Democracy and Its Others

By Tripathy, Jyotirmaya | Journal of Third World Studies, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Democracy and Its Others

Tripathy, Jyotirmaya, Journal of Third World Studies


Every idea worth its name creates differences; normative ideas create deviations. The very being of an idea draws its sustenance from dissent; the normative idea can exist only by removing that dissent. This removal is possible only by turning an idea into a norm, and dissent into an ideological crime. Elimination of alternatives and ascribing evil to them is crucial for the norm to be universal, yet no totalizing norm can stop creating its others. Thus universality and normativity are about unending power; the power to define and the power to silence. Universality of an otherwise relative concept cannot be separated from violence and derecognition of alternatives, and is predicated on this sustained mission of silencing. Universality then, however progressive it may appear, is fascism; it is fascism of a subtle kind which legitimates universality.

George W. Bush claimed in his "Foreword" to The National Security Strategy of the United States of America (NSSUSA) that the Cold War "ended with a decisive victory for the forces of freedom--and a single sustainable model for national success: freedom, democracy, and free enterprise." (2) Keeping this victory and its implications in mind, Bush' policy makers claimed that the USA will "expand the circle of development by opening societies and building the infrastructure of democracy." (3) This project of democracy promotion, for its votaries, lies in the essential universality of democracy which can easily make inroads into other political systems. Bush goes on to normativize (implying the aberrance of competing beliefs) democratic values: "the values of freedom are right and true for every person, in every society--and the duty of protecting these values against their enemies is the common calling of freedom-loving people across the globe and across the ages. (4)" Later he argues that "different circumstances require different methods, but not different moralities." (5) The conventional wisdom following the end of history thesis leads to an unquestionable faith in liberal democracy as seen in the NSSUSA. Though recent developments in the rise of terrorism point to the prematurity of the theory, policy makers in America and elsewhere seem to believe in the birth of a brave new world. This imagined world, according to its champions will herald the end of all conflicts. Conflict after all emerges due to deficit of wealth or trust which liberal democracy seems to have solved for good.

Democracy is characterized by an axiomatic civilized form of government that people can have only when they arrive at the ultimate level of civilizational advancement. Like capitalism, democracy comes with the final stage of evolution. In this scheme of things, lesser forms of government and political organizations can be termed as the infancy of evolution and civilization. Democracy is then civilization, and its absence savagery. What is ignored is that there is nothing evolutionary about it; rather it is the production of a particular historical moment. A little historical knowledge will tell us that universalities do not include everybody. It's universal for those who provide leadership and make the most of a favorable situation and time, whereas most others fall off the track. Hegel once said that history is universal for Europeans, but not for Africans for whom the Europeans should give up "the principle which naturally accompanies all our ideas--the category of Universality." (6) The earlier democracy was more a politics of exclusion rather than inclusion because it excluded people believed to be inferior, for example slaves. Even the prototype English parliament which was to become the model for other countries to follow was based on the exploitation of people who could not participate in the governance of their country. The founding fathers of American civilization too forgot to include blacks and women in the suffrage.

Fukuyama believed that with the fall of the USSR, the idea of conflict--and so history, which is the war between competing principles--has come to an end. …

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