Democracy and its others.

Author:Tripathy, Jyotirmaya
Position:OTHER PAPERS - Report


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. This end of ideology/history approach has led people to be euphoric about the seamless progress of the present time under capitalism. It is said that in the time of reflexive modernity there is no reason why we should think of an adversary. When democracy is about creating solidarities and new alliances, thinking or inventing an enemy is archaic. Collective identities, so the thinking goes, which creates a we/they division has disappeared under the dynamics of individualization which forms the core of reflexive modernity. The liberal democratic 'we' includes everybody in this sense, and there is no outside to this. In this theory, the only radical opponent is the one who tries to reestablish an old order. These aberrant traditionalists or fundamentalists appear to thwart the progress of reflexive modernity thereby placing themselves against/outside history. The theory that under liberal democracy and capitalism, communal/collective identities have become outmoded has been proved futile as we see in the rise of ethnic and religious alliances. But the queerest thing about this is that in the present economic melt down across the globe, we can see large bail out packages by states like the USA which debunk the myth of free enterprise and capitalism. No wonder, George Bush has been mocked by many left wing politicians and thinkers as 'comrade Bush'.

It is ironic to note that in the 'end of history' thesis, we encounter the very negation of progress which sees capitalism's victory as the ultimate state of politico-economic behavior. This flies in the face of the very idea of progress and evolution, because the idea of a stationary state which 'end of history' brings contradicts the idea of progress. We are living in a period when alternatives have supposedly vanished and we encounter a standardized humanity (one dimensional men) which treats every kind of otherness as deviation and evil. Fukuyama sees this condition as something to be celebrated saying that "good news has come." (7) Though he leaves open the possibilities for alternatives, the future of humanity is assumed to be embedded in the end of history. However, there is no guarantee that once democracy establishes itself as the norm and market capitalism is assumed to have banished poverty from the globe, everybody in this world will be happy and beyond conflict of any kind. As Fukuyama admits, "the ultimate crucible of citizenship therefore was and would remain the willingness to die for one's country: the state would have to require military service and continue to fight wars." (8). Still there is enough room in Fukuyama to see these as 'deviations' in the saga of progress. There is enough indication at the end of the book that the entire mankind is marching towards the same universal ideas of liberal democracy and capitalism, and that a normal travel will end at the final destination ('the final mountain range' in Fukuyama's words) despite obstacles.

Rather than a thousand shoots blossoming into as many different flowering plants, mankind will come to seem like a long wagon train strung out along a road. Some wagons will be pulling into town sharply and crisply, while others will be bivouacked back in the desert, or else stuck in ruts in the final pass over the mountains. Several wagons attacked by Indians, will have been set aflame and abandoned along the way. (9) But most of the wagons will reach the final mountain range, the Happy Valley, the end of history. What Fukuyama is trying to argue here is that despite hiccups, the march to liberal democracy and capitalism is evolutionary and linear. Any alternative can only be seen as Indians and primitivism.

Apparently Fukuyama got disillusioned with the neoconservative policies of Bush establishment after the Iraq invasion of 2003, which he thought made a mockery of the realistic approach to international relations. His new faith, to be found in America at the Crossroads, takes neocons to task for their belief that "democracy was a default condition to which societies would revert once liberated from dictators." (10) It is quite ironical that Fukuyama, the most important advocate of neoliberal ideas, would see his name being hyphenated with liberal democracy as a misreading of his argument, and would argue that his end of history thesis has been misinterpreted. Now he claims that The End of History was not about the discovery of "universal hunger for liberty in all people that will inevitably lead them to liberal democracy" but "an argument about modernization." (11) Even if we assume that this new reading is the authentic one he does not let his moralizing and universalizing tendency vanish. In the second book modernity replaces liberal democracy, though the obsession with universality continues: "What is initially universal is not the desire for liberal democracy but rather the desire to live in a modern society, with its technology, high standards of living, health care, and access to the wider world." (12) While questioning the use of power in exporting democracy, he has no doubt that certain values remain universal: "Democracy in my view is likely to expand universally in the long run." (13) Though he argues for a demilitarized foreign policy that would make America a responsible super power, he is reluctant to do away with the use of force: "preventive war and regime change via military intervention can never be taken off the table completely, but they have to be understood as very extreme measures." (14) It appears Fukuyama has no issues with preemptive strike as with its delivery.

In another era and another historical period, any politically different system would have simply appeared different. In the time of universal democracy, difference is seen as a kind of deficiency. In this deficiency is implicit utter incomprehensibility of the other leading to a desire to...

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