Monday, February 28, 2011

On Democracy & The Jasmine Revolution

Government & Society

Democracy arises out of the notion that those who are equal in any respect are equal in all respects; because men are equally free, they claim to be absolutely equal.

It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.
Winston Churchill

Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.
Franklin D. Roosevelt 

Democracy ... is the only form of government that is founded on the dignity of men, not the dignity of some men, of rich men, of educated men or of white men, but of all men. Its sanction is not the sanction of force, but the sanction of human nature. Equality and justice, the two great distinguishing characteristics of democracy, follow inevitably from the conception of men, all men, as rational and spiritual beings.

Robert Maynard Hutchins,
Democracy and Human Nature

Aristotle: "Now a fundamental principle of the democratic form of constitution is liberty—that is what is usually asserted, implying that only under this constitution do men participate in liberty, for they assert this as the aim of every democracy."
Photo Credit:  Jastrow, 2006 at Ludovisi Collection: National Museum in Rome

In the Jasmine Revolution, people are revolting against censorship, tyranny and injustice and amassing in public places for freedom, justice and democracy, some paying the ultimate price with their lives. Its beginnings and stirrings have been felt first in the Middle East in the nations of Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya. It's taking place, rather fitting, in the same general geographic area where Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher, once resided, thought and taught.

His ideas on human dignity will spread further in the Middle East and migrate to other places, to other nations, to wherever people yearn for freedom and democracy. This both angers and worries the autocrats, the dictators, the self-declared megalomaniacs, and the elites who hate democracy. They do not want to give up the very same power they have seized so easily for their aggrandizement and personal benefit.

They cite the need for law and order. That's hardly the case. The only order they truly care about is ordering people about like servants, while they take more and more for themselves and their entourage. Their insatiable appetite for power and money can be summed up by one word: More. Bribes, patronage and corruption are the norm. But the street won't be fooled any longer.

The street sees now first-hand that the anti-democratic elites care little about their own people. This is evident, wherever that story of needless violence and death plays out. The good news is that the dictators are now on the wrong side of history, dinosaurs from another age.

The Once-Mighty Dinosaurs: Mounted skeletons of Tyrannosaurus (left) and Apatosaurus (right) at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

And like dinosaurs, they face extinction. Democracy is not for sale, and cannot be bought or sold. Democracy is not for the few. It's not for the rich. It's not for the West. It's for Everyone. All Peoples Everywhere. May democracy take hold everywhere.

Some say some nations and people are not ready for immediate democracy, to go slow with an easy transition. It's true that sometimes, perhaps too often, the unexpected results go against democracy and freedom, which gives credence to the line by Pete Townsend of The Who, in "Won't Be Fooled Again."
Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss
This was the general outcome in the Russian Revolution (1917), the Iranian Revolution (1979) and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine (2004). But sometimes the results are good for democracy, and the new boss differs from the old boss, as was the case in the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia (1989).

The American Revolution (1776) and French Revolution (1789) were in the end successful transitions to democracy, although both took time to establish. The ideals enshrined in many of the documents of this age can act as ideals today.

As for today, whether revolutions are successful or not are hard to really predict. And the so-called experts are only guessing or posturing what their hopes are—either the status quo or change. There are too many factors to accurately predict an outcome of mass demonstrations, and calls for change from the old regime. Even so, one thing is certain. It all depends on who the political leaders are, and whether they really want democracy, or more of the same, but under their leadership.

A true democrat, like Vaclav Havel, wanted democracy and achieved it for his people in Czechoslovakia. It is noteworthy that he was not a born politician, but a poet and playwright, a man of letters, and an artist. His ideals and leadership made it easier to transit the nation from from a repressive regime to a more open parliamentary democracy.

It can happen elsewhere, if the people are willing and the leadership is endorsed by its people. Many in the media, notably in the West, were at first officially skeptical of such outcomes. Such expressions of doubt emanate from a particular school of thought or particular self-interests that don't line up with those of peoples elsewhere.

More important, it's not surprising that the large media concerns of Big Media missed this story while it was brewing. Their interests, despite their protests to the contrary, are elsewhere, generally as profit-making ventures.At first, who really cared about some poor people protesting in the Middle East, or elsewhere for that matter?

But the Jasmine Revolution will continue with or without Big Media's reportage. Its relevance thus far is hard to say, given the unpredictable nature of Revolutions and the dominance of bloggers and social-media sites that can get the real news out much quicker than the lumbering giants.

We are witnessing history in the making. Let's hope that it turns out well for the people struggling for justice, freedom, and democracy, and the ability to earn a livelihood and eat. It's also about the values that make us civilized, about human dignity, and respect for people, even if they are not wealthy, or rich or high net-worth individuals, a most-abhorrent description, lacking in any sense of what is really a measure of  person. (For more on this thought, see Three Cheers for Human Dignity.)

The person who thought up such a description, likely someone involved with investment banking, epitomizes the problem. So are persons who blindly use such phrases. They are lacking something essential in their makeup to connect them with humanity. More's the pity.

The poor may always be with us, but there is no need to lord it over the poor, to demean the poor, to treat the poor without respect. Being poor means lacking money, not lacking humanity. Those who think otherwise are the real poor persons, having a poverty of the soul.

Remember what it was that sparked the Revolution. It was an indignity, an inhumane act foisted in the name of law and order. It's about human rights in the truest most basic form. Here are a couple of posted accounts of what was the spark that ignited the Jasmine Revolution: the first is by The New York Times; the second by AlJazeera. Both are well-written accounts, each focusing on what the writer considered important.

It started in Tunisia. The name to remember is Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old  poor fruit vendor from Sidi Bouzid, located 250 kilometres southwest of the country’s capital, Tunis. He tried to eke out a living, but was met with an uncaring bureaucracy focused on permits and paperwork. He resided in a country where bribes, patronage and corruption were the norm. He tried to appeal to the governor, but was rebuffed by indifference.

Acting out of desperation, not thinking that anyone cared, Bouazizi doused himself with a flammable liquid,  and set himself ablaze outside the governor's office around noon on December 14, 2010. He survived his suicide protest, but died in hospital in Tunis on January 4, 2011.

That was the so-called tipping point for people who endured decades of getting slapped around by life. People want their dignity back. Mr. Bouazizi's dying actions sparked a democratic revolution few predicted. His actions will not die in vain, but be remembered in history as the actions of a man, an unlikely hero, who sparked a revolution for freedom, justice and democracy.


  1. After World War II, the United States forced democracy down the throats of Germany and Japan. That was a most undemocratic thing to do. Nevertheless, it worked. Germany and Japan are richer and more moral than ever before in history.

  2. That's true. And it might have been warranted considering the circumstances of the time. It's also true that it's always preferable if democracy takes hold when the people choose it. It's usually more enduring.


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