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Democracy Good, Demos Bad

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I never thought I would live to see the day when the advocates of democracy would become its defenders. Nowadays, democrats are having to come up with all sorts of excuses to whitewash democracy. Democracy has failed because of, say, capitalism, globalization, the International Monetary Fund, Muslim fanaticism, Hindu fanaticism, Buddhist fanaticism, Christian fanaticism, Jewish fanaticism....The list goes on and on. But my favorite whitewash is the one currently doing the rounds of the drawing rooms of Dhaka, Bangladesh: the people are bad.

If the reader discerns a chuckle on my part, he or she would be right. My funny bone has been set tingling. And why should that be a surprise?



Consider what the above argument amounts to.

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Democracy is good, but the people are bad: the Greek for people is demos . So let's rephrase the line: Democracy is good because the demos are bad. Or: Demokratia is good but the demos are bad. Or: Demos + kratos is good, but the demos are bad. Since the demos are bad, we can safely remove the word "demos' from the initial conjunction thus: kratos is good . Since kratos means strength, or power, we have the final statement that: strength is good. Translation into a well-worn idiom: might is good 

This is what follows when we say that democracy is good, but the people are bad. If a system of government, when thus analyzed, reduces to the dictum Might Is Good, we know for certain there's something wrong with the system. If you dismiss the people as bad, you cannot salvage democracy: the system itself is easily proved bad. 

However, the painters in dungarees who busily whitewash democracy have another argument up their sleeve: the people are good, but their elected representatives are bad. To which we can reply in two ways: firstly, direct democracy, in which there are no representatives but the people themselves rule, would have been a good form of government; this was the Athenian government. And it has never again repeated itself in history.   There is a consensus among experts now that Athenian democracy was based on slavery. Was that a good form of government? And the people were swayed by demagogues into unspeakable acts: they were easily "misrepresented'. If the people were good, how could this possibly have been? Which brings me to the second retort.

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The second retort to the apologists is that if the people are good, but their representatives are bad, how do good people elect bad leaders? They may do so in a fit of carelessness -- the first trip to the polling booth might prove so diverting (especially where, as in Bangladesh, the only other form of recreation is procreation) that the voters stamp the papers for a bunch of scoundrels and rogues. By a considerable stretch of the imagination, one can suppose that they do the same thing during the next election. And then they do it again. Here "the people are good' thesis must be bought at an immense price -- and that price is the admission to the "people are stupid' thesis. If the people are good, then they are stupid. Not a very palatable bargain for a democrat. 

P.T. Barnum has observed: "No one has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the American people'. Well, certainly not George Bush and Barack Obama or the other circus impresarios who led them into disastrous wars.

We, therefore, have: if the people are good, then they are stupid; on the other hand, if democracy is good, the people are bad.   Therefore, either the people are bad or the people are stupid ( For Plato, of course, they were both. ). Hence, democracy amounts to government of the wicked or the gormless. Now, an imbecile government -- government of retards -- will not appear very dissimilar to bad government. In fact, they'll be indistinguishable. Actually, it will be very like   -- the people who defend democracy.

What would you call somebody who, despite all the evidence, persisted in believing, say, the earth is flat? Yes, that's right: an imbecile. And why? Because no amount of evidence would convince the person. Suppose you take him or her on a ship, starting from -- why not? -- Chittagong, Bangladesh; you sail round the earth, and stop again at Chittagong. He or she still insists the earth is flat. How so? Well, the person says that actually you did a clever U-turn somewhere and brought him or her to the port again -- you never went over the edge! You try showing the individual a picture of the earth taken from outer space.

"That looks flat to me!" 

Now, suppose such an individual were given the powers to regulate trade and commerce: what would happen to trade and commerce?   Everything would have to travel overland -- east to west, and west to east. Parts of the world would never be reached. Well, you can imagine the rest.

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The point is that the imbecile here begins to differ very little from a wicked person. And we're not talking about the people anymore. We're talking about those who defend democracy.

They ignore all evidence that democracy is bad and murderous: when presented with unshakable facts, they come up with clever theories to defend the indefensible. Why? What's in it for them? For one group of people, the answer is simple: careers and cash. The intellectuals and NGO-wallahs are like the Church that maintained that the moon was a perfectly crystalline sphere: they stand to lose their status. All that loot from the west would dry up!

But there are true believers in the proposition that the earth is flat (just as there were Churchmen who thought it pious and just to condemn Galileo at the time). These true-blue democrats are more dangerous than the ones who are in it for the money. After all, give them more money and they'll say the opposite of what they're saying today: corruption has its uses after all (if you think this preposterous, ponder the number of Marxists who have gone over to Mammon after -- and the more wily went before - the Soviet Union collapsed and left them without career or cash). 

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Iftekhar Sayeed teaches English and economics. He was born and lives in Dhaka, "ŽBangladesh. He has contributed to AXIS OF LOGIC, ENTER TEXT, POSTCOLONIAL "ŽTEXT, LEFT CURVE, MOBIUS, ERBACCE, THE JOURNAL, and other publications. "ŽHe is also a (more...)
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