Some time ago, on this website in an article in November 2017, I raised the question if democracy may be on its way out. In that article I looked at the political situation in Australia, in a time that our government was struggling, still under then PM Mr. Malcolm Turnbull. I also described the situation in the USA with a congress that for a long time was more or less paralyzed, the situation in Canada, the Netherlands, Germany. It was a trend all over the world; it seemed that democracy was in a crisis. I wrote: While Democracy is floundering in many western countries, we see the largest countries on this earth going in the direction of more centrally led governments, and the rise of strong men as leaders.
I would encourage you to read that article (again) and see if things have changed. Keep in mind the events that unfolded in Australia over the past ten months, also what we see happening in the USA at the moment around the hearings in the Senate regarding the confirmation of Mr. Brett Kavanaugh as judge of the Supreme Court of the USA. Great Britain is still in a panic about Brexit and seems to be unable to reach an agreement with the EU. In Canada, there is a growing dissatisfaction with the federal government as well as with some provincial governments, while the largest province recently made a strong turn to the right. Mr. Doug Ford became premier, something that many believed impossible a couple of years ago. But then, Mr. Trump was also considered to be unelectable.
I could go on, looking at Germany where still rumblings are going on, looking at the struggles in the EU with Hungary and Poland. Even more, there seems to be a growing dissatisfaction all over the Western world with how democracy is functioning, and more and more social media movements like #MeToo are taking over power. The trusted processes in a democratic society are more and more abandoned and replaced by ‘mob-justice’ where you are guilty unless proven innocent.
What is behind this all?
The Weekend Australian published a very interesting article by Paul Kelly, in which he gives a good analysis of the situation.
He starts off with the statement and question: Democracy across much of the world is sick and struggling, raising a deeper question: if the conditions that sustained it are evaporating, might democracy become a passing phenomenon?
He believes Australia is still not that bad (!), but the malaise is more apparent beyond Australia.
He mentions the core elements:
- hostility towards the political class;
- distrust in the integrity and utility of governments;
- loss of support for established political parties;
- moral failures in the institutions that have underwritten the social order, such as banks, churches, business, governments, and media;
- the rising cult of individual narcissism and the breakdown of a shared moral conversation;
- the groundswell of populist discontent on the Right and Left.
I certainly recommend that you read this insightful article. It will give you a good understanding of the crisis we are in and also a good dose of humility. It is arrogant, as he describes, to believe that democracy, as we have it now, is fixed and given.
This arrogance we see in much more as if now we know everything better. It is in the last generation that we have seen the light, if it comes to ideas about sexuality and marriage, about gender issues, about religion, but also about science, about evolution for instance, and much more.
Democracy as we know it now, is only of a very recent date. It more or less started in 1848 and kept developing over an entire century. Looking at the leadership in the democratic world, I believe that democracy was at its best halfway the twentieth century. Great leaders were able to overcome great crises in the world, like the Second World War. Europe was able to rise above the nationalist divisions and countries in Western Europe were able to live in peace and relative harmony together. There were people who dared to take leadership and the people put their trust in their leadership. There was relative peace in society.
Yes, the Cold War was going on, but did not result in a new worldwide military crisis. And yes, the sixties also knew its crises in society, but still, people generally accepted law and order and believed that the democratic processes were able to solve most of the problems.
Many dictatorial countries all over the world developed into the direction of democracy. First we saw Spain and Greece shedding their totalitarian regimes, and later also many countries outside of Europe followed.
It is important to realise that much in history happened because it happened at the same time as some important economic or technologic advancements took place. The Great Reformation could spread so rapidly over Europe because of the invention of the printing presses. We even believe that Christianity in the first century could spread so rapidly over all the Roman Empire because of the solid infrastructure that was created by the Romans. In this all we see God’s providence.
Then we can say the same about the advancements that brought democracy. It is often believed that the Industrial Revolution gave the people more power and because of that they demanded more democracy. That raises the question: which technologic or economic change causes now the failure of democracy?
Paul Kelly argues in his article that it is the digital revolution. During the 19th and 20th centuries, democracy was a natural fit with expanding government, big corporations, a wage-earning population, trade unions, mass participation, rising nationalism and wide acceptance of religious values.
