Date: Fri, 2 Jan 1998 11:48:09 -0500 (EST)
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (David Blackwell)
Subject: Where are we going?
In case of interest to anyone, I share here notes on highlights of an
Was Democracy Just a Moment? by Robert
D. Kaplan, a contributing editor of the magazine and author of a
number of books, which appeared in the December issue of Atlantic
Monthly. The article has drawn widespread attention and, I have
been told, was the subject of an editorial in the Globe and
Mail. I can't help but wonder if the
bread and circus
world of the masses (we are already witnessing) would not also include
as an important ingredient fundamentalist-evangelical religion (we are
also already witnessing). Anyway, here are highlights of the article.
The representative or parliamentary democracy now apparently taking
over the world, as when Christianity took over the west, does not
portend a more peaceful or moral, but a more complex, world. And
subtler tyrannies await us.
Three theses are offered (traceable at root to the shortcomings of
human nature): 1) The
democracy the west is encouraging in many
poor parts of the world is integral to the transformation to new forms
of authoritarianism in the countries targetted; 2) democracy in the
U.S. is at greater risk than it has been before; and 3) future
regimes, especially in the U.S., could resemble the oligarchies of
ancient Athens and Sparta more than they will the current government
It is to be recalled that Hitler and Mussolini came to power in
circumstances of attempted democratic governance. There are many
examples from the
underdeveloped world where implementing
elections to choose governments has led to chaos and
tyranny—Sudan, Algeria, Kurdistan, Afganistan, Bosnia,
Sierra-Leone, Congo-Brazzaville, Columbia, Albania, Bulgaria, Haiti,
Rwanda, etc.. Others, like Venezuala, Russia, Mexico, Argentina,
Brazil, are tottering. If China were to institute elections now, the
country would likely disintegrate. Even India,
exception, contains large poverty-stricken areas of near anarchy
(and is less prepared for the economic rigours of the post-industrial
age than China is). An established middle class and strong civil
institutions are two key requirements for a society to function
successfully as a democracy.
Democracy in the west (as Alexis de Tocqueville pointed out) came about as an organic outgrowth of development. Society had reached a level of complexity and sophistication that became unmanageable for the aristocracy and necessiated transferring a measure of equality and responsibility to other citizens, as well as structuring society into peacefully competing interest groups, to avert tyranny and anarchy. Authoritarian systems, not democracies, create middle classes, which, when they have gained a certain size and self-confidence, in turn demand democratic reform.
Of course, the post-Cold War moralistic mission of the west,
especially the United States, to impose western parliamentary-type
developing countries is rife with hypocrisy and
reflects a realism born of self-interest. In Egypt and oil-rich Saudi
Arabia, and elsewhere in the Middle East, for example, America's
worst nightmare would be free and fair elections.
The current ideological battle between liberals and neo-conservatives,
on the one hand, concerned with human rights and
realists, on the other hand, concerned with security,
balance-of-power politics and economic analysis, mirror the classic
dispute between the recently-deceased Isaiah Berlin and the
seventeenth-century monarchist Thomas Hobbes. For Hobbes, reason is
largely a mask for and slave to our passions and the masses require
protection for themselves in the form of enlightened despotism.
What is needed in the developing world for a successful transition to democracy to happen is a cross between Berlin's idealism and Hobbes' realism, i.e. something between the democratic and the authoritarian (as in Uganda, Turkey, Ghana?). Further, if a shortage of global financial liquidity occurs by 2000, as a number of experts predict, increasing competition among developing countries for investment capital will increase the neeed for neo-authoritarian regimes.
A world government is in the process of emerging. Not the UN (which is
on its way to becoming a
supranational relief agency), but
increasingly dense ganglia of international corporations
that are becoming the unseen arbiters of power. Of the world's
hundred largest economies, fifty-one are corporations. The 100 largest
corporations, although employing well under one per cent of the
world's work force, account for 28 per cent of world economic
activity. The 500 largst corporations account for 70 per cent of
world trade. Corporations are
the vanguard of a new Darwinian
organization of politics.
Corporations [operating globally]
will be free for a few decades to leave behind the social and
environmental wreckage they create. As the world's middle
classes gain greater solidity, corporations may evolve towards less
amoral political and cultural forms. However, the democracy being
advocated abroad is now slipping away at home.
To accurately gauge a political system, one must identify the
significant elements of power within it. Much of the influence
corporations wield over governments is both vast and obvious, but
there are also more covert forms of emerging corporate power: a
dramatic increase in residential communities with defended borders
built by corporations (from 1,000 in the early 1960's to 80,000 by
the mid- 1980's, and with even greater speed in the 1990's);
the growth of malls with their own rules and security forces; private
health clubs at the expense of public playgrounds; incorporated
suburbs with strict zoming—all representing a movement away from
the public sphere for the sake of protected settings.
some form of corporation is what the future will increasingly be
Universities are also being redefined by corporations (
will have to become entrepreneurs, working with corporations on
curriculum and other matters, or they will die—Del Weber).
A central dynamic of these corporate-driven developments is the fact
that society has reached a level of social and technological
complexity that make smaller businesses uncompetitive in terms of
producing goods and services at certain price levels and standards.
Lack of democracy is apparent in decisions being handed down from
above by corporate experts. The more appliances middle class
existence requires, the more producers influence lives.
loses meaning if both rulers and ruled cease to be part of a community
tied to a specific territory and civil society will be harder to
maintain. The conservative flaw is to be vigilant against
concentration of power in government but not in the private sector
where power can be wielded more secretly and sometimes more
Aiding the rise of corporate power is the indifference of the masses
and the waning accountability of the elite. Material possessions
focus people away from public towards private ends and, due to the
compromises needed to protect possessions and economic security,
encourage servility, turning people into
(Tocqueville). We have become voyeurs and escapists. Profesional
sports—the more violent, bloodier and sexually suggestive the
better—provide an artificial excitement that mass existence
against instinct (Bertrand Russell) requires.
believes that there is *nothing* in him, so he accepts *anything,*
even if he knows it to be bad, in order to find himself at one with
others, in order not to be alone (Nobel Laureate Czeslaw
Milosz). People fill their void with celebrities (e.g. the attention
to Diana Spencer's death). The
willingness to give up self and
responsibility is the sine qua non for tyranny.
And what about the future of democracy (rule by the people) under
these rapidly emerging conditions? Power relationships will be an even
more important determinant of how we live than elections than has been
the case to date.
Is it not conceivable that corporations will,
like the rulers of both Sparta and Athens, project power to the
advantage of the well-off while satisfying the twenty-first century
servile poplace with the equivalent of bread and circuses?
Precisely because the technological future of North America will
provide so much market and individual freedom, authority will have
to be exercised at the expense of liberties and living under a hybrid
regime (analagous to Singapore today?) may, like the future of the
Third (or developing) World, be our common fate.