20 September 2010

Article: Democracy Still Matters

Roger Cohen, a London-based "International Herald Tribune" columnist, in an op-ed piece the "New York Times" today published on its website, eloquently paints a picture of the global "anti-democratic tide" that seems at once gradual and unavoidable. The title of the article, "Democracy Still Matters", subsequently cannot but ring untrue.

The full text of the article can be read free of charge here:


Excerpts: "One mystery of the first decade of the 21st century is the decline of democracy. It's not that nations with democratic systems have dwindled in number but that democracy has lost its luster. It's an idea without a glow. [...] Those who saw something of the blood expended through the 20th century to secure liberal societies must inevitably find democracy's diminished appeal puzzling. But there are reasons. The lingering wars waged partly in democracy's name in Iraq and Afghanistan hurt its reputation [...]. Given the bloody mayhem, it was easy to portray 'democracy' as a fig leaf for the West's bellicose designs and casual hypocrisies. While the democratic West fought, a nondemocratic China grew. It emerged onto the world stage prizing stability, avoiding military adventure and delivering 10 percent annual growth of which Western democracies could only dream. China's 'surge' was domestic. It was unencumbered by the paralyzing debate of democratic process.

"When the West's financial system imploded in 2008, the Chinese response was vigorous. A 'Beijing consensus' gained traction. The borderline between democracy and authoritarianism grew more opaque. The dichotomy between freedom and tyranny suddenly seemed oh-so 20th century. The new authoritarianism of China or Russia was harder to define and therefore harder to confront. 'Regimes like the one in Russia are stabilized by the fact that they have no ideology,' said Ivan Krastev, a fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna. 'There is really no ideological means to attack them.' They also derive resilience from the fact that their borders are open. 'The middle class is not interested in changing the system because if they don't like it they can fly to London,' Krastev noted. Having grown up in Communist Bulgaria, he believes democracy was oversold in the 1990's. All good things, at the Cold War's end, were shoveled into the democratic basket: prosperity, growth, peace. When democracy stopped delivering in these areas, it suffered. [...]

"Meanwhile technology kicked in with what the author Jonathan Franzen has called its 'trillion little bits of distracting noise.' People, synched with themselves, retreated into private networks and away from the public space – the commons – where democratic politics had been played out. Democracies seemed blocked, as in Belgium, or corrupted, as in Israel, or parodies, as in Italy, or paralyzed, as in the Netherlands. [...] Obama soon found himself caught in the gridlock of the very partisan shrieking he had vowed to overcome. [...] So what? So what if money trumped democracy and stability trumped open societies for hundreds of millions of people? So what if the rule of law or individual freedom was compromised, the press muzzled, and media-controlling presidents thought they could use 'democracy' to rule for life with occasional four-year breaks. So what if people no longer thought their vote would change anything because politics was for sale? Perhaps liberal democracy, along with its Western cradle, had passed its zenith."

As of now, the article seems not to have appeared in print in the "New York Times", though it may be included in a print edition of the "Times"-owned "International Herald Tribune".

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