On democracy in the 21st Century

Reflections on Arundhati Roy’s An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire


Pakistan is a country that has struggled with its democractic status having seen significant periods of military rule since its creation in 1947. Corruption and nepotism continue to cancel out any opportunity for democratic regimes to take shape.

Whilst I continue to follow the country’s ongoing struggle, established democracies across the world are tarnishing the very image we have been aspiring to reach.

I’ve always had doubts in the efficiency of a democratic state having seen some of the actions taken in the name of ‘freedom and democracy’ but often struggled to put these thoughts into words.

Arundhati Roy makes a convincing case against 21st century democracy how the term has been hijacked for purely political gain.

In An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire, Roy defines democracy as “ a lunatic asylum in which we are all voluntary inmates”.

Thirteen years ago today, the US decided to invade Iraq. The UK promptly followed suit to offer its support. Yet two million people took the streets to protest against it.


None really.

Their concerns weren’t even addressed.

For some, this anti-war march will go down in history as the final moment that Britons demonstrated a faith in parliamentary democracy.

Since WWII, the UK and US have been at war with or has attacked: Pakistan, Syria, Libya, El Salvador, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen and Afghanistan to name a few.

Would Roy’s definition of “old fashioned, nineteenth century colonialism dressed up as a new-fashioned twenty-first century war” be more appropriate to define the manner in which these countries conduct themselves?

Democracy in its earliest form may have had good intentions. However, somewhere along the way, the instruments of democracy i.e. the independent judiciary, the free press and parliament have been infiltrated. You only need to look as far as the Murdoch empire to realise this. These instruments mean little when the free market has reduced them to commodities on sale to the highest bidder.

As Roy eloquently states:

“ It is a myth that the free market breaks down national barriers. It does not threaten national security, it undermines democracy.

They have to make sure that its only money, goods, patents and services that are globalised. Not the free movement of people. Not a respect for human rights. Not international treaties on racial discrimination or chemical and nuclear weapons or greenhouse gas emissions or justice.”

This is true as we continue to see human rights and climate change on a back burner. For a democracy in which the voice of the people should govern the political discourse, it seems contradictory that economic interests of businesses dictate the government’s priorities.

Roy makes a convincing case for democracy becoming the “Empire’s euphemism for neo-liberal capitalism”.

Perhaps democracy is the lesser of all evils but this doesn’t exclude it from scrutiny. Because the way things are going, it is likely to evolve into the greatest of evils: one that conceals its true motives behind a mask.

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