Most westerners have a general idea what a democracy entails: such as rule of law, free, regular elections, adult franchise, free press, government succession orderly and non-violent. That is, a government elected by and responsible to the people. Or, in other words, a relationship between state and people that is regulated, predictable and recognised as legitimate.
And the purpose, rarely articulated in any document, is to sustain the people’s wellbeing. The arrangement can take many forms. But people intuitively know when ‘democracy’ has been breached. The State is seen as acting too arbitrarily or too consistently against the people’s interests. It is considered undemocratic and illegitimate when it abuses its power.
It is a mistake however we were to assume that all world governments fit into one of those two types. Observers have in fact conceived of at least one other form of political rule, and they point to several African states they call ‘broken-backed’ states – those that are so wracked by opposition groups violently undermining them, by one means or another including violence, that they are incapable of pursuing normal state activities. They are made inoperative. In this situation people’s interests are harmed despite state efforts to the contrary.
But is there an unwitting ethnocentrism in finding broken-backed states only in ‘darkest’ Africa. None in the West?
Why, for example, does no American Federal government ever try to place some control on gun ownership despite the pleas to do so following every gun massacre around that country? I don’t know what percentage of members of Congress own one or more guns – it would be a significant number however. But we do know, anecdotally, the power of the NRA. One simple comparison is telling: during the American election of 2010 the anti-gun lobby collected $5 million to promote its cause. NRA raised $253 million for the same purpose. It has power.
Why has BP been given permission to drill for oil in the waters off the north-west coast despite what was said after the oil disaster BP was intimately involved in off the south-west coast last year? Check the size of political donations from the oil industry to all Presidential and Congress elections now and over the years. And we could go on. Banking? Finance? Who controls whom in actual practice?
The American government of Congress and Presidency is powerless to act against the interests of big corporations. No government runs the country; the Economy (for shorthand) does because it runs the Government. The situation has the hallmarks of certain African states: the state is not free to do what it would like to do, and the people suffer. It is a broken-backed state.
And if so should we continue to call America a democracy? Even to ask that question is disturbing. We may need to coin a new expression. America is no longer essentially a ‘political system’; it is now an ‘economic system’. Money rules – and it rules in its own interests only; not in the interest of the people. As for politicians and their offices? – mere foot-soldiers of the economy. Politics as we knew it no longer exists.
How about commenting on this blog – whether you like it or not.
Melbourne Centre or Ideas