Monday, June 2, 2014

The many modern problems of ‘an excess of democracy’.


The world is currently beset by the effects of an excess of democracy, but this means different things in different countries.

In fact an excess of democracy in some countries is often defined as a deficit by outsiders.
Whichever it really amounts to, excess or deficit, the issues of democracy being suffered by many countries at the moment are both dangerous and laughable.

In the newspapers at the moment are a veriety of countries suffering from: 1) unrestricted democracy driving them to stupid actions; 2) restricted democracy for fear of stupid actions; and 3) manipulation of limited democracy by regimes which are willing to commit stupid actions as long as it disatracts the unleashed tiger of democratic pressure.

What fun.

On the unrestricted democracy driving people to stupid actions front, we see the following…

The Ukraine being torn apart by every town council with – 1) a grievance; or 2) temporarily controlled by a thug who has been able to oust the more traditional leaders; or 3) willing to be bought off with a combination of threats and bribes – holding referendums on succession from the Ukraine and accession to the Russian Federation. (Read Putin’s Third Reich… oh sorry, I’m sure that word was supposed to be Third Empire…)

Amusingly the majority of the badly educated but extremely pompous and self righteous Western Media considers these votes to be anti-democratic, presumably because they are protest votes within the established nation state. (Modern journalists have never been able to cope with the concept of evil dictators not being allowed to mass murder their own people.. as long as it is within the borders of an extablidhed nation state, anything goes… doesn’t it Geoffrey Robertson?)

By contrast Scotland is being asked to carry out a similar referendum on succession, which many of the same journalists consider to be highly democratic, apparently because the British nation state, which has been around many centuries longer than the Ukraine nation state, is more evil or anti-democratic or something?

I personally have nothing against devolution. Smaller is better being a default position in government Although this should always be tempered by the ‘too small to defnd yourself means you better have good neighbours to help’. I presume Scotalnd would like the sort of free ride on defence that places like New Zealand and Canada and Ireland have always enjoyed at someone elses expense! But I wonder if Scotland, which is gloating over the prospect of getting sole control of  the North Sea Hebridean oil fields, has identified that the Hebrideans have never considered themselves Scots? What if they hold a referendum on independence from Scotland? Then what if the Isle of X wants to succeed from the Hebrides? Or the village of X from the Island? Where do our self righteous journalists consider we would be crossing a line?

Meanwhile the European Union, which is rightly terrified of a wave of similar independence movemnts amongst the Basque in Spain, and the northern states of Italy, and half of Belgium, and just about everywhere in the Balkans: would depserately prefer not to have to deal with a decision on whether Scotland would be able to stay a member of the EU. Their problem being amplified by the fact that the EU elections have just thrown up a significant percentage of anti-EU parties in their disfunctional parliament. (I have been trying to remember another disfunctional European parliament where a party with 25-30% of the vote wanted to tear it down… oh yes, that would be the Weimar Republic wouldn’t it? )

The comparison with fascists is not really fair here I suppose. Most of the anti-Eu parties are no where near fascists. Most of them have policies that are over the top socialism, or extremely left wing anti-immigrant worker lines similar to those pushed by Socialist and Communist parties throughout Europe for decades… But then the National Socialist Workers party was just that wasn’t it, even if some people imagine that it can be distinguished as extreme right from the extreme left for some reason or other… (I wonder what the distinction they identify really is? Command economy dictatorial nutters are command economy dictatorial nutters whether you call them Communists or Fascists. The only distinction I have ever been able to see between them is the quality of their tailors!)

Meanwhile the ‘restricting democracy to avoid stupid actions’ group has been joined by Thailand, where the military has very reluctantly come to the conclusion that – no matter how much they don’t want to repeat their previous efforts at running the place (all of which they acknowledge were dreadful failures) – leaving the current deadlock and steadily expanding violence to fester into a full blown civil war is probably worse.

Naturally most Western journalists consider the miltary intervention a bad thing, and refer to it as a coup or regime or junta. Not sure what they think the military should do instead? Presumably a violent and bloody civil war is OK as long as some democratically elected figure causes it? Wonder if they expect the military to then support the ignorant peasants who have voted en masse for the loonatic fringe party over the educated middle class who actually run the country and attempt to make it work (and who have been slowly dragging it out of the 14th century).

