Democracy; a flawed system?

Every now and then emerges a debate about what the state’s governing system should look like? Should it be a technocratic government comprising respective experts, a democracy of the public will or a caliphate of Islamic idea? Since democracy is the most prevalent system at work worldwide, by default it becomes the system to be targeted by the critics who aim at revolutionising the governing system. The essence of the debate over democracy as the legitimate form of government has some logical arguments to put forth which, sometimes, poses a question mark against the validity of democracy as the fundamental ingredient for prosperity.
Expounding on a brief origin and the evolution of democracy is necessary before establishing the critical views regarding democracy. The concept of democracy takes its roots from Athens, Greece–the birthplace of most of the early philosophical thought. Athens had roughly three classes to which people were classified. The Aristocracy; the wealthiest and the ruling elite, the Demos; which was the freemen class of working people, and the slaves who were the victims of serfdom and under the control of aristocracy. Since, the demos class of people had an influence in the all important Navy of Athens, it was paid due importance. It is evident by the fact that an alliance was created between the aristocracy and the demos to govern the politics of the city state. It is where the word democracy took its origin; ‘Demo’ from the demos and ‘cracy’ from the aristocracy. Over time, democracy evolved in its meaning and influence to the modern day terms which, by and large, credits democracy as prerequisite towards a peaceful society. Nevertheless, critics remained, and to date still do, skeptical about this notion.
Socrates, the founding father of Western Philosophy, is on record against the concept of democracy. As in the book 6 of the Republic, Plato describes Socrates in a hate relation with democracy. Plato narrates that Socrates while in argument with a character called Adeimantus where he compares a society to a ship sailing in water. He asks Adeimantus that who would he offer to be in-charge of the sailing ship: the sailors or any other passenger? The sailors ofcourse, Adeimantus replies. Then why is it so that a society is being led by some popular character irrespective of the qualification and wisdom, asks Socrates. Adeimentus had no answer but silence. According to Socrates, voting, a cornerstone of democratic process, is a skill which needs to be taught systematically and then to be practiced. According to Socrates, letting people vote without any prior voting skill is as sinful as letting a random passenger with no expertise in a seagoing vessel to head a sailing boat.
Plato also advocated an authoritarian rule by the elites in his book The Republic. He, while reinforcing the anti-democratic form of government, stressed upon the idea of a “Philospher King” who will have all the required knowledge to tread the path of prosperity for his state.
This thought is furthered by Winston Churchill. The then British Prime Minister said, “The best argument against democracy is a five minutes conversation with an average voter”. His cynical views regarding democracy are partially justified as he lost the elections after winning the WW2. He is on record stating that democracy is the worst form of government. Likewise, there is a long list of philosophers and statesman politicians who have serious reservations regarding the concept of democracy as a governing tool.
Today, in the era of technological innovation and media, democracy has developed a vibrant yet chaotic form. It takes minutes for a movement or a demand to get popular notice of the world which would have taken months for such a spread an era prior. This undermines the fundamental tools for better governance: formulating a working policy, which consumes time, and triumph of emotional appeal over logical reasoning. A leader irrespective of his policies and agendas who can struck a cord with the masses’ sentiments is victorious in a democratic country. This is certainly the triumph of mood, as Henry Kissinger would call it, over policy. Furthermore, in the contemporary world of modern communication tools, democracy has become a superlative version of winning the sentiments and leaving the policymaking a secondary or sometimes a tertiary preference. In this form, the democracy at the expense of good governance is fatal for a nation’s progress.
The silver lining still exists as it does in every chaos. Democracy is us, the people, in power (at least by the definition). The voters need to understand the importance of policy in a state’s path to progress. The appealing tool should be better policies and not the sentiments of the masses. Only when masses embrace the ideological stances of a leader on the front seat and push the sentimental appealing on the back, the democracy may flourish in its true essence in pursuit of the ultimate goal–the betterment of the state and its people.

Asad Khan

The writer is a history enthusiast. He can be reached at asad.mrwt.37

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