The limits of democracy


The sight of the two Vietnamese leaders, Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in shaking hands and stepping on each other’s soil was indeed a momentous occasion. Whether this was brought about by military muscle, diplomatic pressure, economic reality or even the weight of social media may never be known but those involved should be congratulated in bringing the world a little further away from total annihilation.

The historic meeting could also be seen as a triumph of democracy over a totalitarian system. Pressure from those countries where the populace can vote is finally paying dividend. Right has persevered over wrong. Sanity has won out over tyranny.

If only it was that simple.

The problem with democracy is that it is not one thing. It comes in many flavours, many of which can seem undemocratic to those outside of the particular system. Its real big failing however, in a global sense is that it stops at the borders of the nation states. Democracy as it is practiced allows the people to vote in governments that deliver policies in the best interest of those people. This however may be at odds with what is best for the people of the democracy next door. It can lead to democratic countries doing undemocratic things for the benefit of those within its own boundaries.

Those who uphold the democratic system support regimes which are brutal and feudal as they need their minerals or geopolitical support. They impose sanctions on nations who do not fit in with their political views or they see as a threat to their way of life, even if they follow some form of democracy.

The much vaunted political system, the best of all alternatives, still allows countries to go to war and to impose their belief systems on their neighbours. It allows and perpetuates enormous economic inequality, both within the countries and on a world scale. It allows for global warming and polluted seas.

What is best for the people of a country is not necessarily best for the earth. Democracy that is nation based is going to find it hard to resolve these issues. A new, global politics is needed.

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