I just watched “Herfried Münkler: Wie sieht die Zukunft der Demokratie aus?” (German). The show raised some good questions: What is the future of democracy? Why did we fail in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Why doesn’t anything move in the world of politics today?
Books and politics strive on conflict. Churchill wasn’t so efficient because he was a nice, tolerant guy. Hitler moved the world (not in a positive way but he did).
In the old days, there were three groups: The nobility, the bourgeoisie (or middle class) and the poor workers. They defined themselves with money. The nobility just had it, work was optional. The middle class had it because they had worked or were working hard for it. The poor didn’t have it and never would.
When money became widely available, the nobility vanished or it was absorbed in the middle class. Suddenly, the only real difference between nobility and the rich was pedigree — and sometimes manners. After that, social societies formed which started to absorb the poor. There are many people in Germany who are relatively poor but no one has to be absolutely poor (i.e. can spend a dollar/day or less).
In politics, being a mirror of society, something similar happened. The awe for nobility was replaced with elected representatives. Parties formed to represent different parts of society: The middle class, the poor, the environment.
Only, the poor were absorbed and the environment is getting better every day. There still is a difference on paper but not enough to spark real conflict. All the parties have become more or less interchangeable. People start to notice how strained the “conflict” has become, the discrimination of the other parties for the sake of being different enough to be elected.
No conflict means no drive. Everyone is relatively rich and safe, so the attention is on preservation instead of change. Hence we see endless discussions over 5€ more or less each month for people living on social welfare. The discussion was probably already more expensive than the result.
Since there is a wide middle ground on which everyone can agree, topics like getting the international financial system under control are … awkward. Everyone knows that something has to be done, but there is no pressure. We’re so rich, we can simply spent a couple of hundred billion euros/dollars/whatever by simple signature on a piece of paper. Why bother.
The crisis failed to be big enough. We’ll have to wait for the next round.
Why we failed in Iraq and Afghanistan
We went there to help the poor population against their oppressors (following the honorable motive of the Second World War). Oh, and there was oil. But oil doesn’t sell well on the “Mother-lost-Son” market. So the decision makers needed a better coin: They sold democracy.
Only you can’t sell democracy. It’s a state of mind, a deep wish that people have to make true for themselves. Look at Egypt, Tunisia, the history of your own country. Democracy happens when people fight for it for themselves. The only way a dictatorship can help to make a country democratic is by making the denizens mad enough to struggle for the change.
One of the problems we face in the Arabic world: We, too, are responsible for their harsh situation. The people living there won’t forget how we made various dictators insanely rich and humored them, even when they slaughtered their own subjects. The insurgents in Libya are wary of “Western intervention,” even if we try to help as good as we can. Maybe that’s more wise than we’d like.