The Demise of Democracy
Up to September 11 last year, the world had a picture, played over and over in their minds, that portrayed the triumph of democracy over socialism. That was the vision of the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989.
Fast-forward to the autumn of 2001, and that image is replaced by the mind-shattering vision of the collapse of the World Trade Center’s twin towers in New York.
Two seismic events, happening barely 12 years apart—the first triggering scenes of unbridled joy, spelling freedom for multiple millions from the Soviet yoke; the second unfolding visions of horror and fear, the terror of which stalks us to this day.
End and Beginning
When the Berlin Wall came down, producing the roll-on effect of uniting Germany and accelerating the failure of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Dr. Francis Fukuyama, professor of public policy at George Mason University, declared that the “end of history” had arrived. His thesis was that man had tried all conceivable forms of government and all types of economy, only to conclude that liberal democracy and market capitalism were the ultimate ways to organize the world.
The events of September 11 put a profound challenge to that thesis, so much so that Dr. Fukuyama felt the need to write another paper, “Has History Started Again?” In it he maintains his previous stance, viewing the terror of 9/11 merely as a backlash against the onward march of the globalization of democracy to the point of inevitability.
Competing with Dr. Fukuyama’s claims, professor Samuel Huntington, of Harvard University, suggests in his book The Clash of Civilizations that, far from mankind having reached its limit in the search for the best means to govern humankind’s affairs, we are faced with a massive competition between cultures, each convinced that its traditions, beliefs and methods outline the way to the salvation of mankind.
Who is right? On reflection, what did the events of September 11 really portend for the future of mankind? Was this just a reaction from extremist representatives of one culture retaliating against the inevitable onward march of democratization just before it subsumes and overtakes their own opposing traditions, beliefs and methods? Or was this a powerful early warning of more, much more terror to come as the world’s principal cultures move toward a climactic confrontation?
It is timely that we explore this phenomenon and make some real sense of this war-torn, strife-ridden, terror-threatened world in which we all live.
What Is Democracy?
Before the House of Commons on November 11, 1947, Winston Churchill made the following observation: “Many forms of government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
Such was Winston Churchill’s summation of democracy. Well, just what is this “best of the worst” system of government we call democracy? By classic dictionary definition, democracy is “government by the people in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.” Abraham Lincoln simplified it in his famous phrase declaring that democracy is a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
This idea came of age in the 19th century, as what has become termed the “modern age” dawned. Historian Paul Johnson describes the inception of the age of democracy thus: “Toward the end of the 1820s, the world moved a decisive stage nearer the democratic age. … Governing elites began to realize that the right of the few to monopolize political power was no longer graven in stone” (The Birth of the Modern).
The coming of the age of democracy was, in Johnson’s terms, “a grand and unmistakable fact, the culminating event in the way the matrix of modernity was forged” (ibid.).
Thus democracy and modernism are closely intertwined, each providing a driving force for the other. In the process, the administration of government in Britain and America, and in Britain’s dominions, progressively assumed “that the public good rather than that of the governors should be the aim of policy …” (J.M. Roberts, The Triumph of the West).
In his masterful study of Western civilization, British historian Roberts postulates that the assumption that a public good exists presupposes that “things can be changed.” Thus, he observes, the right and left factions in democratic politics emerged. The parliaments of Britain and its dominions and the Congress of the United States operated over the past 200 years essentially within the framework of two such opposing factions.
As Roberts explains it, “It embodies also the idea that politics has a single central issue. In the broadest sense of the terms, that issue is one between overall change and stability, liberalism and conservatism, advance and immobility …. Men on the left were committed to the future, men on the right to the past” (ibid.).
Admittedly this is an oversimplification of the process, yet it is essentially how a liberal democracy operates. This left-right dichotomy, in the words of J.M. Roberts, “was a great aid to political activity, which in most civilized countries gradually became a way of achieving peaceful change by competition between those who sought change and those who feared it.
“This was a great step in the history and political culture of mankind. In the long run even the most successful political systems, those of Great Britain and the United States, for example, could not remain wholly immune from it” (ibid.).
Democracy in Decline
But only two centuries on from the dawn of the age of democracy, this “great step in history”—this force that empowered the governments of Britain, the U.S. and the British dominions to endorse, underwrite and succor the most inventive age of man, this great Anglo-American democratic movement—has faded most significantly from the vigor and vitality of its original vision. To quote Roberts, “To many in the West, their civilization appears to have gone wrong. Much that is unique about it has seemed to turn out to be weakness, or worse. Cultural self-criticism and self-questioning have seemed to lead to cultural self-destruction” (ibid.).
