The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

Idealizing democracy

“Democracy is in danger” is a fear regularly mentioned all over the world. And indeed, there is much reason to believe that this is the case.

However, the question to be asked is what kind of danger is threatening democracies.

One I rarely hear mentioned results from the ways we assume democracy should be, that is, what it should give us.

There is a human habit to compare oneself with others. When we compare a  national state with others, there is almost a guarantee that people see more problems in the state they live in than in others. By looking out for problems, people are drawn into details and lose contact with the system they are living in.

It’s the inability to see the forest for the many trees.

Every democracy in the world is based on the country’s history. In the US the declaration of independence established the idea to separate from the British crown and its way of governing.

The values of democracy thus included the ability to overthrow the government:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

The French revolution was a reaction to the French monarchy. It brought the ideas of “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity” now established and symbolized in the French flag. But in contrast to the US, the French system has been in constant evolution. Since 1789 France experienced a succession of 12 short-lived regimes. Starting with a Directoire and coming to the now existing fifth republic. Several times in French history, a political crisis led to an institutional crisis. In these moments the French called charismatic and prestigious leaders. General Charles de Gaulle, called twice, established the fifth republic in 1958. It is in place since then and represents the sum of the learnings from the previous regimes.

In 1949 Germany defined its Basic Law. It has been in place since, with only some adaptations due to the reunification in 1990. The Basic Law itself was a response to the breakdown of the Weimar Constitution and the National Socialist dictatorship. It established two guiding principles: “Human dignity shall be inviolable” and “to respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority.” These guiding principles were an innovation in the history of modern constitutions, an example other nations followed. But establishing these guiding principles also means that the Basic Law has a major focus on the rights citizens have. It leaves obligations in the shadow.

The challenge all of these systems face is to keep the memory of the past alive. That is enough to keep in mind what worked in the past and separate it from the negative aspects in that past which have been counterbalanced by the new system.

It leads to flaws remaining present in the system. They have been willingly established to allow for new learning. They shape how, in every country, democracy shows different flaws, leading to the problems many people perceive as a danger.

Every system contains flaws, they are the compromises made while establishing the system. They are uncomfortable but not necessarily a danger.

Moving forward, our task is to evaluate if the flaws that were seen as acceptable then still serve the idea and values of democracy that country adheres to. It is also to learn from the problems no one expected then but result from the reality we live in now. If any of these can be changed in such a way that that country’s democracy can be strengthened, then we’ve found the danger that democracy was subject to.


Share this post:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *