have in effect suspended the validity of a legitimate electorate process that is part of the kingdom’s formal charter. Elections have traditionally been part of the country’s claim to democracy. Yet those who have challenged the process claim that it is democracy itself they want to preserve by pre-empting a corrupt regime from maintaining power in the country. It’s a familiar story, and not one most conventional democracy advocates like to be presented with. To them, any such claim is merely that of yet another group unhappy with the social consequences that take place when “real democracy” begins to take root.
But whether we are even mildly willing to entertain listening to such a premise, it is appropriate to ask whether a given government anywhere can lose its legitimacy to govern and thus be consequently assailed through both legal and illegal processes to achieve renewed just governance. Looking back, as an American, at our own history in this regard, I recall us actually declaring unilateral separation from England. According to English law at the time, and probably even most so-called international laws at the time, this surely must have been illegal. Yet, it was also seen as legitimate, as necessary and as a consequence of injustice by the ruling government at the time. Transposing such arguments from 18th century Europe and America and using them in 21st century Thailand, even, perhaps, the Ukraine?, we find ourselves arguing not just about definitions of democracy, but above that, of consequences and choices available once a democracy becomes misruled or unable to function anymore as a democracy. Further, what of the legitimacy of those who select and carry out those choices? And in today’s globalized world, what of the key partners and all stakeholders involved in the problem and its possible solutions?
The abrogation of elections in Thailand arising out of the renewed anti-Thaksin putsch orchestrated by senior leadership in the Democrat Party, itself closely aligned with traditional power brokers in the kingdom…this abrogation was perhaps the single most reprehensible aspect of the latest uprising against corrupt governance, or governance said to be corrupt. Mass intimidation among public venues by in your face cursing, name-calling, physical blocking of polling booths, media campaigns touting how loyal and “Thai” the election killers were and are bespeak of old butcheries like the Bolshevik Revolution or the French Revolution. Emotionalism, total lack of reason (mental faculty), hatred of that which challenges…these social and cultural aspects of the 21st century Thai Reactionary Movement are disturbing in the extreme.
And yet, as disturbing is the remote possibility, seen by some, that undermining any basic foundation of democracy, including the electoral process, is just and justified when power is possessed by those who have run amuck with it. This principle, or lack of principle, finds some application in the bastion of global democracy, the United States. Mark Levin, WABC and other affiliated radio station conservative talk host, has repeatedly said he does not nor is he advocating revolution or overthrow…and yet his anger, his frustration, his felt lack of recourse to the traditional gifts that democracy imparts on a free and informed electorate spell a looming threat to the American system of governance – if we extrapolate to the extreme.
If the people, enough of them, or the right people take it upon themselves to impart fellow like-minded citizenry with the kind of righteousness that undermines the workings of democracy, the result is not just weakening or destruction of that system of governance. What also occurs is impediment to future free choice and individual empowerment, increased fear and reluctance to challenge those who need to be challenged.