Friday, 23 October 2015

On Democracy. Thoughts post-Corbyn.. (1)

The concept of democracy has shrunk and withered to mean little more than parliamentary elections every 5 years, But in terms of its history, origins and hopefully future, Democracy exceeds this meagre ration. One essential element is that ordinary citizens can accede to power. In other words, you are not entitled to rule because of money (plutocracy), hereditary (monarchy) or even expertise (technocracy). The only condition of eligibility is that you are a citizen. The corollary of this is that those who rule are not a class apart, but only citizens granted the temporary grace of office. Privileged access to power because of wealth (Murdoch) or hereditary (Prince Charles) are profoundly undemocratic and should alarm those genuinely concerned with the idea of democracy. Needless to say swearing fealty to an hereditary monarch has nothing to do with democracy, it is in fact directly opposed to it. This is not a polemical point. It's internal to the concept of democracy itself. The existence of the monarch is a vestige of a pre-democratic system, albeit now co-opted and metabolised by modern celebrity culture.

Secondly, democracy is ongoing. It doesn't strike up for a couple of months every half decade and then obediently stop. This seemed to be the false assumption behind the clucks of outrage when  'the left' continued to rally and protest following the general election result in May. 'Democracy has spoken, how dare they contradict', intoned the reproachful pundits. They had misunderstood: democracy is not pronounced through a megaphone once every five years, it's not like a puff of smoke from the Pope's chapel announcing a new dispensation, it's an ongoing and multitudinous commotion. The democratic proposition is pronounced each and every day. 

Thirdly democracy empowers because it's to do with people intervening directly, not through delegates. This is part of the DNA of democracy: the demos speaking rather than being spoken for. Picking up placards and banners, strategic slogans and mobilising chants, and making those in power - always transients - aware of this greater presence, aware that democratic power resides not in the proxies but ultimately with the body politic, the People. And yet protest and rallies and 'taking to the streets' is typically reported only according to the sole metric of violence and volatility. Was it peaceful or were there clashes is the repetitive question asked by the depressingly unanimous press. 

In the ceaseless commotion - of the multitude or of the parties - necessarily there is dissent. And this is not a negative. Dissent is what hones and sharpens, defines and focuses. And yet, in our media democracy, dissent is never represented as this vital and necessary force. Never do we hear of this but only 'civil war' and 'strife', 'split's and 'divisions'. The media have been using these same moulds to cook their stories for decades.  

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