Has Democracy Had Its Day?

From around 1970s onwards liberal democracy began spreading like wildfire from America. The principles of this type of democracy took over most of Western Europe and from 1990s it even started to implant itself on former Soviet Union nations. Since then, liberal democracy has been viewed as a prerequisite for a stable and thriving country where people have freedom of expression and choice and politicians are always accountable to their respective citizens. America has been so fond of democracy’s benefits, that it even waged a number of wars in the Middle East for the sake of spreading democracy. The view was that the promotion of liberal democracy would lead to a peaceful and thriving world.

However, democracy is currently going through a crisis worldwide. After rising strikingly between the late 1970s and the early 2000s, the number of parliamentary democracies has begun to contract. And in what we call the heartlands of actual existing democracy the US and the European Union- recession, austerity and the near collapse of the financial and banking system, have challenged the legitimacy of the political institutions. The apparent shift from politicians being accountable to citizens, to politicians being bossed around by large corporations and banks has led to the public questioning whether they actually live in true democracy. In the United Kingdom, the overwhelming apathy towards politics is explained by the view that “all political parties are the same.” Indeed when one looks closely at the choices, there is a realisation that these choices are rather pitiful. It is quite extraordinary that there are hundreds of varieties of cheese in the supermarket and yet there are only 3 or 4 genuine contenders for political power in the UK (and even less so in the USA).

The shrinking middle class is one explanation for why democracy is currently in a state of struggle. When things get tough economically for families, the need for democracy goes out of the door. This is understandable, as after all, it is far more important for families to be able to have food on the table and a wage that allows comfortable way of living than a freedom to cast a vote every four years. The rise of Nazi Germany and fascism in Italy is an example of how citizens are more than happy to give authoritarianism a chance as long as dictators promise economic prosperity. Similar scenes are currently witnessed in Greece where economic hardships for struggling people have led to a rapid rise in popularity in far-right (and far-left) political parties. In the United Kingdom, the rise of UKIP (though not as far-right as the British Nationalist Party) is another example of how citizens have simply had enough of the status quo and are willing to try something radical, i.e. to leave the European Union completely.

So what should be done to restore the trust in democracy? First of all, measures must be taken to restore the middle class- that means raising families out of the “everyday survival” that many find themselves in. The level of poverty in the UK and the USA has risen dramatically over the last few years. The popularity in food banks exemplifies that the amount of struggling families is simply unacceptable, especially when bankers continue to receive astronomical pay cheques and bonuses. Regardless of whether austerity measures are working to help the economy recover, shrinking inequality is a vital step that needs to be taken sooner rather than later. That means increasing the national minimum wage to a living wage. It means building more housing in the UK in order to decrease the extortionate rent prices. It means cutting banker’s bonuses and not bailing banks out with taxpayer’s money if they collapse. It means spending more on education to ensure children from poor backgrounds are able to receive the same quality of education as those that attend public and private schools. All of these measures will undoubtedly cost a lot of money, but politicians should view this as a long term investment.

Secondly politicians have to start being accountable to every citizen rather that just CEOs of large corporations and financial businesses. It is simply unacceptable that politicians spend more time with lobbyists rather than with the general public. Thirdly, steps should be taken to diminish the level of general apathy among the citizens towards politics. The first two steps mentioned here may help to achieve that, but it will not be enough. Education and media can play a crucial role in further engaging citizens with politics. From an early age, pupils should be taught about the benefits of being politically active. The media should also stop being perpetually cynical and dare I say, once in a while praise the politicians if they have done a good job. With the rise of technology and social media, it is now possible to allow citizens to vote on matters quickly and efficiently and Twitter and Facebook should be used to build a virtual connection between the public and the politicians.

Finally, here is a truly radical idea. Perhaps it is time for politicians to start being honest. Thanks to alternative media and the continuous work of Wikileaks, the public is now able to search for and find the truth through the means of the Internet with relative ease. It is becoming exceptionally hard for politicians to hide the truth. Perhaps being honest and giving a straight answers would lead to a new and bright dawn for the revival of democracy and an end to the rotten and terminally ill decline of politics.

If these steps are not taken, there is a real danger that democracy will suffer a fatal decline and people will start to look for solace elsewhere. Horrifyingly, the far-right or the far-left movements may once again, just like after the First World War, provide such comfort and history tells us that this will not lead to a desirable outcome.

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Categories: International politics

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