Comment, Comics and the Contrary.
, writing in the Observer today, quotes admiringly from an interview with Paul Wolfowitz
, in which the Deputy Secretary of Defense speaks of ‘removing the shackles on democracy’. This, to me, betrays the fact that the Project for the New American Century
(PNAC) holds a conception of democracy of startling poverty.
Democracy cannot be simply unshackled. It is not a state of government that is held down by tyrants and will spring, as a force of nature, from the ashes of a dictatorship. Democracy is not simply synonymous with a vote in a society relatively unbound by laws. These are negative visions of democracy, that chime with the negative vision of freedom held to by the right. These visions of democracy are incompatible with the idea that democracy is the highest form of government. If this is to be the case, then, as with anything else of beauty that is the result of human production, there must be constant labour to preserve this state of affairs.
Democracy is the participation of people in their government. An electoral system is the first step, but other requirements include such factors are the relatively equitable distribution of economic and cultural power across the nation and within society. When this is not the case, the agenda upon which the electorate cast their votes is at the mercy of those without the power. In this case, the vote does not produce democracy, but only a brake on oligarchy.
The maintenance of this balance of power within society is not produced by unshackling, but by conscious, directed efforts to build and defend the social machinery that allows this state of affairs to exists. Unshackling simply hands government to those with crude powers, and whether these are derived from violent, wealth or aristocratic mechanism, is merely a diversion from the point, that being, these governments are less democratic than might be the case.
Democracy is not simply human freedom, extended to its negative extremes. Democracy imposes a duty on all citizens, as each person who does not participate in their government, who does not take an active, informed part in the debates that shape electoral agendas, reduces the democratic legitimacy of the government produced. This is not just a cost to them, but one borne by the rest of society as democracy is allowed to erode. Of course, democracy can be damaged by more than simple negligence on the part of the citizens, as both the machinery of persuasion and debate and the powers of wealth are gathered together into fewer and fewer hands, each alike in interests and outlook. Secrets and lies, much the same thing, alongside misleading and disingenuous argument, damage democracy by damaging the debate. Simply removing the shackles on people does not produce democracy, despite the boost such an action gives to a hypothetical index of negative freedom.
Wolfowitz, and PNAC, know this. But their agenda has never been about spreading democracy, except in a conception stripped of all positive meaning. Rather, it is about the spreading of economic liberalism, a model of societal organisation positively damaging to government by the people, as it restricts any attempt to distribute power in the service of democracy as being against freedom. When Bush, in his inauguration speech, warned ‘governments of control’ that he aimed to force change upon them, this was not aimed at dictatorships, who had been comprehensively swept from the face of the planet by this point of the speech. No, rather, this was aimed at governments who seek to manage economies and regulate media, despite the necessity of these restrictions on absolute freedom in the task of producing democracy that is worthy of the label.
Democracy, for PNAC, is a handy cover, a legitimising label for economically liberal governments. Supporting men like Pinochet no longer cuts it, no matter how successful such brutal men have been in making the nations they rule ‘good places to do business’. Such men are easy to argue against, and their legitimacy can be torn away by arguments that are brief, both communicable and understandable by those without significant power or education. Torture and murder are wrong, and these are the actions of government under Pinochet. Rather, in promoting the idea that democracy involves the removing of shackles without describing the painstaking erection of positive structures of democracy, PNAC propagate a vision of democracy stripped of power and emptied of participation. With this, PNAC can give a legitimacy to government by, in effect, capital and those who control it. This legitimacy that is difficult to challenge in the soundbite political and media culture of slick advertisements, rather than manifestos, analyses and treatises, that plays no small part in corrupting the state of democracy the world around. Borrowing the phrase of PNAC member Francis Fukuyama, I believe that the neo-liberal project seeks the ‘end of history’, the unchallengeable rule of capital keeping all the levers of power at its disposal.