The No-NoNseNse Guide to deMoCRACY Richard Swift ‘Publishers have created lists of short books that discuss the questions that your average [electoral] candidate will only ever touch if armed with a slogan and a soundbite. Together [such books] hint at a resurgence of the grand educational tradition. Closest to the hot headline issues are The No- Nonsense Guides. These target those topics that a large army of voters care about, but that politicos evade. Arguments, figures and documents combine to prove that good journalism is far too important to be left to (most) journalists.’ Boyd Tonkin, The Independent, London.
Foreword One Of The main themes of The No-Nonsense Guide to Democracy is Richard Swift’s cogent argu- ment that the free market – contrary to mainstream commonsense – is an anti-democratic force. Under the ideology of the free market, the market ‘decides’ vital social matters that in a democracy would be decided by the people. And not surprisingly, the free market always decides that some will get (stay) rich and others will get (stay) poor. Moreover, as the market image comes to permeate society as a whole, it begins to shape the political world as well, and citizens are transformed into ‘consumers of politics’, an audience for the antics of political superstars.
CONTENTS Foreword by C Douglas Lummis . 5 Introduction. 8 1 What is democracy?. 10 2 Democratic malaise. 13 3 Weak and strong democracy . 38 4 Democratizing the economy. 58 5 Beyond the nation-state. 83 6 Democratizing democracy . 99 7 Democracy and ecology. 116 8 Strong democracy in the Global South . 123 9 Conclusion . 141 Contacts . 148 Bibliography . 149 Index. 150 7.
Introduction Since the first edition of this No-Nonsense Guide appeared in 2002, democracy has taken quite a beating – not least from those who set themselves up as its main defenders. fundamentalists (of all stripes) obviously place their received ‘truths’ over a mere set of arrangements where the public get to decide what is true and what is not. That they are a continuing threat to democracy is no great surprise. But the response of the political class to this has, with a few notable exceptions, rallied around the garrison state, with its various doctrines of national security, and there has been precious little concern for the freedoms that have been trampled on in the process. We have been confronted by a new and frightening vocabulary – preventive detention, ‘black holes’, extraordinary rendition, coercive interrogation, weapons of mass destruction, warning systems based on various colors (amber alert), high-value suspects, and illegal combatants. Terms and concepts like these seek to justify arbitrary action by those in power to forestall catastrophe. Democratic rights just seem to get in the way.
2 Democratic malaise ‘The inalienable right to sit on your own front porch in your pajamas, drinking a can of beer and shouting out: “Where else is this possible?”’ Peter Ustinov on US democracy. While democracy has triumphed as the political sys tem of choice, there are increasing levels of popular disaffection. Voter turnout and other indicators of popular participation are in precipitous decline. The average citizen is feeling estranged from the political process and the more-or-less permanent political class that has come to dominate it. Money and those who control it easily shape the results of democratic decision-making. This is caus ing a crisis in the meaning of democracy.
3 Weak and strong democracy ‘In democracy you can be respected though poor, but don’t count on it.’ Charles Merrill Smith, writer. Two strains can be identified in the history of demo cratic thought and experience. One is a weak democracy where popular sovereignty is hemmed in by the individual right to property that holds sway over the collective rights of the community. This theory is based on a notion of possessive individu alism and is a strong market/weak democracy model. The second strain is the notion of strong democracy rooted in the radical republican tradition, which emphasizes the self-rule of the political com munity and the equality of power in democratic decision-making.
4 Democratizing the economy ‘To discuss democracy without considering the economy in which that democracy is to func tion is an operation worthy of an ostrich.’ Adam Przeworski, sociologist. The lack of democracy in economic life undermines democracy everywhere else. Those with economic power – today largely major transnational corporations and banks – have myriad ways to get what they want out of the democratic process. A prerequisite for a more robust democracy is a coherent strategy to level economic and thus political inequalities. This chapter looks at entrenched economic power and evaluates the different strategies for challenging it.
5 Beyond the nation-state ‘The democratic idea itself is perhaps best thought of as a utopian aspiration… we need such aspirations if we are to resist the notion, made plausible by the seeming inevitability of globalization, that democracy, self- determination and the common good are ideas whose time is past.’ Steven Newman in Globalization and Democracy. Globalization and the politics of influence practiced by the major world powers is a constant limitation on popular sovereignty. It takes decisions out of the hands of elected officials or at least gives them the excuse not to act. This chapter evaluates the different efforts to move democracy beyond the nation-state – from structures of regional govern ance to the evolution of an international civil society and a cosmopolitan democracy.
6 Democratizing democracy ‘The cure for the problems of democracy is more democracy.’ John Dewey, philosopher. Popular discontent with our model of weak democracy has undercut confidence not just in those we elect but in government itself. This has rebounded to the benefit of those who would leave everything up to the market. Debate rages as to how to restore popular faith in democracy. This chapter looks at such issues as direct democracy, decentralization and greater proportionality that could breathe life into ossified democratic structures.