Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Is America Still a Democracy?

In his inaugural address yesterday, President Bush pledged to spread democracy throughout the world. In this context it is fair to ask: Is America still a democracy? The Italian philosopher Paolo Flores D'Arcais has an essay in the German paper "Die Zeit" which examines this question: Is America Still a Democracy?
"There are other minimum standards for a democracy, that the United States no longer fulfills. Not too long ago it seemed that the United States was the promised land for freedom of the press, and that the public would not tolerate a government that lied to them. But what about George W. Bush? He is allowed to disseminate untruth with impunity. He lied about the reasons for going to war in Iraq, a war that has killed nearly 1,400 American soldiers and tens of thousands of non-combatant Iraqi citizens. But Bush won a triumphant re-election. His lies no longer cause a moral outrage. Puritanical America is a distant memory. Jesuitism without Jesuits has prevailed.

The New York Times and other major newspapers have admitted that they allowed themselves to be used as mouthpieces for the administration. But is that really meaningful? In reality, the value of newspapers has diminished greatly as purveyors of the product "information". The vast majority of Americans get their information from television, where information is `embedded' in the interests of the administration. Furthermore the brutal competition in the media markets leads to censorship, manipulation and blatant lies at the television stations. It is becoming extremely rare that they respect what Hannah Arendt called " the modest truths contained in facts". Once that respect is gone, democracy is endangered.

Even more disturbing is the creeping normality of torture, the theoretical groundwork of which was prepared in the first Bush administration. The conservative journal Commentary printed a piece in July/August 2004 by the legal scholar Andrew McCarthy where the `Unthinkable' concession to torture was not only made thinkable, but was considered necessary. "There are difficult circumstances that call for measures that are illegal under US and international law."

Now that the critical journalism has been weakened by television, there is only one institution that stands as a counterweight to the administration: the Judiciary. But can it still play the role that the founding fathers intended?

Let's consider the `Bible' of democracy - The Federalist Papers . James Madison wrote:" The concentration of the power of the executive, legislative and judiciary in one hand is the clear sign of tyranny." And none other than Thomas Jefferson wrote in his autobiography:" Good government is realized through a distribution of power, not a concentration." And Alexis de Tocqueville writes in Democracy in America: "What I find most disturbing in America is not the prevailing freedom, but the weak protection against tyranny, for in many states the judges are elected by the voters. I'm not saying that Americans make frequent use of tyranny, but rather there is little security from tyranny."

Even though political scientists are reluctant to admit the truth: In liberal democracies the political right is often democratic against its will. And it often uses the democratic process to its own tactical advantage. But as soon as democracy begins to be taken seriously and the privileges are called into question, then populism rears its head and even God is recruited to the cause. In short, the more true democracy begins to take root, the faster the interests of the establishment are mobilized. It feels threatens, and therefore itself threatens the foundations of democracy: from the independent judiciary to the critical free press. It seeks to undermine the secular nature of the state as well as the integrity of the voting process.
On all points he finds serious inconsistencies with the reality in the United States. Thereby, he says, the US is endangered to divert from the constitution based democracy. What he further sees developing:
When the demons of populism are "called to arms" the weapon of choice is often a war. Every populist movement requires an enemy in order the exorcise the liberal logic of the system and transform internal opponents into `traitors'. War closes the antidemocratic circle of populism and glorifies its components: the community is heralded as `one big family' (or even company) with the father at the head. Populism instills the logic of obedience. Dissent - the basis for democratic coexistence - is criminalized and conformism is the great virtue.

This conformism is now spreading throughout rural America. It is dangerous because its moral values have totalitarian features and minority groups are becoming marginalized, if not demonized. The individual is pressured into obedience; he must not stand out from the `herd'. It is precisely his self-knowledge as an individual that is so suspect to the majority. And here it should be stated: those who degrade a nation into a huge `army' and believe they can prevail by relying on the slogan "God is on our side", they have subverted the ideals of the Founding Fathers and transformed the spirit of the constitution into its opposite.

So more often than not the states that we call democracies are actually democracies in decline. And it's not just a bad dream to think that nations - East and West - are almost imperceptibly moving in the direction of a new political model: capitalism without democracy. China and Russia - each in its own way - are quite openly heading down this path. The America of the fundamentalists and the oil magnate Bush (not to mention little Italy, with it Berlusconi regime) are following in a less overt way."

No comments:

Popular Posts