Riposte to Kaplan

1998. My first participation in the internet conversation. A comment to Robert D. Kaplan’s article about the western democracy in the Atlantic Unbound.

In his article Mr. Kaplan gave interesting and often neglected examples of democracy not benefiting people. The cases he explained made a couple of things perfectly clear.

Firstly, democracy needs a strong, literate middle-class. And such a middle-class needs a long history to develop from the dualistic model of society – first in religion and philosophy and then in practice. That is why democracy is not a good export article. The strong middle-class seems to correlate to the results of an interesting event in the history of Christianity. All present real democracies, except Greece and Japan, are founded by followers of Christian believers who more than a thousand years ago made a simple insert into the Creed, filioque: the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father _and from the Son_, not only from the Father. This addition eventually separated the Western Church from the Eastern, and more than that it separated two patterns of social thinking. In the West it became acceptable to any son to be spiritually (and socially) equal to any father, the mind pattern democracy requires. The Eastern mind, as well as the minds of other great religions, seem to miss this pattern.

Secondly, Kaplan makes clear that democracy and dictatorship are changing entities, sometimes to each others. A democratic election may lead to Hitler or to tribal anarchy. And an enlightened despot may do a good job in educating and directing the citizen towards prosperity and democracy. The modern democracy, too, is in danger. If I read the article right, Kaplan is afraid that the rapid growth in global corporate power inevitably means the decreasing power of local democracies. I certainly agree. In the future, unless nothing unexpected happens, multinationals account for 95 percent of world economic activity and give work to five percent. Then there is no middle-class nor real democracy any more any where.

However, there are a couple of things, where my reasoning differs from Kaplan’s.

I don’t consider the devastation of democracy as the result of too much democracy. The existent democracies always give opportunities also to people and organizations which are not democratic. Occasionally they succeed to ruin the credibility of democracy and reach the power. In my opinion the reason to this is the field of the democracy being too narrow, for example the tribes in South Africa not being democratic enough. The undemocratic component expands inequity in the whole society and gives more fuel to undemocratic ventures. The long-term cure is to widen the democracy, not to limit it.

There is also another reason why I don’t like the idea of placing the pendulum in the middle of democracy and dictatorship. The content of democracy has changed through the history and hopefully will still change. And it has changed to wider democracies. There is an direction in the history of democratic structures as well as in the history of motor vehicles. The solution to place the pendulum in the middle of ancient Athenian ”democrats” and ”autocrats” wouldn’t have changed, for example, the situation of slaves at all. Likewise I cannot imagine any place for the pendulum between present ”democrats” and ”autocrats”, which would help us out of the grim future of the corporate dictating world, in which the equilibrium demands the majority of people to unemployment or war.

Then there is one question to which I don’t know Mr. Kaplan’s opinion.

It may happen, as Kaplan warns, that the history repeats itself and the West will suffer the same fate and chaos as earlier civilizations. But if the history repeats itself, from the chaos it will rise a still wider democracy which solves the ”global unemployment problem”, and the evolution of societies goes on. Now there is an interesting question: if we knew already the content of the ”after chaos” democracy, is there any possibility, whatever small, that we could limit the chaos to our thinking, change it and the rules of behavior to the pattern needed and avoid the destruction in the material world.

For two reasons I see this possibility. Firstly, such a theory can be constructed. It is possible to describe the rules of ”democratic” economy, which fulfill the requirement of the historical evolution and solves the unemployment problem. Secondly, the global economy is still in the hands of the followers of Christian believers, who made the filioque addition to the Creed. If it were in the hands of African tribes or Eastern despots, there would be no hope. Our civilization is based on the ability to believe in wider equities; there is always a possibility that the same feature which has created the problems also helps out of them.

Matti Hyrylainen, Finland


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