Democracy in Crisis and Why Democracy Matters

Educate the next generation so as to cope intellectually, morally, and politically with the messiness and complexity of the world.

            Yehuda Elkana

In developing democracy in the United States and Europe over the last few centuries, the people of both continents have forged five fundamental safeguards against the tyranny of those with dangerous personality disorders. These safeguards are: representative democracy, in which leaders are freely elected and freely removed by the people; the separation of church and state, which limits the ability of tyrants to wield the power of the state on behalf of sectarian causes; social democracy, in which the state has the responsibility to redistribute wealth in order to minimise poverty and ensure social cohesion; pooled sovereignty, which reduces nationalist sentiment and deprives tyrants of a rallying cry to arms; and the protection of individual human rights in law, including the rights of minorities, which deprives tyrants of their most vulnerable scapegoats. Although the mix of safeguards varies between the United States and Europe, and between countries in Europe, they together characterise the Western democratic model.   Continue reading

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How Kleptocracy Shapes Our World

In many countries around the world today, governments are designed not primarily to govern but to serve the personal enrichment of ruling elites. Kleptocracy is the term used to describe such ‘government by thieves’, whereby top political elites systematically raid state resources with impunity.[1] Kleptocracy is enabled by the absence of democratic checks and balances on those in power. Kleptocratic governments undermine the rule of law, subjugate the courts and media, and deploy state security services to enrich the ruling elite and pacify the population.[2]  Kleptocracy is largely responsible for creating and perpetuating many of today’s global crises, including acute poverty and hunger, war, religious extremism, and global inequality.  Continue reading

The Act of Killing

Joshua Oppenheimer’s startling documentary The Act of Killing has attracted praise and controversy alike. The Independent’s reviewer called it ‘without question one of the most horrifying films I’ve ever seen.’ The reason is not hard to see. The documentary features real mass murderers re-enacting their crimes for the camera. That The Act of Killing is neither voyeuristic nor sensationalist is a testament to the thoughtfulness that Oppenheimer has brought to the making of this remarkable film. Continue reading

In Democracy Building the Means are the Ends

A Blow to Democracy in Egypt

One year ago Egyptians were celebrating the end of thirty years of dictatorship and the beginning of a new era of democracy. Now Egypt’s first elected President Muhammad Morsi has been ousted by a combination of street protests and military intervention. This is a mistake. By adopting non-democratic means, Egypt’s opposition parties are unwittingly playing into the hands of those, on all sides, whose pathology makes them incapable of building democracy. Continue reading

Our Age of Unrest

This weekend marks the first anniversary of the election of Mohamed Morsi as President of Egypt. During the first year of Morsi’s rule, Egyptian society has become more divided. After his election victory, instead of seeking to build consensus around a new political order, Morsi sought instead to monopolise power. As a result, this anniversary is being marked by protests instead of celebrations. Continue reading