WHAT IS MODERN DEMOCRACY?
Persian Related Article
There is a lot of interest in democracy among the Iranians, thanks to the failure of Islamic Republic of Iran to offer a decent successor regime to Shah’s dictatorship. People see the Western governments with all their shortcomings to have a lot more merit to offer freedom than all other forms of government they know of, in the past and present, and they see that even better social justice needs to have this freedom as its prerequisite, rather than skipping it, which not only skips freedom, but skips justice too, as witnessed in the case of the Communist countries, and the privileges of Communist bosses at the expense of the workers they represented.
Now the Western governments are called democracies. The Greek meant rule of people when they talked of democracy. But in reality it is not the rule of “who”, which really has mattered, whenever there has been a democracy or its lack of. For example, in the Modern Times, the Communists cared the most about the issue of rule of “who” and they talked of rule of workers, that were the majority of the industrial society, and regardless of how their representation mechanism worked, even when that majority supported them, it was obvious that it did not usher in freedom.
One of the first people who theoretically explained this problem was Karl Popper in his book “The Open Society and Its Enemies” around the time of WWII, where he showed that modern democracy was not about *who* rules but it is about *how* a state rules. In other words, the mechanism of checks and balances is the crux of what separates a modern democracy from a dictatorship. In other words, more search for defining *who* should rule, the attempt from Plato to Marx, is a futile attempt to find an ideal government. Whether Philosopher-kings of Plato and Khomeini rule or Marx’s representatives of the proletariat rule, the result is the same tyranny, if the *how* of state control lacks extensive checks and balances.
The above is an important thing to understand when one reviews modern democracies. Even the rule of law which is so central to modern democracies, because of protecting individuals from all other rules, is effective to the end of democracy, only when it is in the context of full checks and balances between branches of the government. Please see my article below about full explanation of checks and balances:
Karl Popper in his later works on democracy emphasizes the issue of the government being able to be removed without bloodshed reminding us of governments that could not be removed, even with bloodshed, in contrast to Nixon’s government that was removed by impeachment without bloodshed. In short regardless of the ones making the laws of the state in representational democracies, people are able to be the judge and even remove the government.
And of course, focused on Western states, Popper does not refer as much to religious states that have been basically gone in the West for centuries. So the precedence of civil society over religious order is a given. For countries like Iran, these are also live debate and action issues and this is why democracy is so much emphasized by the popular movement as the encounter of people’s rule with God’s rule, in popular jargon, but one should go a step further and note that a secular state is a modern democracy depending on how far it goes in implementing checks and balances.
Even being a constitutional republic does not make a
republic a real guarantor of freedom unless it has strong mechanisms of checks
and balances instilled in its constitution and practice, ranging from legal
mechanism such as constitutional Bill of Rights, that protects the minority, as
well as the various mechanisms of checks and balances between different
branches of power. Mechanisms such as
the new ballot initiatives mechanism, make the real
difference in avoiding tyranny, and safeguarding a modern democracy. Below is what I wrote some time ago about the
need to introduce this mechanism of Ballot Initiatives in countries like
As Karl Popper notes, the real issue is *how* and not *who*, when one wants to define the modern democracies. Even the *who* being the whole people or the largest class of the population makes little difference. It is how the state rules which makes the real difference.
Sam Ghandchi, Publisher
P.S. April 16, 2003-Today, after the events in Iraq, the issue of modern democracy has resurfaced in Iran, where IRI tries to make democratic gestures, to avoid a fate like Shahrivar-e 1320*. Already in February, in my article entitled "Iran and Restructuring of the Middle East", I wrote about such efforts by Rafsanjani, to save IRI from an ending like Shahrivar-e 1320. Below is an article of mine, where I have written about what a modern democracy means, and why instead of falling for another pseudo-democracy trick by IRI, which Khatami has done for years, and wasting time in gestures of democracy by IRI, when Rafsanjani equates it with U.S.-IRI relations, it is time that Iranian opposition use this opportunity to work to take power and replace IRI with a secular republic. Once the situation changes, and IRI does not see the threat to its regime from the West, all these IRI games will vanish again, and they will suppress the opposition with their iron fists, as they have been doing for 24 years and counting."
*Shahrivar e 1320-Referring to the date of fall of Reza Shah's regime in 1941, following the entry of allies into Iran.
** The above article was first
posted on Jebhe BB on Nov 12, 2001 . The
Postscript was first posted on Jebhe BB
on March 10, 2002 .
. The Postscript was first posted on Jebhe BB
on March 10, 2002