01 July 2021

20th and 21st Century democracy


20th and 21st Century democracy


Topic by Clara

Essay by Lawrence


For our purposes we must understand the term democracy by what people at a given time understand by democracy. This strongly suggests that the meaning of democracy is a moving target for political science, history and philosophy. The separation of powers is a convenient way for students of democracy to understand democracy. But I doubt that voters and people bother about the academic niceties of democracy.


But the democracy of academia does not usually include what people understand and think what democracy is all about. An analysis of the 20th and 21st century democracy must by definition include the view of the people for the simple reason that people only became voters, i.e. the electorate, in the 20th century. Twentieth century democracy replaced the privileged, the wealthy, the land owners and the aristocracy from being both the electorate and the legislature with people we would label as people in the street.


So what can we speculate about what people think is democracy? What is sure is that people in general (but excluding the said privileged group) think of democracy as a means to solve problems they encounter in life such as their livelihood. The privileged group of the past out of necessity of the times wanted to protect their privileged position.


A second assumption is that the voting process is the public face of democracy; maybe seconded by a written (codified) constitution. A written constitution gives people the scope to point physically at something that is supposed to protect their rights. Unfortunately, both constitutions and democracy do not have an automatic trip wire when injustices are committed by the government, or when parliament enacts draconian legislation. We mustn’t forget that parliaments are supreme and not the individuals who voted for MPs.


An important factor of the twentieth century is that this century became the century of economic wealth. By the end of the First World War, the industrial revolution had become the foundation of wealth. Steam gave way to petrol and diesel, horses and carts were replaces by trucks and railways and of course, the airplane became a viable battlefield weapon.


It is not surprising, therefore, that trade unions and the labour movements took central stage in national and international politics. Those who were creating the unprecedented wealth were now demanding a share of the wealth and the power to manage politics and national economic. For example, the violence of Tsarist Russia gave way to the violence of Communist Russia in 1917.  China this year, 2021, is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the formation of the communist party. The irony is not that for practical purposes Russia and China were and are still dictatorships well into the 21st century, but that they justify their dictatorship on the writing of a German political writer living in London.


Of course, it is not Russia or China who influenced the second half of the 20th century, and the first quarter of the 21st century, but rather Germany. If the First World War was a massive mistake by the Kaiser and Germany, the Treaty of Versailles was criminal recklessness. Everyone agreed in 1919 (activation 1920) that the treaty was too harsh and counter-productive. We can argue that the Treaty of Versailles prepared the ground for the rise of National Socialism and criminal nationalism in Germany culminating in the Second World War and indirectly the Cold War.


By the end of the 20th century most of the world population lived under a dictatorship or pseudo democracies. The labour movements and unions became insignificant by the end of the 20th century and as useful as a chocolate teapot in the Sahara desert at midday by 2021. The shame is not that the labour movements within Europe are too busy fighting each other locally, but rather the natural voters of the labour movement have accepted the lies and marketing strategies of the right with their promises of big riches if people voted for liberal capitalism or extreme right wing parties.


Maybe the UK is an extreme example of the folly of the working class voting decisions: voting for brexit was certainly a mistake based on false information. Voting for a Tory party in 2019 that is practically pursuing nationalistic policies of the most damaging kind for people and country is an act of political stupidity. But other countries have been challenging democracy on a big scale, the USA under President Trump, Hungary under Viktor Orbán, and Poland under Morawiecki.


Although no country or government are perfect some historical political errors are still being committed in the first quarter of the 21st century. Indeed, one of those mistakes is to assume that democracy is voting at an election. Unfortunately, voters, or at least many voters, fail to follow up on their vote, and others just do not vote at all: the delusional apathy that “my vote does not count” is the folly of ignorance.


Another mistake voters are making in 21st century and did in the 20th century is to believe promises made by politicians. Many voters fail to and have failed to apply the “Too good test” to a promise. When someone promises us something that solves all our problems, or fulfils our wishes we have to apply the too good test: if something is too good to be true, then it is probably too good to be true. Healthy scepticism should not be something we read in philosophy, but something we should practice every day.


Nationalism and racism have been two political forces that have returned to most European democracies. Nationalism, that exploits tribal instincts, is a natural tool for dictators since it is absolute and intolerant towards other people or other opinions thus transferring democratic power into power for dictators. Democracy has also been weak in stopping racism both in the 20th century and today. The cry of “immigrants are taking over our jobs” never ceases to impress the uneducated or the dogma drunk voters.


The Treaty of Versailles, or the Treaty of Peace as called in the UK, that came into effect in January 1920 was supposed to end all wars except that within twenty years Europe was at war again. Many reasons are given for the Second World War, but the reality is that, as already mentioned, the treaty punished the German people by having them to work to pay for the unreasonable reparations; the political elite remained the political elite with any obvious loss of power or wealth.


The Treaty of Rome came into effective in 1958 and was the first step of alliances that would lead to the European Union as we know it today. Once again this economic and eventually, political alliance was supposed to end all wars in Europe and by and large peace has been maintained for all this time. This success only works if we ignore the disaster of the ex Yugoslavia and the Ukraine and the unsteady progress the new countries in East Europe.


But the weakness of the EU today is the same weakness of the Treaty of Versailles in 1920: both alliances ignored the rights and needs of individuals. One aspect of EU failure was that no social and economic provisions were agreed when absorbing the new people from East Europe into the key economies of the EU. There is no point in giving freedom of movement rights to 400 million people without having a centralised social security rights system that cover health care and unemployment benefits. Leaving these safety nets to individual governments is creating problems for the future. The Covid 19 pandemic has demonstrated this inequity with the disparity in evolution of Covid in member states.


Brexit has also demonstrated that the EU is incapable of protecting its own EU citizens. The EU rights of 65 million people were allowed to be taken away by a corrupt and criminal party governing a country. And even now the EU still fails to help many EU citizens who have lived in the UK for most of their life: the criminal acts of the present UK government includes forcing people with say advanced dementia to apply for settled status. British Euro citizens who have lived in the various EU countries for a long time have also experienced various forms complications. Fortunately, apart from some bureaucratic failures, the Spanish government have been very generous with British citizens living in Spain.


In effect economic turmoil always affects the stability of democracy. As I have argued, voters today are interested in their economic welfare and they use their votes according to their perceptions. Unfortunately, research has shown that there is a direct link between education and voting for nationalistic policies. This means that failure of the EU to protect directly the interests of the people will inevitably lead to chaos and turmoil on the continent. This won’t be new in Europe but it will be the first that twenty seven countries collectively abandon the people of Europe.


The consequences of politics and democracy in the 20th Century and the first quarter of the 21st century is that whilst the democratic process has included the general population, governments still function in the age of globalisation with 19th century diplomatic protocol.


Best Lawrence



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