I suspect the media think the miltary should bow to the party with 50.001 of the vote and do whatever socialist inspired lunacy they want… Wonder if those media types have noticed that A) the history of this sort of pandering to Communist and Socialist lunatic fringe parties in China nd Vietnam and Cambodia and indeed anywhere in Asia, is some of the most appalling bloodbaths in all of history (to say nothing of putting back economic advancement by decades or even centuries); and B) the military officers are all from the middle class that the loonatic socialist fringe parties immediately try to destroy (and often murder en masse). Good luck with that.

Makes me reconsider the poor Fijian military, which has had to intervene repeatedly when yet another attempt at democracy has led to chaos, rioting, repression, shop buring, and bloodshed. They too are learning they can’t actually run things better, and probably don’t want to be responsible for the mess. But they too face the problem of seeing exactly where it is going. (In Fiji’s case too much democracy will see all Indians treated rather like Jews have been on occasion in other parts of the world. What a good cause for the Western media to get behind!)

And the third group, the ‘manipulation of limited democracy by regimes which are willing to commit stupid actions as long as it disatracts the unleashed tiger of democratic pressure’ group is looking seriously scary.

Putin leads this movement (or thinks he does), and is bolstering his regime with the sort of pseudo nationalism and enrage the population against outside persecution crap that has been so attactive to so many appalling regimes that need to distract their people from their incompetence. Genreal Galtieri’s regime thinking a ‘nice victoriuos war’ to reclaim Las Malvinos would divert attention from their incompetence and give tham instant popularity is a good example. Or Saddam Hussein’s attempta ta a ‘short victorious war’ against Iran, or, when that didn’t work, against an easier target… Kuwait!

I don’t know how many terrible governments over the centuries have attempted to distrat their citizens from their own incompetence by convincing them that some innocuous outsider is simultaneously A) scheming to undermine them, B) a deadly and encroaching threat that must be stoped, and C) an easy victory waiting to fall into their hands. Certainly there are a few Anceint Greek plays that seem to mention the idea, and Rome’s conflict with its great North African trading partner fits. I would also posit that the Great War was as much caused by the German ruling classes attempts to redirect the stirring democratic pressures of the newly politically active middle classes – with their Naval Leagues and Colonial Leagues and Place in the Sun movements – as it was old fashioned territorial aggression by the old Junker class.

So the current Chinese attempts to calim every piece of land and sea ever occupied by, or sailed over by, Chinese forces over the last 2 millenium, is frankly terrifying.

For a change, stupid Western journalists seem to notice that this might be a problem. But their historical ignorance has not yet brought them to realise that every 'territory’ over 2 millenium includes all of Vietnam and Cambodia and several of the Central Asian states, and quite a few other places that China was loosely associated with for no more than a few years or decades over those 2 millennia.

There is no way that the Chinese attempt to play the ‘territorial self righteousness’ card…. “We have a moral right to conquor people who are vigorously opposed to being conquored because of some fanciful historical ideal”… is going to be any more successful than when it has been applied in the past. Previous illogical but bloody failures by the Irish Republicans; the Palestinians; the Pakistani’s (East Pakistan or Bangladesh); the French in Vietnam; or indeed any other colonial power trying to hang on to places that reach the point of not wanting to be hung on to: have deservedly failed.

The problem of course is that the more the Chinese try to distract their nascent middle classes dissatisfaction with the state of things by redirecting their attention to the dangers of ‘a conspiracy of encirclement’, the more they are going to scare their neighbours into banding together for self defense. Which in practical terms means their neighbours being forced into exactly the sort of co-ordinated and encircling response which the Chinese need to make their fantasies play well to their citizens. (Hey, it worked for the Soviet’s, and for the Cuban’s, and for the North Korean’s, didn’t it?… For a while anyway… Perhaps they should consult the Kaiser, General Galtieri, and the Soviet Socialsti Politburough on how it works out long term?)

In practical terms all these issues around the world come down to a misunderstanding of the role of democratic pressures within a developing state. Quite frankly, you cannot have a modern, educated, industrial economy, without unleashing the educated middle classes who NEED some sort of democratic input in the process. (As Imperial Germany and Soviet Russia found out, and is China is finding out now.)

