Democracy: Not a State but an Art
With great impatience and with a raised finger pointing in the direction of Northern Africa or other young democracies, we disparagingly criticize that they don’t instantly become stable democracies in the first year after their respective revolution.
We also objurgate politics and institutions when democratic consensus takes a little longer and doesn’t bring back the desired results in the first round of negotiations. All of this occurs in a state of ignorance over the equality of interests and over the fact that their reconciliation will always take time. Still, we choose to be judgmental about the opinions of others too often. So, do we righteously judge young democracies?
From today’s view point and according to general perception, it looks as if France mutated from monarchy to democracy right after the French Revolution. What happened instead were civil wars, democratic experiments, setbacks, massacres, and chaos (cf. Primacy of Politics, S. Berman). Only as late as the Fifth Republic under de Gaulle (!) after 1959 may France be qualified as a stable democracy. Over 160 years passed before France could arrive at a state of stable democratic institutions. Lets now have a look at the United States of America, which were supposedly founded as a democracy. Let’s turn back a page in history. Who was allowed to vote in the early days of the U.S.? Answer: white land owners. Okay, maybe not yet a democracy. Further down the timeline we see a civil war, the end of slavery and an amendment to the constitution. Now everyone can vote except those who failed the literacy tests. Seeing that this made up a considerable share of the people, we conclude that this isn’t exactly a democracy yet. It eventually took more than 190 years to arrive at an equal free right to vote for all citizens in the U.S.
How long do countries take until all their citizens get used to the democratic rights, duties and institutions that are necessary for a functioning democracy? The entire population of countries needs to learn what is e.g. corruption or nepotism and what is acceptable in a democracy. How long do we take to be able to lead a discussion in a civilized manner and to respect the opinion of others as perfectly equal to ours? Even developed democracies still wrestle with this phenomenon – but we have the guts to look down on Egypt and say: “What’s the matter with you guys? That was nothing. You failed.“
Departing from the necessity to further develop institutions and mechanisms of democracy to suit a networked society, a long way lies before us as western democracies to respectfully develop this collaboratively. Ideally, we choose to travel via the valley of self-reflection and ascend to the heights of mutual respect on this journey that will preferably not be undertaken on a high horse.
Text: Isabella Mader