When democracy masks exploitation
Democracy is a tool not an end. In the West, it is a quantitative concept based on majority-minority criteria, but how many times the majority was wrong such as Nazism and Fascism? Democracy in the West is based on the concept of the individual and of citizenship. Other cultures are more oriented towards groups and communities, brotherhood and comradeship. Democracy as a multiparty system based on free election, one man one vote, is a formal concept. The differences between the parties may be minimal. Democrats and Republicans in USA share the same ideology of hegemony, invasion of Iraq and support of Israel. Democracy here is used as a tool to implement liberal economy and not as a value in itself. It is even as a comouflage, a cover-up to hid exploitation and hegemony.
This text represents the first contribution of Hassan Hanafi in his dialogue with Andrew Arato, published by the magazine Reset in its September-October 2007 issue (no.103).
Democracy became a password in contemporary socio-political jargon after 11-9-2001. The drama of the whole world is due to the lack of Democracy and consequently the necessity of democratization of the non-democratic world, namely the Muslim World, since the authors of 11-9 are Arab Muslims. The error is in the other not in the self. The other is guilty, the self is innocent. Events of 11-9-2001 are actions not a reaction to something else, power without justice, globalization as a new form of hegemony, a new cry of the oppressed against the new symbols of power, WTO, the Pentagon, the White House, economic, military and political power. Everybody does remember 11-9-2001, nobody remembers 28-9-2000, the beginning of the second Intifada, left alone for a whole year, houses and fields destroyed, women and children massacred, and activists physically liquidated. Which September makes a landmark in history, and whose history? Reviewing previous literature on democracy is a real hardship. It is not a study of an object but an object of study. It requires a complete historical survey full of hear-say contradicting arguments. Phenomenological description of living experiences of democracy is much more productive if their essences are shared by all in a comprehensive inter-subjective experience. References, marginal notes, names of books and authors sometimes obscure more than clarify. They are even used as a comouflage for the absence of meaning and a breakthrough in the field. It falls into academic pedantism. It confuses information and knowledge, the already known and the not yet known. Besides, most secondary literature is a Western one which makes human culture one sided. In Asia, Africa and Latin America there is a huge literature on the subject rarely mentioned. Many is written in non-European languages.
Democracy is a tool not an end. It is a means to implement something else, namely national objectives. Other means are also possible including authoritarianism. The South Korean experience of development was made under an authoritarian regime. The Japanese experience was made by corporative value-system based on communitarianism, loyalty, dedication, sacrifice, work ethics, and perfectionism. The huge Egyptian experience of Nation-building under Mohammed Ali in the XIX century was made by the enlightened despot. Since liberalism is a pre-requisite for democracy, not every culture passed through a liberal period. Some went from feudalism to socialism like the former Soviet Union. Truly, liberation was a transitional phase from feudalism to modernity in the Western experience. It was the carrier of mercantilism and capitalism, including social democrat and Christian-democrat political parties in the West. "Oriental Despotism" may express the spirit of the East according to Montesquieu. In fact, there is no opposition between a strong and charismatic leadership and mutual consultation and national consensus. Liberalism or authoritarianism as two opposite alternatives may express Western dichotomic worldview based on "Either-or" way of thinking. Democracy, no doubt, is a universal value as such and in itself, based on mutual consultation and against monopoly of opinion. The truth, even a relative one, can be reached more soundly by a consensus rather than by a simple individual opinion. The inter-subjective experience is more certain than the subjective one. A universal and objective judgement can be attained through reciprocity of consciousness which gives according to Husserl a higher degree of objectivity based on adequacy between several subjective experiences namely consensus, different from the classical scientific definition of truth Adequatio Ratio in Rei or the new subjective Heidegarian one άλετεία. Democracy, the power of the people, is a cognitive power before being a political power.
