Democracy: An Introduction for Democratic
Prajatantra: Prajatantrik Avayas
ek Parichaya (Democracy: An Introduction for Democratic
Published Year: 2006
Published by: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung
Author: Prof. Dr. Thomas
Translator (into Nepali):
Price: Not mentioned,
BY RITU RAJ SUBEDI
In this twenty-first century, 'democracy'
has become a cherished word for both its foes and friends.
With the end of Second World War and Cold War, democracy
emerged victorious and unrivalled beating communism, fascism
and Nazism. Thus, democracy that recognizes periodic elections,
rule of law, human rights, free media and freedom to expressions
and associations, has already proved itself a better political
Dr Meyer first tries to prove the supremacy
of democracy. He argues that democracy is not a personal
property of the rich and the elites but a system better
ensures a just distribution of wealth than any other political
system. "Democracy is not a luxury to be indulged
in by rich countries citizens but an indispensable instrument
of control for ensuring a development that satisfied the
basic needs in every country," he writes. He strongly
opposes the idea that democracy is a by-product of the
western civilization and a 'dubious legacy of colonial
rule.' This line of argumentation was used as an objection
to democracy in the debates of the 80's and 90's of last
He says that ancient people in Africa
practiced it for conflict resolution while it existed
in the form of local self-governance in the South and
South East Asia long before it was developed by the West.
He further states that in the long history of the West
from the spread of Christianity (since the 4th century)
to the bourgeois revolutions of the 18th century, democracy
had virtually no role to play. "Democracy is founded
on a sober, realistic conception of man that is not dependent
on any particular cultural, ideological and religious
His presentation of four theories and
two model of democracy are noteworthy. According to him,
currently there are four theories of democracy -- economy
theory, radical grassroots theory, populist media and
participative party. The models are - presidential or
parliamentary democracy and representative or direct democracy.
In economic theory, political elites
offer alternative solutions to the political problems
and people choose between them while the radical grass
root democracy calls for the direct self-government of
the governed to satisfy the full claim of democracy. In
the populist media democracy, the mass media, particularly
television, greatly influences the public opinion and
the actions of politicians and political institutions.
But author defends participative party democracy, in which
political parties can effectively coordinate all political
levels through uniform actions, thereby giving a goal-oriented
shape to entire polity.
Likewise, his distinction between Left
and Right parties, and liberal and social democracy is
crucial to understand the current politics in sophisticated
democracies of West and the US. Parties that stand for
a free market economy, the exercise of authority, the
acceptance of inequality and rigorous law and order policy
are considered to belong the Right. Parties that, on the
other hand, support a more liberal law and order policy
besides backing the welfare state, political intervention
in the economy and greater equality are considered to
be part of the Left, he writes.
The author points out religious-political
fundamentalism as a temptation for weak democracies with
corrupt political elites. His description of 'defective'
democracy is tantamount to our democracy that undergoes
through various jerks and jolts in its transitional phase.
He writes: "Defective democracies are characterized
by the fact that although they have created an important
basis for democracy by introducing the universal and equal
right to vote, they either do not or only very inadequately
fulfill democratic norms in other important respects."
Dr Meyer finally points out that democracy
is both robust and vulnerable: "It is robust because
it can withstand and process conflicts of interests and
values that could break dictatorships. It is vulnerable
because it sis not sustainable without people reposing
confidence in it and without a practical implementation
which is in consonance with its spirit."
The book is extremely useful to know
the basics of democracy. But it would have been more reading
worthy if he had presented the particular examples in
describing his theories and models. He has not also touched
on one of the most perplexing questions: Why did democracy
fail to save mankind from the horrific wars? If the democratic
system is unrivalled and the best, why does it frequently
fail to prevent its practitioners from engaging into wars?
The First and Second World Wars took place when the Europeans
were practicing liberal and social democracy. The problem
of wars remained a tough philosophical discourse in every
century. Is that democracy allows 'the deadliest and harshest'
means to gain its cherished goals? If not so, how did
George Bush, president of the US that champion democracy
in our time, went to war against Iraq? Is it vulnerability
of democracy when the elected presidents and the prime
ministers succumb to power as their military and economic
power reach at critical level? The modern theories of
democracy must give satisfying answers to these questions.
Likewise, Dr Meyer does not bother to talk about the fate
of socialism in the 21st century. If the classical communism
is dead, has socialism also lost its individual identity
and found place in the wider framework of democracy?
Review (16-22 March 2006)