Democracy and Democratization

By Geraint Parry; Michael Moran | Go to book overview
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Chapter 1

Democracy’s Mythical Ordeals: the Procrustean and Promethean paths to popular self-rule

Robert Wokler

More than any other form of government, democracy is nurtured by illusion, its mysteriously compelling principles deemed both unattainable in theory and at the same time inescapable in practice. So extensive is its prevalence in the modern world that it apparently cannot be overcome by any ideological dispute, not even between capitalism and socialism, since the People’s Democracies of the East and the liberal democracies of the West have proved indistinguishable and interchangeable in terms of it, inspiring the steadfast loyalty of their subjects, as well as the fervent zeal of dissidents determined to be rid of them, each in its name. This all but universal triumph of democracy over the past half-century or so may seem bewildering, since the predominant political doctrines that have shaped world affairs since the French Revolution, together with the great upheavals which in this age have scarred our history, owe their origin in large measure to the perceived failure of democratic policies and institutions. The parties and movements of modern nationalism, liberalism, socialism and communism, that is to say, were in each case built from the frustrations which democracy had spawned—for nationalists, with superficial systems of election bearing no relation to the real allegiances of kith and kin; for liberals, with the social uniformity and tyranny of majority rule which popular sovereignty engendered; for socialists and communists, with the abuse of ostensibly impartial state power in the interests of a predominant class. When the fascist, national socialist or imperialist regimes of Europe and the Orient took root in the 1920s and 1930s, they won a mass following in opposition to the democratic governments of the period, whose political decline and economic weakness after a relatively brief ascendancy made

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