ANNE MARIE WATERS’ SUNDAY COLUMN
In Defence of Democracy (Part One)
Sunday June 28th 2020
It’s a great feeling to finish a book, and I had that feeling last week when I handed ‘In Defence of Democracy’ over to my long-suffering publisher Wade. (Thank you Wade).
It will be published – after being edited, proof-read and no doubt up dated as history continues to take shape – over the next couple of months, but in the meantime, I’ll share some of it with you here.
The idea for the book has been on my mind for a long time. I am not a relativist, I believe in objectivity in terms of basic moral behaviour. I believe that cruelty is morally wrong, objectively. While the word ‘cruelty’ itself has a subjective use, it is also objective in that it means to impose or inflict gratuitous violence, degradation, and humiliation upon sentient lives.
In the history of the world, governments have inflicted cruelties on their populations (and others’ populations) that are beyond imagination. The story of mankind is one of bloodshed and war, and most of these wars share a fundamental characteristic – they are a battle between an elite that wants to impose its unaccountable will on the people, and people who want to be free. It’s a battle between tyranny and democracy, and it goes back many years.
First things first: what is democracy? It comes from the Greek ‘demos kratos’ which roughly translates as the ‘strength of the people’. Ancient Greece is usually considered its birth place, and it is certainly fair to say that the era produced democratic principles that lasted for 1,000s of years and indeed are still in full use to this day.
Democracy as we know it today is very much a European story. The history of the continent is a to-and-fro between different ideas as to how society should be governed. Centuries of clerical and monarchical rule define the centuries between the Middle Ages (or Dark Ages) and today, and it is that period I focus on in my book.
From the Renaissance, largely seen as the end of the Dark Ages, to the French Revolution, Europe developed the fundamental aspects of democracy as its journey progressed. The Renaissance introduced ideas of free thought and the criticism of power, particularly through the arts. These notions soon spread throughout Europe and a new era took shape.
As I describe it in the book:
This period is fundamental to the growth of democracy in Europe because it was a time when human thinking began to divert towards humanity, and away from superstition and religious restriction. It has been described as the time of humanism and humanities, which would later lead to expansion of thought in to the sciences and reason.
Key eras that followed included the Reformation, which split Christianity in to various churches and the reduced the power of the Vatican. It would also lead directly to the religious wars that blighted Europe for centuries to come.
The Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution were the next great progressive eras. Once again, while they didn’t necessarily lead to governmental change, they fundamentally altered society in terms of focus, morality, liberty, and art. The challenges that art and philosophy presented to the church, and the loss of its power that resulted, led to scientific enquiry and discovery that further challenged church teachings, thereby further reducing their power.
France and Italy have played enormous parts in the social and cultural development of democracy in Europe, and the French Revolution is one of its most significant (and indeed bloody) events. I will take you through this Revolution and its effect. This bloody revolt led to the establishment of a an Assembly that would introduce principles still adhered to in France and elsewhere today.
Momentum and history on their side, the National Assembly passed the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. The document spoke firmly to the Monarchy about the rights of citizens, it provided for free speech, property rights, and trial by jury. It stated: “All men are born and remain free and equal in rights”. Furthermore, freedom of religion was guaranteed, a radical change for Catholic dominated France.
Throughout the same period – from the Middle Ages to the modern era – Europe had dominated the seas. Great world powers included Spain, which colonised south America and what would become the southwestern United States. Upon witnessing the wealth that colonisation brought to Spain, other European powers began to set out on similar expeditions.
One great European power setting its sights on global exploration was England. It built several colonial settlements in the ‘New World’. It wasn’t an easy journey for these colonies, but in business and development terms, they thrived, and over time, developed a new identity of their own.
The new ‘Americans’ that developed in England’s Western colonies began to tire of taxes imposed from London, and sought greater and greater autonomy. Notions of themselves as an independent culture had grown and self-rule became more and more desirable. Eventually the colonies would come together and work towards the common aim of independence. Eventually of course they would succeed with the defeat of England in the Revolutionary War. The US constitution was soon devised, and after the brutally bloody US civil war, America as we know it today took shape.
In the chapter ‘In Defence of America’ I will describe the development of this great nation in detail; from the colonial era to the civil rights movement to the election of Donald Trump. I will show you how and when democracy developed in America and how it is threatened today.
I will describe the most crucial sections of the US constitution and why they provide a protective shield for democracy in the world of 2020.
Similarly, I will briefly look at the tiny Middle Eastern democracy of Israel. This country is routinely accused of ‘apartheid’ or other human rights abuses, but the facts reveal something very different, and any truthful acknowledgement of these facts expose the democratic nature of the world’s only Jewish state.
The book is written in three major parts, the first of which provides the moral argument for the objective moral superiority of democracy. Why is it better than other systems? Because it provides for liberty and accountability and is therefore the only method by which people may protect their own rights. Democracy has facilitated the construction of the wealthiest and most civilised societies in human history. That is not an accident.
Democracy is a word that can be debated endlessly, but my argument is clear – democracy means the will of the people and in order for that to be established, we must have free speech and universal suffrage. I will provide a defence for each of these facets of a system that simply can not exist without them.
Why is free speech so important? I’ll outline this in full. Why is universal suffrage morally superior? I’ll explain that too.
To fully examine democracy, we also have to examine what isn’t democracy, so I’ll have a look also at other political systems.
What is the state of democracy today? It won’t surprise you to learn that it’s currently in a state of freefall. From Brexit to Black Lives Matter, there’s a cultural war for democracy going in the Western world right now.
Next week, join me here for part two and I’ll tell you more.
See you then.
Anne Marie Waters
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