Reinventing democracy: any alternative?

(This is an excerpt of the paper that I presented at the 50th Philippine Political Science International Congress Xavier University-Ateneo De Cagayan last April 12-14, 2012).

Observers from the 1970s noted a bleak future for democracy and democratic governments. The pessimism about the future of democracy in those years were strong and the governability of democracy was questioned. The vulnerability of democratic government according to Samuel Huntington comes not primarily from external threats but rather from the internal dynamics of democracy in highly educated, mobilized and participant society. One consequence of a highly democratized and pluralized society according to Huntington was “democratic distemper” or the flooding of opportunities for special interests to bend government authority for special purposes. Huntington argued that democratic distemper or the lessening of governmental authority creates problems of financial solvency and affects the ability of government to deal effectively with these problems. He concluded that democracy is more of a threat to itself in the United States than it is in Europe or Japan where there still existence of traditional and aristocratic values. Huntington writes “democracy is only one way of constituting authority and it is not necessarily universally applicable. In many situations, the claims of expertise, seniority, experience and special talents may override the claims of democracy as a way of constituting authority.” John Adams perhaps had this in mind when he argued that “democracy never last long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”

Today, democracy and the governability of democratic systems confront an unparalleled diversity of challenges in the 21st century. The Economist and Freedomhouse Democracy Index reported that 2011 was an exceptionally turbulent year for democracy. Political pundits confirmed this when they say that democracy is breaking down and may, perhaps, if not nurtured and protected expire in the next 100 years. The two reports concluded that there has been a continuing global backsliding in democracy and that the corrosion was toughened by the 2008 global financial crisis. The democratic recession to borrow the words of Larry Diamond implies a discontinuity in the decade-long global trend in democratization. Now, do these trends imply the death of traditional and conventional concepts democracy and democratic institutions? Or will these trends ignite its re-invention or transformation such that democracy is re-interpreted, become a culture-bound system with a lot of versions, multiplied and diversified. My guess is the death or corrosion of conventional democracy paradigms will lead to its re-invention or transformation. Of course, beyond democracy or after democracy scenarios are also possible. Jim Dator writes “everything that exists now at one time did not exist. Everything that exists now will not exist forever.” Hence, democracy was at one time did not exist and may or perhaps will not exist forever.

Using emerging issues analysis as a method, I was able to explore some alternative discourses that may disrupt the official future and the official definition of democracy. These ideas are largely ignored until they become mainstream and challenge current models of thinking. These weak signals and off the radar views are ridiculous, stupid, obscene and are statistically insignificant. Emerging issues are those with a low probability of occurring, but which, if they emerge will have a dramatic impact on society according to Jim Dator. The Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring are examples of an emerging issue undetected until it becomes problematic.

An emerging issue is the concept of compartmentalized democracy that suggests the creation of a fourth and even a fifth branch of government – the audit or the public exchequer department and the civil service department. Proponents argue that the three branches of government that was devised in the age of the enlightenment is now obsolete, outdated given its failure or inability to address bribery, corruption and nepotism in the three branches of government. A lot of researches found a direct link between high level corruption, democracy and democratic institutions especially in Third world countries like ours (the Philippines). The Economist Democracy Index Report of 2011 categorized Philippine democracy as a flawed type of democracy and was ranked at number 75 (comparable to South African countries). Corruption they argue threatens the stability and governability of democracy institutions and the conventional three branches of government is literally weak against the threats of corruption, bribery, etc. Uninhibited visionaries and social movements (like the PROUT movement) suggest the institution of a fourth branch and/or fifth branch of government. Taiwan has five branches of government with the Civil Service and Audit Department as the fourth and fifth branch of government co-equal and separate with the three branches of governments.

Another emerging idea is the concept of democratic minorities. The minorities of the tribe – a version, an idea pushed by the more advanced and wired emerging democratic countries like Finland, Denmark, Norway and other emergent systems, open system government advocates. Alternative versions of the democracy of the minorities are those proposed by ultra-progressives like Greens, the PROUT movement. The integration of processes and transformations like the minority via the majority test, the emergence of the qualified electorate, party-less democracy, selecto-electo democracy concepts may create abnormal changes to the official definition and democratic processes like majoritarianism, one-person one vote concept, political parties and elections. The concept of majoritiarianism they argue is an old, obsolete, a relic of the industrial era, of eighteenth century ways of decision-making, organizing and socialization. Majoritarianism, in a nutshell, a social invention of the past is no longer a useful design in the twenty first century they argued. It’s homogenizing effect and impact that tramples social and political diversity in the age of knowledge or information society is contested.

As far is Joichie Ito is concerned traditional forms of representative democracy cannot keep up with the scale, complexity and speed of issues today. The PROUT movement thinks that as long as the 51% are wallowing in destitution and poverty and them kept through intimidation, patronage and manipulated by self-serving dacoits, democracy is nothing but a system of demonocracy or foolocracy – a government of the fools, by the fools and for the fools. The emergence of a qualified electorate was seen as an alternative to address the flaws and contradictions of age as a basis of electoral franchise. Voting is not a natural right but a privilege right accorded by a constitution they argue. The ultra-progressives (neither left nor right but on the move and always moving forward) thinks that an economic democracy that guarantees basic necessities (food, clothing, shelter, education, medicine) of the fifty-one percent is essential to the success of democracies and democratic governments. Lee Kuan Yew, (Singapore is known today as a hybrid type of democracy and ranks lower than the Philippines in the Economist democracy index) thinks that “collective democracy” or non-representational democracy is more appropriate for developing nations. China is also aware of this and aspires for a soft landing to democracy as they move towards democratization. Today, Chinese scholars are experimenting with a concept they called the Chinese socialist minzhuahua or “socialist democracy with a Chinese characteristics.” Moreover, these views also critiqued, exposed the weaknesses of political parties and political party systems. The PROUT movement advocates like the President Manuel L. Quezon for party-less democracies and selecto-electional systems.

The concept of public representation is also challenged by worldviews promoting the values of the information society (not the industrial society). Emerging concepts include emergent democracies (cyberspace, pixels, digital, IT) and environmental democracies. It appears that these views challenged traditional notions of power and representations and aspired for smaller, more sustainable, less-corrupt, non-institutional and non-representational types of democracy. The web blog will be equivalent to a vote or representation and thus would not need interventions and election of representations by publics. These discourses or concepts may find its expression in the more advanced democracies like Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, New Zealand and Australia.

There are more emerging issue out there like Islamic democracy alternative in the pluralist-parliamentary democracies and the Indian democracy alternative that aspires for a more diversified and intensified, localized, culture-bound democracy and governmental systems.

The Philippines must aspire for a democracy (beyond the political and formal governments) that promotes collectivism and community values and one that advances economic democracy for long-term gains. Without a doubt, democracy as we know it now – one that put premium to individualism, majoritarianism and conventional institutionalisms are challenged at the local, global and cyber levels. The official or default meaning and expressions of democracy may have to leave and give way to newer forms and more appropriate types of democracies.


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