Democracy is the worst form of government one can imagine. Until one tries to imagine a better one. Winston Churchill
Potholes, filth, corruption, flooded roads…any party would have lost the BMC election. ShivSena-BJP shockingly came back to power 2 days ago. Past 2 months has been a tumultuous time for the concept of democracy. Be it Trump in USA or happenings in Tamil Nadu, tone & tenor the election campaigns in North India, people have are really wondering is this what democracy means? Elected (or even un-elected ones like Sasikala) representatives behave with impunity, blurring the lines between tyrants, dictators and those who were ‘chosen’ to rule. Democracy is truly crazy!
Democracy as an idea is very simple. Though all human beings are born equal, we are like sheep who need a shepherd to keep the flock together. Best among us is chosen to lead us, guide us to ensure we live life in an equal and constructive way. The need for a democratic system can be likened to a concept in economics called ‘tragedy of commons’.
As per tragedy of commons theory every individual pursues his own interest independent of the others in the system, eventually leading to disaster of the entire system. For example, all of us have a right to drive on the road as we choose, as we are independent beings. In absence of road rules, everyone goes his way and eventually nothing moves defeating the very purpose of driving on the road. We need to create rules and regulations to ensure traffic flows in a particular way so that all will benefit though it may not suit few. Question is, who creates these rules?
Democracy in the form we know now took its birth in ancient 5th century Greece, opposing the concept of aristocracy and replacing it with rule by the people. In Classical Athens, democracy had a flawed beginning – there was aristocracy in democracy. Only free men were eligible for democratic citizenship, slaves and women being excluded. The first true democratic government was established in Finland in 1906. Today only 3 countries declare themselves ‘not’ to be a democracy – Saudi Arabia, Vatican City and Brunei. Rest all (yes all!) have elected governments. It is entirely another matter that in some countries only one person stands for election and gets 99% of the vote! How I wish to meet the 1%.
Success of democracy funnily is not in the hands of the people but in the hands of the one who has the power. Unchecked power in the hands of the leader reduces democracy into a Kakistocracy (a form of government in which the worst people are in power). Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe is an example of running Kakistocratic government. Reason people are aghast with Trump administration is that they believe he has staffed, (including himself) with all the wrong people. So democracy boils to selection of the right leader. That raises the question, who is the right leader?
Greek philosopher Plato put forth a solution – philosopher king. He believed that we need men of highest knowledge to be the kings (rulers) as he believed that knowledge is what is required to rule and not power. The ‘kallipolis’ or the beautiful city (country) is a just city where philosophers rule through knowledge and not through power. In his masterpiece Republic, he outlines the way to groom such philosopher kings and build a just city.
However, it is not so simple for two reasons. A philosopher after gaining all the knowledge may not be interested in trappings of power and politics. Two, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Philosopher king comes with all the ideals but gets attracted to power and may end up looking like any other politician or a tyrant, that too an intelligent one. Example, Manmohan Singh. Here was an economics philosopher who got attracted to trappings of power (even if remote controlled), looked other way to the corruption around him and did not give it up all and walk away even at the age of 78.
Nevertheless, democracy is the only choice we have to avoid ‘tragedy of commons’. Exercising the choice (of leaders, parties, to vote) is a power every individual possess. Otherwise, democracy as philosopher Nietzsche said will remain ‘a mania to count noses’.