Why is Democracy so Slow to Take Hold?

Why is Democracy so Slow to Take Hold?

October 25th, 2016 // 7:01 pm @

democThose of us who live in functioning democracies find it hard to understand why even when the opportunity is offered to societies; the growth of real democracy is painfully slow.

“Democracy is the worst form of Government, apart from all the rest” to quote Churchill, but following the fall of the Soviet Union, and the Arab Spring, both events one might have hoped would lead to functioning democracies, they clearly have not.

Russia and other ex Soviet States have not built functioning democracies they have reverted to strong leader dictatorships in all but name. Putin manipulates the democratic process, to the point of imprisoning or even killing opponents, but the reality is he has mass support in Russia in the historical role of the strong man leader, that has worked from the Tsars, through to Stalin.

The Arab Spring now over five years ago, has not built successful democracies. Within Egypt the largest of the Arab nations, the people removed one dictator Hosni Mubarak, to eventually replace him with Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who varies from Mubarak only in being a little younger.

Within Syria the Arab Spring did not lead to democracy, but to a vicious tribal war that has cost thousands of human lives.

Even in Iraq where the US carefully built what it believed to be a democratic system it saw the Shia Prime Minister unleash repression on the Sunni population, starting literally the day after the Americans left, with arrest of the Sunni deputy Prime Minister. This strengthened ISIS who were seen as the only defenders of a Sunni people shut out of the democratic process and to the violence that has followed.

The answer sadly is to be found in two parts of human nature. Firstly the masses desire for a strong leader too make the tough decisions, and to innate tribalism.

Freud identified that the masses that have known nothing else are happy with a strong dictatorial leader, even to the point where they are at least a little afraid of that leader.

Hitler epitomizes this, he projected himself so successfully as a strong leader that the Reichstag (German Parliament) voted democratically to dissolve itself and give absolute power to Hitler.

Vladimir Putin probably does not need to undermine democracy as he does; he has high approval ratings based on being seen as being the “Strong Man” and could probably win elections even if they were fair.

Even in Britain we flirted with a dictatorship, following the Civil War Oliver Crowell ruled as a near dictator until his death, and fortunately his replacement with a functioning parliament, and a constitutional Monarch.

Sadly we need to learn that strong dictatorial leaders may in the short term bring stability and a sense of security. However in the longer term they often bring their country to disaster. It has taken most countries generations to learn this lesson.

Secondly in times of instability our tribal instincts kick in. When we feel endangered we want to group together with people who are “Like us” for safety. This can be based on ethnicity, history or religion, but it is all basically tribalism. When one feels closely linked to your tribe, to see any other group as the enemy is all too easy. This is most clearly visible at present in the battle in the Muslim world between Sunni and Shia.

The difference in religious terms between Sunni and Shia faiths are minor, but when one group achieves power over the other as happened in Iraq they tend rather than working with the other faith, to repress it, and in the case of Iraq leading to a violent backlash.

Democracy is not easy, and runs contrary to some basic human instincts. We have to learn that tribes can live safely together with mutual respect, and that if our tribe is in the ascendancy it is not necessary or right to repress the other tribes.

And we have to remembers that “Strong Man” leaders are to be feared not respected. It is worthy of note that in developed democracies when a leader pushes for too much personal power they are often unceremoniously removed from power. We have learnt to instinctively fear leaders who try and amass too much personal power.

Churchill was probably right to say “Democracy is the worst form of Government, apart from all the rest” but it is a lesson that takes decades to learn, and we are unrealistic to expect countries freed from tyranny to instantly understand that.


Category : Blog &Other Thoughts

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