• Democ­racy or hu­mil­ity? Why not both?

Re­cent shock polling re­sults have opened the world’s eyes to the fact that no form of gov­ern­ment is to­tally flaw­less

China Daily European Weekly - - Comment - The au­thor is a se­nior me­dia con­sul­tant to China Daily. To con­tact the writer at harvey.mor­ris@gmail.com Harvey Mor­ris

Democ­racy, as Britain’s wartime prime min­is­ter Win­ston Churchill is of­ten quoted as say­ing, is the worst form of gov­ern­ment ex­cept for all the others. Even if he did not say pre­cisely that, it is how his pithy apho­rism is best re­mem­bered. It is a handy phrase for democrats to fall back on when democ­racy ap­pears to be un­der pres­sure.

China’s Peo­ple’s Daily re­flected re­cently that Western-style democ­racy used to be rec­og­nized as a his­tor­i­cal driver of so­cial de­vel­op­ment. But now, it has reached its lim­its. In an anal­y­sis that will find an echo among many dis­grun­tled vot­ers in the West, it sug­gested democ­racy had been hi­jacked as a weapon for cap­i­tal­ists to boost their prof­its.

A wide­spread sen­ti­ment within Western elec­torates, that they have been ig­nored and left be­hind by self-per­pet­u­at­ing elites, is seen as a key fac­tor in re­cent elec­tion and ref­er­en­dum re­sults in the US and Britain and may play a role in future out­comes of 2017.

On the face of it, the Brexit ref­er­en­dum vote in Britain and Don­ald Trump’s vic­tory in the US should be re­garded as a vin­di­ca­tion of the demo­cratic sys­tem — the peo­ple were given a choice and they have made their de­ci­sion.

Both re­sults, how­ever, have spurred soulsearch­ing about what th­ese out­comes mean for the future of a po­lit­i­cal sys­tem that is in­tended

Both re­sults, how­ever, have spurred soul-search­ing about what th­ese out­comes mean for the future of a po­lit­i­cal sys­tem that is in­tended to safe­guard the in­ter­ests of all its cit­i­zens, not just those who picked the win­ner.

to safe­guard the in­ter­ests of all its cit­i­zens, not just those who picked the win­ner.

A wor­ry­ing trend that has emerged is a “win­ner-takes-all” at­ti­tude among the vic­tors.

Among some who voted for Brexit on the os­ten­si­ble grounds that it would al­low the UK to re­gain its demo­cratic rights from an un­demo­cratic Euro­pean Union, a dis­com­fit­ing ten­dency has emerged to dele­git­imize the views of those who con­tinue to warn about the neg­a­tive con­se­quences of that de­ci­sion.

For ex­am­ple, the UK’s pro-Brexit Daily Mail news­pa­per de­scribed a le­gal chal­lenge to launch­ing Brexit with­out the as­sent of Par­lia­ment as an un­pa­tri­otic at­tempt to sub­vert the will of the peo­ple. It is an at­ti­tude of “We won, you lost, shut up”.

Sim­i­larly, in the US, there are fears that the new ad­min­is­tra­tion has lit­tle tol­er­ance for the kind of dis­sent dis­played by demon­stra­tors on the streets of Washington the day af­ter Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion.

Those fears may be mis­placed and, to be fair to Trump, he con­ceded that “peace­ful protests are a hall­mark of our democ­racy” af­ter ear­lier cas­ti­gat­ing the demon­stra­tors for over­look­ing the re­sults of the elec­tion.

A pre­vail­ing view among lib­eral an­a­lysts, how­ever, and more than a few con­ser­va­tive com­men­ta­tors, is that Trump’s brand of pop­ulism poses a threat to Amer­i­can demo­cratic val­ues.

A Washington Post ar­ti­cle by vet­eran con­ser­va­tive com­men­ta­tor Ge­orge Will re­ferred to Trump’s “feral cun­ning in ma­nip­u­lat­ing the masses and the me­dia” and im­plic­itly crit­i­cized the hos­tile tone the new pres­i­dent has adopted to­ward China and others.

Others have de­cried the au­thor­i­tar­ian ten­den­cies Trump dis­played dur­ing his cam­paign and his al­leged anti-demo­cratic be­hav­ior since the elec­tion. “Don­ald J. Trump’s elec­tion has raised a ques­tion that few Amer­i­cans ever imag­ined ask­ing: Is our democ­racy in dan­ger?” aca­demics Steven Le­vit­sky and Daniel Zi­blatt told read­ers of the New York Times back in De­cem­ber.

Lit­tle over a quar­ter-cen­tury ago, the Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Fran­cis Fukuyama was ar­gu­ing that the spread of lib­eral democ­racy and free mar­ket cap­i­tal­ism might be the end­point of hu­man­ity’s so­cial evo­lu­tion.

It has been some­thing of a rocky road since then. But it is per­haps a lit­tle pre­ma­ture to write off democ­racy as a sys­tem that has brought no pos­i­tive ben­e­fits to those so­ci­eties where it has evolved.

Re­cent events should, how­ever, gen­er­ate some hu­mil­ity within the demo­cratic camp and a recog­ni­tion that other so­ci­eties with other his­to­ries and cul­tures have taken a dif­fer­ent road.

Within the in­ter­na­tional con­text, what is im­por­tant is to re­in­force the part­ner­ships that have evolved since World War II among so­ci­eties at var­i­ous stages of so­cial, po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment to tackle the daunt­ing chal­lenges that we all face.

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