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May 4, 2004

Democracy: A Heretic's View


by Sam Gerrans

I don't believe in democracy. In some liberal circles this makes me a heretic who should be shot.

Less reactive liberals smiled blankly at my consternation at our British government's collaboration with America in raining down hell on Yugoslavia – for "humanitarian," cuddly reasons, of course. Letting the people of Yugoslavia kill each other was just too barbaric. We had to do it for them.

Then, after a war we had diplomatically engineered, we had our long, quiet genocide via sanctions against Iraq, which nobody in polite society wanted to talk about. That for Madeline Albright the death of 500,000 children was worth it made no difference. We were still the good guys.

But developments in the U.S. style of delivery now mean nice people in cardigans who serve crêpes are losing the moral high ground. The reality of our bring-a-bottle wars is hitting home. And about time.

Liberals permit just two aspects of the democracy question to the table – neither of which I accept. The first has it that democracy is a good thing, but the problem is that we have an imperfect version of it. If only we could achieve proportional representation, full turnouts and decent politicians all would be well. The second says that democracy is a good thing, that we have it, and if only everyone else had it, too, all would be well. To me, both are strains of the same virus: wishful, woolly thinking.

The rhetoric of democracy is predicated on the idea that most people are responsible and able to think for themselves. If that were true there would be no need for government; no one to pay all those taxes to. It doesn't take a genius to realise why that idea isn't going to get off the ground.

The majority is a politically necessary abstraction within the framework of the Doublethink of Democracy precisely because it can't think for itself. It is a blind force, divorced from the facts and easily manipulated. It has to be. Its job is to buy things, pay taxes and distract itself – not to clog up the mechanisms of power.

Rulers, by definition, form a minority. Under the feudal system that was all out in the open. Under democracy we have to pretend that we are all experts and that our opinion counts. We are not and it doesn't, as we are beginning, slowly, to realise.

The basic difference between feudalism and democracy is one of public relations. It's like childrearing. It's just more efficient for the child to believe that tidying up his room was his idea. It's less hassle. But the fact remains: the room will be tidied.

The population managers show their true colours when, once in a while, the spin goes askew. That Tony Blair ignored the largest-ever human gathering on British soil (to protest his plans to launch a new round of genocide against Iraq) demonstrates what he really thinks about people's opinions. His job, as he sees it, is to manage them, not implement them.

One refreshing feature of the country where I now live – Russia – is that nobody trusts the government. It's about the only question on which everyone agrees. It's accepted as axiomatic that rulers rule for their own benefit, and that everyone else just has to deal with the fallout of that reality. You don't get ejected from social situations for saying democracy is a nonsensical illusion masking a brutal demagogy. You're just asked if you'd like a refill. Conversations here lack the self-imposed myopia which controls what you can say at dinner parties in the West.

Now to my point. While, and this shouldn't need saying, my heart goes out to the Iraqi people (not to mention the divisions of American kids whose only legitimate occupation is defending their own land), I do perceive a refreshing onshore breeze of realism hitting the Club Med beaches of the liberal consciousness. We are beginning to wake up to the fact that the our rulers couldn't care less what we think. The irony of bombing nations into Freedom has begun to permeate the edges of the radar. The rhetoric has blown a gasket from overuse and the engine is losing power. At last, democracy is being outed.

Of course, these bases have been neatly covered. The iron fist under the kid-glove was never going to be shown to Joe Public without having all the necessary measures in place. Hence the Patriot Act, identity cards, "hate" laws, omniscient surveillance, and moves to outlaw firearms. For, you can be sure, the real war is against us – the people who are footing the bill.

These terrorists, these bogeymen we need to be protected from, are very helpful when it comes to providing the people who spend our money with reasons to imprison us. You can't help wondering who's funding them.

But this is not a time to get tearful about democracy. This is not democracy morphing into something else. This is democracy's coming of age, the revelation of its quintessence: that of a brutal oligarchy set on destroying the natural order. Its object: to disconnect us from land and tribe and replace us with a rootless conveyer-belt caste overseen by high-tech security services.

This scenario is not anti-democratic. It is precisely where the abdication of self-reliance inherent in mass democracy leads. So say hello to the facts: Totalitarianism is democracy's natural conclusion.

I suggest that – internal squabbles notwithstanding – the strong and powerful do more or less what they want, and the rest is just PR. This view is unflattering to the rabbits caught in the headlights of Democratic rhetoric, but I can't help that. Still, happily for me, as things get worse in the Middle East, the liberals will find it increasingly difficult to justify their worldview to themselves. It's small comfort in the circumstances, but it's something.

Democracy's key attraction for those who truly wield power is the fact that widespread belief that we are free is a cost-efficient means of control. But democracy is not and never has been Freedom; merely dictatorship-lite. And now the Totalitarian infrastructure is in place our rulers can opt to dispense with the spin.

Democracy will, of course, cling to its touchy-feely slogans for as long as it is expedient. But since the real U.S. game plan is to ratchet up the stakes in the Middle East to the level of war necessary to complete the project for Greater Israel – from the Nile to the Euphrates – and since the history of the last hundred years shows that no sacrifice to this end is too great, don't be surprised if our rulers drop the pretence that this is anything but a good old fashioned massacre and start levelling whole Iraqi cities.

My point here is not to draw moral conclusions. I have my opinion of course. But, for me, the bottom line is this: The strong and the sneaky do what they do and the rest of us need to decide what – if anything – we are going to do about it.

Just don't wave the democracy dogma in my face because I don't believe in it.

So shoot me.

© Sam Gerrans


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Sam Gerrans is an English writer and translator based in Moscow.

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