This problem, spawned a century ago with the birth of modernism, has more recently led to the current fashion for revisionist history, particularly in Britain, with many from the intelligentsia and the chatterati decrying their great and ancient British heritage, even to the point of becoming profoundly ashamed of it, having no concept of the reason for it!
Darwinism, Freudianism, Leninism and Marxism combined to throw doubt on traditional Western mores, culture and standards of behavior. This challenge to “the old way” profoundly impacted politics. According to Roberts, “In politics, the decline of confidence in the absolute values of liberalism was rapid and spectacular. It ran away at best into an easy pragmatism and at worst into the outright irrationality which fed fascism. Appropriately, the Nazis consciously adopted the symbols of a pre-Christian, and therefore a pre-Western, pagan past” (ibid.). In other words, God was left out of the picture.
Thus Western culture, which had developed to its peak prior to World War i, began its descent into the shoddy mess it is today, with the tenets of classic Western democracy becoming increasingly corrupted in its wake.
The combined effects of the warped thinking of modernists such as Freud, Darwin, Hegel and Nietzsche (with the German rationalist thought underpinning the modernist’s credo from the early 20th century on) consummated in the 1960s and ’70s to rock the very system of virtues upon which Western democracy had been founded. The result has been the production of a generation—now in positions of leadership within corporate, bureaucratic and political circles in the Anglo-American democracies—that has the minds of immature children (Isa. 3:4).
Of all post-war governments, it was the Clinton administration that brought to bear, on both domestic and international politics, some of the worst aspects of the moral relativism. This administration was overpopulated with children of the ’60s and ’70s who had their minds “closed” to reality (in the terms of professor Alan Bloom in his masterful work The Closing of the American Mind) via the brainwashing received from liberal-socialist professors at their universities and colleges during those two sad decades.
Within the U.S., in particular during the Clinton administration, moral sickness in the White House skewed the perspective of the governing elite away from the old moral absolutes and tore at the fabric of true democracy that had underpinned America in its greatest era of growth and development. The result has been a warping of the national perception of just what it is that American democracy stands for.
As Prof. Wesley McDonald of Elizabethtown College, Penn., comments, “The American political culture has changed so dramatically during the Clinton era that it is now reasonable to conclude that the social, moral and cultural basis necessary for the prevalence of genuinely conservative ideas no longer exists” (Salisbury Review, Winter 2000).
There simply cannot be a genuine democracy without a strong representation of the genuine conservative ideas upon which it was founded. Unless those fundamental democratic virtues are given a strong voice of support, the moral relativism of the left will overwhelm society and work to destroy its democratic foundations.
Spreading the Word
Looking back over the past century, what is of greatest significance that Western democracy has gifted to the rest of the world?
The terrible legacy of left-wing, liberal-socialist revisionism is that the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater. In their self-righteous attempts to decry their own rich heritage, Anglo-American revisionist historians, media merchants and their ilk simply try to bury the facts of history in their overt attempts to be politically correct.
A more objective analysis of the legacy of the Western democracies comes from the pen of J.M. Roberts: “[I]f we are seriously concerned about our own sensitivity to ethical nuance, we ought also to recognize that administrators, missionaries, teachers were often right in thinking that they brought valuable gifts to non-Europeans. Those gifts included gentler standards of behavior toward the weak, the ideal of a more objective justice, the intellectual rigor of science, its fruits in better health and technology, and many other good things. They spread progressive, humane aspirations about the world. In some places, the mere bringing of settled order was by itself an unquestionable good. They could also point, as time went by, to economic changes which brought new opportunities, longer lives, more comfort” (op. cit.).
The deepest roots of the missionary zeal that has promoted liberal democracy worldwide are anchored in America. Eric Bjornlund, former director of Asia programs at the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, explained, “From the time of President Woodrow Wilson’s crusade to ‘make the world safe for democracy’ to the era of the Cold War, Americans of virtually all political persuasions shared an ideological commitment to advancing the democratic cause in the world. … Washington now devotes some $700 million annually to democracy promotion” (Wilson Quarterly, Summer 2001).
The problem is that this effort to spread the gospel of democracy is predicated on one erroneous assumption—that all peoples think and act like Americans. They don’t! Hence, when the U.S. naively tries to force foreign nations into the mold of its style of liberal democracy, it is nonplussed when it finds out that “not all of the industry’s ‘players’ share the same commitment to democracy, and some are willing to sacrifice its pursuit to other foreign-policy goals” (ibid.).
