There is Democracy and then there is a Democracy. And the two don't agree.
What am I talking about here? We have at least two different meanings of Democracy. Democracy can describe either a state of being for a particular society or it can explain the political structure of a society. With the one definition of Democracy being a place where the people rule, but the presence of one kind of Democracy does not always guarantee the other. That is that a democratic political structure does not always result in a Democracy for society.
We can use many totalitarian governments as examples of how a democratic political structure does not result in the kind of society where the people rule. Russia under Putin is certainly not a democratic society. Russia has elections, but Putin & company control who can run and what can be said. The same goes for the old Soviet Union. Once Saddam Hussein was declared an enemy of the United States, we would laugh at the Iraqi elections because we knew they were a sham.
But was our laughter justified? After all, we generally limit ourselves to voting for candidates from the two major parties and, in most cases, money is America's autocrat that determines who can run for office and who will be heard. And when we look at the demographics of our elected officials, we see that those of us in the lower and middle classes are not represented by either the President or our elected officials in Congress. Rather, we are told to vote for people from the upper class who promise to represent us. But how can people in a higher economic class than me understand my problems? Even more important, do such elected officials want to understand my problems or are such people only concerned with their own job security.
A friend of mine told me that he thought that the government should be made up of groups of people who have the same kinds of jobs that those of us in the middle class have. I told him that such an idea is somewhat close to the definition of a soviet. He didn't know how to take that. But his idea would work more towards making our society a more democratic one.
What is important here is that we distinguish democratic societies from those societies that merely have democratic political processes. For though it would be next to impossible to have a democratic society without democratic political structures, it is all too common these days to have democratic political structures in a society that is not democratic.
What is needed to create a Democracy in the sense that the people are in charge? The first thing that is needed is that there are enough people who want to and have the energy to participate in varying levels in America's political processes. Currently, participating in democracy has been reduced to voting every x number of years in elections that are partially fixed. After that, people ignore the government until the next election rolls around. This is why we have a Democracy in terms of political structures and processes, but not in terms of a state of being. To have the later kind of Democracy, we have to take the definition quite literally and speak out loud and long when the government does what we think is wrong.
It matters not that we have disagreements. Disagreements do not destroy democracies. As a protester, I like interacting with counter-protesters. In fact, my experiences tell me that I have more respect for Conservative counter-protesters than I have for liberal no-shows. When protesters and counter-protesters pour out into the streets to peacefully interact with each other, they are exercising and strengthening democracy in society. Both should be applauded. It is those who are too busy with their own trivial pursuits or who try to silence others who pose a threat to Democracy.
The second thing we need for creating a Democratic society is for people to have an appropriate collective consciousness. Using democratic structures so that one's own group can dominate over all others only results in a destruction of democracy. This will be explained a little more when this post discusses a 'Partial Democracy.' Rather, we need to use our democratic structures for the benefit of all, especially of those who, because of their economic class or other reasons, are least likely to be represented by our government officials. Those who pursue Democracy as a state of being for their society want all to participate and all to be represented. This applies to one's opponents as well. Democracy cannot not used to conquer but to either coexist or win over.
There are also enemies of Democracy. One enemy is what can be called a Partial Democracy. A Partial Democracy is when there is some form of democratic political structure but one or more groups have become privileged in determining society's laws and value by gaining control. Their control is often gained through the available democratic structures and/or outside of them. In any case, the privileged position gained by one group pushes other groups to the margins of society.
There are different kinds of Partial Democracies. When the privileged status of a group in a democracy is based on religion, nationality, language, or a particular ethnicity, we can call the Partial Democracy an 'ethnocracy.'1 This kind of group was identified by Israeli activist, Jeff Halper. Here, what we have is a society with democratic political structures but it is ruled to some degree by a particular religious, national, or ethnic group.
Two prominent examples of ethnocracies would be Israel and America in the past. Israel would be considered an ethnocracy because of the privileged status Jews have in ordering society. America is exiting from being an ethnocracy because of the privileged position that Christians have had in society in determining its laws and mores. However, that is now changing and that change is being recognized and lamented by Christians who are calling America in the present time a 'Post-Christian' America. The fear of my fellow Conservative Christians is that as other groups replace Christianity as being a privileged group, then Christians will be pushed to the margins. This fear has some validity but only because such an event would be an expected result of a pendulum swing. And one way to battle that swing would be to push for a society where no group has a privileged position.
Another kind of Partial Democracy can be called a classocracy. This is where a particular economic class has achieved a privileged position in society in determining its laws and values. Though not necessarily writing in a democratic society, Marx helped set the tone for a rival classocracy when he proposed that the Bourgeoisie of his time be replaced by a 'proletariate dictatorship.' Here, the working class would replace the upper class as the ruling class in society.
Another enemy of Democracy is greed. A certain amount of prosperity is needed for people to live decent lives. But after that, the more we want, the more Democracy we are willing to sacrifice to satisfy our greed. For greed will cause us to either lose our collective consciousness so that we don't care about the sacrifices others make to satisfy appetites. Or we will become too involved with our increasing our own prosperity to participate in democratic processes.
In today's America, some argue that we live in a classocracy ruled by those in the upper class. This has occurred because of 1) those in the upper class who have used their resources to hijack our democratic processes; and 2) the political apathy exhibited by too many people in the other classes.
The point of this blogpost is to identify the difference between living in a society where Democracy is a state of being from a society that is a Democracy solely because of its political structure. At the same time, this post has tried to point out that when recognizing that one lives in a Partial Democracy, the goal should not be to maintain a Partial Democracy by replacing the group that is in charge with another group. Rather, what is needed is to include the privileged group in a fuller form of democracy while undoing the control the group has on society. Unfortunately, I've seen websites for too many groups who want to establish a more just society and undo the present injustice by replacing the ruling group(s) with their own group.
1. Jeff Halper, An Israeli In Palestine: Resisting Dispossession, Redeeming Israel, pg 74
|This Month's Scripture Verse:|
Whoever loves money never has enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
This too is meaningless -- Ecclesiastes 5:10