“One man one vote” is a formal concept
Democracy as a concept may differ from a culture to another. In the West, it is a quantitative concept based on majority-minority criteria. The truth is with the majority against the minority. The majority is the winner, the minority is the loser. The first is in power, the second is in the opposition. The balance may change next vote. The majority becomes minority in opposition and the minority becomes majority in power. The truth becomes falsehood and the falsehood becomes truth. The quantity makes quality, might makes right. How many times the majority was wrong such as Nazism and Fascism, one day having almost absolute majority? How many times minorities were wrong such as resistance and liberation movements and after victory they became right? For a classical philosopher the body is quantity, the soul is quality, and the question is: who is directing whom? Democracy in the West is based on the concept of the individual and of citizenship. Other cultures are more oriented towards groups and communities, brotherhood and comradeship. The individual is a brother or a comrade.
The individual does not exist Per-se but within the community, the family, the tribe or the sect. Democracy in such cultures is based on co-alitions and compromises between different groups. The same things occurs in Japan. Democracy is a national consensus or an agreement between different fractions. Democracy as a multiparty system based on free election, one man one vote, is a formal concept. The differences between the parties may be minimal. Two big parties are in power alternatively or in a coalition may share the same ideology with different accents. Democrats and Republicans in USA share the same ideology of hegemony, invasion of Iraq and support of Israel. Labor and conservatist parties in United Kingdom share the same ideology similar to USA two big political parties. Likud and Labor parties in Israel share the same ideology concerning the aggression on the Palestinian people, and the continuation of occupation of the West Bank and Gaza strip including Jerusalem. The objectives of the parties especially in foreign policy are the essence of the party, not its name or the number, in power or in opposition. Democracy is not a Façade, forms and devices, or political games for transfer of power. Sometimes national interests are sacrificed for political parties interests in power or in opposition.
Political Propaganda and the power of the mass media have a big impact on the vote, not necessarily a conscious reading of the political program of each party. One man one vote is a formal concept, given the differences of education and of political awareness between voters. The phenomena of the absentees began to be more visible, year after year. Peoples become more and more apolitical, feeling political apathy. They had enough from the system, the multiparty system is run for the benefit of the parties not of the country. Some vote green. At least the defence of the environment is something useful, for the benefit of all and for human survival. Sometimes the result is 50%/50% or almost couple of thousands votes decide who is in power and who is in opposition. Frauds in voting are common practices even in the most famous democracies. The multi-party system did not prevent corruption: undeclared funds for election campaign, spying on the opposition party as in the famous Watergate, briberies for better treatment after the election. Corruption sometimes reaches Presidents and Vice-Presidents. Plotting against other political regimes by coups d'etat or by direct invasion became a common practice in the most Democratic States. Democracy is sometimes double standard. The so-called Democratic States may support the most dictatorial political regimes as far as these regimes are allied with Western powers and serve their interests. Violation of human rights is tolerated as far as political regimes are allied to the so-called Western democratic States. They are opened and used as a whip once these regimes disobey big powers and defend national interests.
Democracy in the West did not prevent the surmounting rise of extreme right wing New Nazi party in Germany, new right trends in France and Austria, Christian-Zionist fundamentalism in USA and extreme right wing, the Likud in Israel. Democracy as a façade goes in one direction and anti-democratic socio-political forces go into another direction. Minorities problems in the West till now are not resolved. In USA, red Indians are in reservations, Black, Chicanos, Apalachians, and the colored are sub-groups. The melting pot is a myth. Democratization with other items such as civil society, governance, minorities, human rights, gender…etc is a foreign agenda conceived by Western democratic states to be imposed on the so-called non-democratic ones. The aim is not to implement democracy as such but to get rid of the remnants of the Nation-States of the sixties: defending public sector, food subsidies, free education, industrialization, sustainable development, economic planning…etc, policies for which masses are longing nowadays. The aim is to build a socio-political basis for globalization and market economy based on competition and profit, requiring open borders and the relinquish of national sovereignty. Democracy here is used as a tool to implement liberal economy and not as a value in itself. It is even as a comouflage, a cover-up to hid exploitation and hegemony. Global governance is a substitute to nation state. Global economy is another substitute to national economy.
Hassan Hanafi is a professor of philosophy at the University of Cairo, where he has been head of the Philosophy Dept. since 1988. Over the course of his career his interests have been focused on analyses of Islamic and Western philosophical traditions and on the relationships which have bound them.