Democracy’s Crossroads

Democracy is on the defensive. Since the post World War two eras, democracy was heralded as a beacon for the world. Freedom, Individualism, and the rule of law; just some of the things that people worldwide were promised. Today, however, you can point somewhere on a map of the world, and find an instance where democracy is failing: Venezuela, Spain, Iraq or Myanmar, among many others. Is it that democracy is too fragile for the impulsive nature of mankind? Is it due to acts of interference from abroad? Is it because of the widening gap in differing voting preferences between generations? Not as simple, sometimes, and possibly. But in the midst of all the chaos that has characterized the past decade in its unending test of the strength of democracies, there could be an alternative, but overlooked view.

In its current form, in the way we understand democracy, it is not so far fetched, considering the examples we have seen in mere recent years, that a setback in democracy is eventually inevitable. When the Arab Spring began in 2011, the world was quick to have it fit the mould of a theory widely known as the Wave of Democratization, whilst others pessimistically call it the Arab Winter instead. The events following, have been challenging for most nations, with a re-assertive China and Russia in the world, the rise of terrorism on all fronts, nationalism across Europe, authoritarian leaders in the supposedly freest of nations, mass migration as a phenomenon from South East Asia to Europe to North America, and institutional setbacks in South America. Regardless of people’s haste at reminding the world of Samuel P. Huntington’s famous theory of democracy coming in waves, they forget the most fundamental aspects of waves, and inherently, of democracy: the regression of the wave backwards, before it then has to come back ashore stronger than the time before.

From theory to world events: Tunisia succeeded, but Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, and Syria regressed. The Gambia emerged, but Kenya was shaken. Far-right parties were fended off from the leaderships of European states, but nationalism turned inwards, look no further than the scenes in Catalonia. ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) found their harmony, but Myanmar shook it down. Where the Union of South American States integrated, Venezuela isolated itself. The Iran nuclear deal brought hope, but the GCC crisis brought turbulence of the most serious accord. The waves of democracy are fragile, but they are long-term and they are still at work.

The underlying framework for the theory championed by Huntington is that there is a common cultural cause, which connects regional nations to one another, setting off a chain reaction in the form of a wave. No more is this obvious than in the case of the Arab Spring, or in the effects of immigration on the rise of far-right parties across the western world. It could be that we are impulsive to a fault as individuals, impeding democracy’s ability to act in the way it should. Nonetheless, in the globalized world we live in today, it is entirely possible that the theory should be updated, progressed, and brought back on the offensive, because in our impulsivity, we overlook a bigger unifier than culture, ethnicity, ideology or religion altogether. Unifying powers that can make this small world of ours spark a chain reaction of its own: the cause of suffering. In all of these words, theories, events, statistics, and mass media headlines, it becomes easy for those not directly affected by the regression of democracy to forget what those on the other side of the spectrum, those directly affected, can never forget. The suffering they underwent that links them all together from different corners of the global.

Where the rule of law could fail democratically, where institutional laws begin to work against the large majority of the country, freedom and liberty cannot be as easily discarded and given up on. The rule of law cannot be so rigid so as to claim that dissenters are rebels or terrorists. The rule of law cannot claim to be in the interests of all, when it suppresses the rights and freedoms of some. The rule of law, whenever unjust, must change. It will always be brought forth as a rallying call that carries the wave into new uncharted eras, which in due time, will be an integral part of our history as a global society. Pessimism can only be fought by optimism, and these global checks and balance, with significant and meaningful reform, will bear fruit eventually.