On the other hand, imagining that instantly expanding the franchise to every ignorant illiterate peasant in the entire country will not lead to inevitable conflict between the middle class who is driving the process forward, and the ignorant peasants and manipulative old extablishments that want to hold it back, is pure fantasy. As literally hundreds of failed republics over the last 200 years can show, that way madness lies. (And dictatorship, and bloodshed, and civil war, and genocide… hurray for democracy and democratic pressures!)

In truth it is not possilbe to build a sensible and stable government on the basis of unfettered democracy, and it is not safe to let too much populist democratic pressure build within a state that does not have enough room for democratic expression to let off steam. Either approach will lead to disaster.

If you consider human government to be a cobbled together, delicate and unstable machine – which all human government certainly is – then you need to accept that a democratic component will be necessary as the system developes. But the corst visual is probalby of a crotchety old steam engine labouring noisily to keep the wheels turning. The democratic part is that absolutely vital installation, a safety valve. If you don’t have it, or don’t let it do its job adequately, there is going to be a very big explosion, no matter how much you try to temporarily ‘distract’ the pressure by redirecting it elswehere. On the other hand, if you let it expel as much steam as it could want, you finish with a lot of impressive sounding noise, but nothing left to actually make the wheels turn.

The Ukraine, Scotland and the European Union are pretty much the second problem. China and Russia are pretty much the first. Thailand and Fiji represent the points at which someone with some sense of responsibility has identified that they are headed towards an explosion the other way… from too much democracy leading to persecution of subgroups. (The kind of thing the Weimar Republic and the Irish Republic backed to disaster).

All three appraoches are inherently dangerous, but all three are virtually inevitable unless your government system starts with enough basic literacy, education, rule of law, and history of secure property rights, to allow something sensible to dvelope over time. Historically, only this combination has been able to succeed for more than a few decades. (Which is why the Anglosphere and a few other  Protestant states usually have the only stable and secure governments that have advanced beyond traditional monarchies.)

Which brings us to a pillar of light in the darkness. India. A place where educated middle class struggles to move forward, while the ignorant pesants and entrenched elites struggle to hold it back. For almost 65 yers since independence India has failed to find its feet, as too much dmeocracy held it back, and corruption and the decadent ruling castes undermined repeated attempts to continue the economic miracle that was wartime and post war India.

This latest election could break the nexus and let the economic expansion of India off the leash. If so, the backward looking socilism that has destroyed places like Greece might be abandoned before it collapses into fascism. (Stupid voters who don't relies that socialism is the problem, often turn to fascism as a more organised and motivated sounding version of socialism when the world starts delivering the inevitable effects of their previous stupid voting patterns. See the rise of Fascism in recent European elections in the many states that pursued socialism to economic ruin and are now facing severe cutbacks.)

On the other hand, the new Indian government has a fair number of the hallmarks of popular nationalism that have been a dead end trap for so many nations in the past. If the economy's revival doesn’t take hold, what might they resort to to ‘distract’ the voters? (I wrote a paper for the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at ANU when I was a vacation scholar there 20 years ago pointing out that India would probably only be dangerous to Australia if they ever had a ‘Galtieri moment’…)

Maybe India has dragged itself out of the ditch, and can become a proper part of the Angloshpere miracle? Or maybe some minor thing might still cause it to fall apart?

History shows that far more fail than succeed.

But I still say (as I have for decades now) that given the populist delusion that command economy China will be the next dominant power, and that chaotic mostly capitalist India won’t compete, is tripe. (I like to point to how that worked out last time we saw a similar set of circumstances… Command economy Soviet Union being suggested as the inevitable victor ove chaotic capitalist United States by so many academics, intellectuals and media through the 70’s and 80’s. Not that most modern 'intellectuals' or media are bright enough to notice parallels that might challenge their preferred world views.)

Russia and China are on the Galtieri path. Unfortunately China at least might also be on the Kaiser’s path. But they are not going to succeed with their vain attempts to distract the democratic pressures they have to have to be competitive as modern economies.

Good riddance to bad rubbish.

India is at a crossroads, and might… might manage the corner without tipping over . And Thailand is even more interesting. The military has attemoted to harness the tiger, but we all know how that can end. You either tame it, or are devoured by it.

I wish them both luck. They are going to need it.



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