But that age is undergoing creative destruction courtesy of the digital revolution. The hi-tech champions typified by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, drunk on hubris and ignorant of history, promised us a democratic nirvana.
It are the technological giants which now govern the world. While they promised power to the people, through social media, and the deposition of dictators and elites by the powerful movements like #MeToo and others, they brought chaos and the dictature of self-interest.
Social media, as was promised, would bring a better understanding of other cultures. But what we notice is that racism and the fear for refugees and other immigrants is growing. What the digital revolution did bring was, the freedom to do your own thing. But what is that: doing your own thing? If you don’t know what is good and what is evil, if you don’t have the foundation of God’s Word, then you are being led by what others tell you what is good, and what you want is what they tell you that you should do.
The big digital media companies like Facebook and Google have become more powerful than governments. They even dare to challenge governments of the USA and the EU, by moving their offices and computers to countries that allow them more freedom to exercise their power over the individuals whose private information they possess. You may have signed up for Facebook in Australia but your personal information as well as all that you post on Facebook, is probably stored on their computers in California and fall under the USA’s privacy legislation. And if the EU government tries to impose restrictions on Facebook and Google and others, protecting the privacy of its citizens, these companies threaten to move all the information to their hard disks in the USA.
In the meantime, these giants have become tools in the hands of dictatorial regimes like Russia and China, to influence elections in the USA, or to spy on their own citizens. China is setting up a system of social credits, either rewarding or punishing you for what you are doing on the digital highway.
Let us not be naive. Social media have an enormous influence also on politicians in democratic countries. The due processes which were in place in a solid democracy, the protections in the justice systems, and much more, are totally absent when it comes to social media. How many have not been ‘exposed’ and accused of sins which they did not commit? How often has it not happened that events or words were twisted to make it look bad, which led to the condemnation of people who would never be accused in the court system? And I’m afraid that the suicides as a result of these processes are staggering. Punishment by mob-justice. Is that what we want in our democracy? Today you can inflict it on others: your enemies; tomorrow it may happen to you.
Paul Kelly explains that democracy as it was promoted by the founding fathers in the US as well as the Liberals in 19th century Britain, never promoted the empowerment of the people. Democracy was always seen as a representative democracy. The purpose was to create representative institutions to govern, to make laws on behalf of the people. This system made it possible to come to well thought out legislation, after thorough discussion. Fleeting emotions should not be the driving power behind decisions, but reason and the desire to do what is good for the entire people. In a representative democracy, it was important to find a compromise between the major parts of society, while at the same time guaranteeing the freedom for minorities.
This all has been given up with the uprising of the people in the digital age. Politicians, afraid for their position, just do what a small but vocal group using social media tells them to do. This is not a democracy anymore. This is mob rule. This is a very shaky basis for countries to be governed,. We see in the Bible that the mob which the one week shouted ‘Hosanna!’ when our Lord Jesus entered Jerusalem, could shout less than one week later, at the instigation of some evil people, ‘Crucify Him’.
History teaches us that revolutions usually don’t last long. After a while the people realise that revolution brings chaos and a strong leader is needed. Revolution leads to crisis.
How will this digital revolution end? Will we go back to a situation like in the thirties of the last century? Do we get the rise of new totalitarian regimes? I don’t know. We should not forget that the ideologies on which those totalitarian regimes were founded, have failed. National socialism was defeated and rejected, communism has shown to be a big failure.
What then? I don’t know. God knows. But something is going to happen. Maybe China is going to take over the power in large part of the world. Maybe the West will be divided up by China and Russia. Or maybe raw capitalism is going to grab power again and the people will have to fend for themselves, while the big companies rule the world and become the new governments. Or maybe this is the foreboding of a total chaos, in which the world is destroying itself and God is preparing the world for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We don’t know. But we know that the future is in God’s hand. God will never give up the work that He began and it is His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who gathers for Himself a Church chosen to everlasting life. And we believe that by faith we may be and forever will remain living members of it. That is our hope and that is our certainty. We have our citizenship not on this earth but in heaven, from where we expect our Lord Jesus Christ to return in majesty and glory!