Allan Takes Aim Blog

Democracy seems to be stalling

Posted on: 8 May 2012

Published in The Chronicle, Canberra, every Tuesday at:

Is Australian democracy in decline? I ask because the democracy that evolved during Australia’s first 150 years instead of continuing to evolve seems to have stalled. That it has stalled is because since politics became the dominant philosophy, democracy has been forced to take a back seat.

No doubt those politicians of all hues who when all else fails, profess to uphold democracy, will attack me. Their attacks won’t come as a surprise because they seem to have forgotten, if ever they knew, the meaning of democracy. Indeed not only do they seem to think democracy simply a political theory but that they are exemplars of how the theory works. And as politicians grow in number, as they will, it seems to me the decline of democracy could accelerate.

If you don’t believe me ask politicians to define democracy. Many years ago when I asked that question the answers I was given would have done Socrates, Plato and later philosophers proud. Today however, the answers seem crafted as if a message for posting on Twitter. For example: Democracy is egalitarianism at its best; Democracy is the system by which all the people in a nation can elect people to govern on their behalf. But for me the most revealing answer was: everyone knows what democracy is. Do they? I wish politicians did because many of them – too many- practice it more in the breach than the observance.

Unfortunately politicians, Democracy’s wayward children, seem preoccupied by fighting each other rather than solving problems to the advantage of the people they represent. In Australia this can be seen as State, Territory and Federal politicians permanently war with each other in battles that rather than exemplify the democratic principle of free speech tend to become slanging matches about the personalities of the protagonists rather than the issues the politicians were elected to pursue on behalf of voters. And not to put too fine a point on it, many of these battles often seem based on envy.

While Democracy has spread across the world, it has not prevented war. In part this is because Democracy means different things to different people a difference caused because Democracy is really a Western concept yet to take deep root in non-western cultures, despite the rhetoric emanating from the United Nations. As a concept it also fails regularly in the West.

This is not to suggest that, since Athens in 500 years BCE, Democracy has not served the world well. Indeed as the disciples of Democracy in later generations spread that 5th century philosophy to more and more European nations of different cultures, new strains of democracy evolved.
Effectively, Europe became the hub of democracy and as the people of the Roman, English and French empires and independent nations spread across the globe, they carried with them the strains of democracy that had evolved during various periods of enlightenment and revolution. As a result, Democracy today has various guises.

But despite its various guises Democracy’s greatest value is that it gave birth to great Liberal ideals: equality before law; the right to an education; political plurality; human rights; and the operation of society outside government, et al. It seems to me that unless these ideals are restored, in Australia it remains to be seen whether or not Democracy will continue to evolve.

Arguably, too, as the years pass, the face of Australia will become more Asian than European, a process likely to accelerate as China, India and its neighbours to the North West and other parts of Asia speed up the development of their resources and technology. And as their populations increase, the press of necessity will force them to find more space to accommodate some of that increase.

That said, not only does it seem clear and logical to me that they will see Australia as that space but also that as members of those populations arrive with their own democratic culture, the Asianisation process will speed up and democracy change..

Although some Australians are already calling for Asianisation to be prevented, the real question is: can and should it be prevented? I suggest that Australia’s actions on this issue will determine whether or not democracy in Australia is in decline.
This is the original of the column published in The Chronicle, Canberra’s best community newspaper.


2 Responses to "Democracy seems to be stalling"

Will Asianisation be worse than the Americanisation that we already have? It might be time to take a closer look at our priorities.

your post is useful to me,thanks

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