Since the 1970s, the “democratization” of many of the world’s nations has been a priority in U.S. policy. Samuel Huntington has observed that in the late 1970s, a “third wave” of democratization commenced with transitions of forms of government in Spain and Portugal. This spread to the Hispanic countries of Latin America and leaped across the Pacific to parts of Asia.
The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 catalyzed the spread of democratic government throughout Eastern and southern Europe. During the 1990s, parts of Africa and Asia jumped on the democratic bandwagon. All told, 50 countries have transitioned from other forms of government to “democratized” administrations since 1988.
But the question is, why? Why this wave of “democracy” sweeping across the world over the past 30 years, and in particular the past decade and a half? How legitimate is this change, and what has motivated it?
The tenuous nature of much of this process is highlighted by Eric Bjornlund: “In the last decades of the 20th century, democracy established itself as the world’s dominant political ideal. Yet much of the world’s population has yet to enjoy democratic rights, and the commitment of many ostensibly democratic countries remains questionable” (ibid.).
That this process has coincided with the massive export of American-produced television programs, music and other entertainment is more than coincidental. Human beings are generally not moved by logic or reason. It is imagination, emotion, feelings that motivate the masses of mankind. The appeal of “the good life”—typed by everything from its subculture of entertainment and national laid-back uniform of jeans, sweatshirt and sneakers to its voracious American-style consumerism and promotion of free and unmitigated choice within an economy of plenty—has been a powerful magnet to those in foreign lands. The simple equation in most minds is, “Democracy equals all of this.”
There is a problem in this idea, however. As America has dumbed down its culture—its taste in all things from food to dress, from music to sitcoms—the quality of life and the fruits thereof are painting a very different picture of the results of democracy to the rest of the world from that which our Founding Fathers envisioned. Family breakdown, a huge drug subculture, rampant sexual perversion, violent crime—all these bitter fruits now being reaped by an Anglo-American society in decline are being perceived by undemocratic, religiously zealous, reactionary regimes as dramatic proof of the failure of the great Western dream.
This perception has contributed to the Islamic backlash. It is, right now, exacerbating relationships between the U.S. and Europe. It is destined to have a horrific effect, ultimately, on the U.S. and Britain and its dominions. Already, comparisons between the benefits of old-style autocratic rule and Western-style democracy are being made, even by some in the West.
Rights Without Responsibility
British journalist Katie Grant recently visited the autocratically ruled country of Turkmenistan. Her summation? “Turkmenistan may not be a free country, but there is no trash culture, no graffiti, and the people are happy.” This country has no tradition of democracy. Yet, as Grant observes, “[T]he rule of an autocrat does have an up side. We extol democracy, which allows societies to operate on the level of the lowest common denominator, as the best way to function. But when you compare our filthy streets and yob culture with the dignity of the Turkmen, democracy seems a shoddy affair. We haven’t risen to Bach; we have sunk to Marilyn Manson” (Spectator, June 29).
Katie Grant’s message to those who seek to impose, with such zeal, the West’s form of liberal democracy on foreign countries is bitingly accurate, given the massive evidence of the system’s current failures. “[T]hose who try to export Western democratic values should remember that for many of the Turkmen people there are a good many things that are right. When we export democracy, we export Big Brother. When we insist on the supremacy of individual rights, we export family breakdown and the culture of whinge and litigation” (ibid.).
As perceived by the Founding Fathers, democracy was to offer the citizenry freedom under the law. But if the citizenry lose their fear of breaking the law because those responsible for legalization and the upholding of the law remove its sting, the process simply breaks down. It is well known that, in some Arabian countries, you may leave your Mercedes Benz at curbside with the keys in the ignition. Why is this so? The fear of having a hand chopped off for thievery simply diminishes drastically the motive of any would-be car thief. Tough justice—but it works!
The idea of Western-style democracy contained, from its beginnings, the seeds of its own destruction. By stressing that human beings possessed certain “inalienable rights,” the Founding Fathers opened the way for a far-less-democratic liberal-socialist generation to elevate the concept of human rights above the obligation of human responsibility.
The managing editor of The New Criterion, Roger Kimball, puts it this way: “In our own time, a time when everyone is clamoring for his or her ‘rights’—when new ‘rights’ pop up like mushrooms—it is worth remembering that every right carries with it a corresponding duty. Some rights may be inalienable, but none is without price” (National Interest, Spring 2002).
