Systems of government are on a spectrum- from democracy, (with competing parties) at one end, to totalitarian states, (where no opposition is permitted), at the other.
China is the largest totalitarian state, ruled by an unelected elite (the increasingly wrongly named communist party). Their decisions take precedence over established law and they cannot be removed except by force. North Korea.is also a totalitarian state as were Nazi Germany and the USSR.
Democracy had its popular start in Athens, 2,527 years ago, a beginning that all modern democracies can trace their origins to. Only male citizens participated, and voting was direct rather than through legislative assemblies as is modern practice. In 399BCE they voted to execute Socrates, their most famous citizen, for being 'disrespectful to the gods'; not an ideal beginning for a system of government known now for its championing of human rights.
From this faltering beginning, democratic government has gradually evolved and taken hold, with significantly more than half the world's population now governed by some form of democracy.
An essential element of functioning democracies is open competition between ideas. Citizens and their representatives debate various alternatives and choose which to implement, with the only limitation being that they cannot enact any law that a later majority can't overturn. Some countries require supermajorities (75% or whatever) for changes to fundamental laws like constitutions.
During the last 150 years or so, most democracies have moved gradually to the Left, with bigger governments and ever more extensive social welfare support- and are generally the better for it.
But how far is too far?
During the 20th century there were two large scale experiments that tested this, when communist regimes in the USSR and China adopted extreme Leftist policies. By the late 1980's these had caused economic collapse and more than 50million deaths.
Taking note of this, most other countries then held the line against further increases in government size.
Now, in 2019, young urbanites want a further shift to the Left. They passionately believe that 'social justice' requires larger governments, more re-distribution of income and higher taxes. The Right characterises this as the naivety of younger people who 'do not know history' and lack understanding of the economic hardship and human misery that such policies have previously caused.
This is a debate that democratic institutions are well able to conduct- to an outcome not suiting either extreme, but probably as good as can be brokered between opposing opinions.
But, especially in 'anglo' democracies (USA, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand), a worrying trend has been developing: The debate is no longer happening, because the Left side is refusing to engage.
Instead, they have closed their ears and their minds, using 'de-platforming' (denying speaking opportunities to those they disagree with) and labelling many mainstream views as sexist, racist, and etc.
I've been astonished by recent reactions from some people on the Left whom I've known for a long time, to articles I've shared on issues like social welfare, immigration and foreign relations.
Rather than addressing the substance, their resonse has been personal and abusive. And this is to articles such as:
which, to my view, is evidence based and considered-although no doubt challenging to those who believe that bigger government is always better. Well, if it is, this case needs to be made on the facts, not asserted as an article of faith with dissenters declared apostate.
And my experiences in this seems to be the new normal- that rather than addressing an issue, those on the Left are increasingly attacking the messenger with invective and pejorative labels.
Why are they doing this?
- Have their beliefs become a matter of faith rather than fact- with opposition regarded as heresy?
- Are they so convinced that their views are correct that further discussion is a waste of time (hubris)?
- Is silencing opposing views by intimidation and name calling just a technique to win the argument?
- Are they responding ad hominem because they don't HAVE any persuasive arguments?
- Have they decided that democracy can't deliver what they demand so want to disenfranchise opponents?
Any and all of the above I suspect.
The last one is particularly worrying: From the UK's Guardian, (an influential Left leaning newspaper with global readership): The Guardian Australia
Expressed here is the increasingly common Leftist view that voters are too stupid and wrong-headed to be trusted with electing governments.
Urban social justice activists and especially the younger ones with their religious level intensity, are succeeding in establishing their views in the mainstream. They have done this largely by capturing the universities, most of the main-stream media, and internet businesses such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google (without yet having complete control of content). Some of their more extreme positions:
- That people have a 'human right' to self-identify as any gender they choose (of very many) and anyone who denies this should be subjected to legal sanctions.
- That it shall be a criminal offence to make a true statement if someone finds this truth to be offensive - already law in some countries (it's the Left that's offended).
- That, only some people (guess whom) can be racist- and that all this group ARE racists, no matter how exemplary their behaviour.
- That anyone who questions the extent to which human generated CO2 is driving climate change should be denied the vote. (The worrying one again.)
But while 'wokeness' may seem to be carrying the field at present, is it really changing opinions or just driving them underground and perhaps making them stronger? Trump, Brexit and the recent Australian elections suggest some of the latter.
That democracies are much better able to tolerate and accommodate extreme views is a strength - unless it's used to destroy democracy itself. There does seem to be some risk of this, with newly minted socialists turning on the institution of democracy in frustration at their not being able to persuade people as to the rightness of their causes.
Are we once again about to plunge down the rabbit hole into an Alice in Wonderland fantasy totalitarian socialist utopia- with all the suffering and deaths these have previously entailed? Hopefully not. Hopefully this is just a tide that will rise and recede, (leaving some detritus behind), as young people grow up, meet economic reality, and start questioning their beliefs, as every previous generation has done.
But worrying it is.
Peter Lynn, Ashburton, New Zealand, June 1st