Fear of Excellence
An additional price that failing Western democracy is now paying is in a particular form of the dumbing down of society—a move away from the old desire to be the best and toward a desire to blur all distinctions between people’s unique abilities.
Kimball expresses this phenomenon thus: “Radical egalitarianism—egalitarianism uncorrected by the aspirations of excellence—would have us pretend that there are no important distinctions among people; where the pretense is impossible, it would have us enact compensatory programs to minimize, or at least to paper over, the differences. The results are a vast increase in self-deception, cultural degradation and bureaucratic meddlesomeness” (ibid.).
The standards of excellence which were the aspirations of previous generations—in times when the British benignly ruled the greatest empire and the U.S. became the mightiest single nation on Earth—are buried in a mire of mediocrity. The false premise that we all must dumb down into a gray, amorphous mass of equality “threatens to overwhelm the impulse to achieve and to excel” (ibid.).
This insidious trend saps the nation’s political will. Such is certainly in evidence over the present debate on Iraq. The U.S., rather than show the courage for immediate retaliation against a crazed, petty despot rattling his bio-chemical and pending nuclear weaponry in the Middle East, is spending months in fruitless debate seeking the approbation of the world, including its enemies, before it deigns to strike with any force to wipe such a pestilential threat from off the face of the map!
Every Government Tried
Western democracy has had its day.
Western civilization is in crisis and decline. It has been so since the First World War shattered the hope that Western culture was on the road to continuous progress toward a more rational and enlightened age. The Second World War shook Western democracy to its foundations. The cradle of democracy, the continent of Europe, came to realize at that point that the savagery of the “civilized” man had far outdone that of the barbarians who had preceded him.
On reflection, there appears to be no other forms of government left for man to try. Having experimented with all forms over millennia of time, the major shift over the past two centuries has been from aristocracy to democracy—from being governed by a small, privileged elite to government by the masses.
The Anglo-American democracies lost more of their own precious nationals fighting in defense of this democratic system over the past century than any other campaigns in the history of humankind. Has it been worth it? A most provocative view has been put forward in reflection on this question by Mark Malvasi, history teacher at Randolph-Macon College, Ashland, Va. Reflecting on 100 years of democracy, Malvasi muses, “To the extent that we have mastered nature and won our freedom, we have rejected the limitations of the human condition. No longer compelled to beseech God, we are confident that we are gods unto ourselves. Yet every day we witness the terrible consequences that follow when men, who no longer see the virtue of imitating Christ, arrogate to themselves the role of God” (Intercollegiate Review, Fall/Spring 2000-2001; emphasis mine).
How intriguing! The system that shopped “God” around the world, that publicized the life of Jesus Christ to millions of pagans in far-off lands, “no longer see[s] the virtue of imitating Christ.”
While enlightened historian John Lukacs maintains that “The historicity of Jesus Christ … is incontestable” (A Student’s Guide to the Study of History), other members of the intelligentsia seek to bury this fact as an irrelevance in terms of the heritage of Western democracy!
“Modern ideologues, whether of the right or of the left, have vowed to make irrelevant the appearance of Christ in history by somehow returning us to our original innocence. None have made good on their promises. These failures have contributed to the general revolt against civilization and to the desire among many to embrace a life of perpetual irresponsibility and self-indulgence” (Malvasi, op. cit.; emphasis mine).
Mark Malvasi sees little about which to be optimistic for the survival of Western democracy: “It would be naive to pretend to optimism about our situation, even the sort of optimism that derives from knowledge of having seen the worst. … We hope without reason, even as events in this world suggest that hope is unwarranted and unwise” (ibid.).
Yet, it is amid such hopelessness within human society that those who truly worship God, who truly understand the reality of Jesus Christ, should take heart. Their hope is not “without reason”! It is a sure hope of a far, far better future than that which the “worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time” could ever give to mankind. It is a real and eternal hope of the exciting, glorious, God-given potential of humankind!
The horrifying events of the past century, its “wars and rumors of wars,” were but the fulfillment of Christ’s prophecies of these phenomena contained in Luke 21:8-11. The terror ushered in by the great attack on American soil on September 11 is but the early beginnings of a terror that will have men’s hearts failing in the last hour of man’s civilization under his own rule (Luke 21:22, 26). But Jesus Christ told His followers, “[W]hen these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh” (v. 28).
Yes! It’s time to look up! Look up in the sure hope of the return to this Earth of your Savior to quell all forms of government—including mankind’s best attempts at his doomed democracy—and impose the perfect form of God’s government upon all mankind—forever! As Isaiah 9:7 says, “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.”