Friday, February 25, 2022

Liberal Democracy

Liberal Democracy has been out of fashion for a long time, and now it's under attack.  It lost its academic respectability long before Jacques Derrida demolished its foundations.  It's not freedom that's enjoying a rebirth these days, but despotism.  Leading that movement is Russia's brutal and determined dictator Vladimir Putin followed by China's Xi Jinping.  Around the world there is a host of Putin wannabees; Brazil's Bolsonaro, India's Modi, Hungary's Orban, Turkey's Erdogan, Philippines' Duterte, and of course, the USA's Trump.  It's been nearly a century since tyranny looked so cutting edge.  Hip but over-cautious journalists coined a new euphemism for dictatorship calling it "illiberal democracy," as though genuine democracy could be anything but liberal.

Historians point out that far from new, despotism has been with us since before the beginning of history universally in all parts of the world.  It's liberal democracy that's the real novelty, a fragile thing with feathers jerry-built by quarreling committees and only around since the 18th century.

Fragile despised thing that liberal democracy is, people still vote for it with their feet in big numbers.  We can watch it happening now on the news.  Droves of people will risk their lives for a little vulgar prosperity and a chance to make their own lives as they see fit.  They'll take discount stores and do-it-yourself over any despot's dreams of glory, or any philosopher's vision of the celestial Jerusalem every time.  They want prosperity, but they want freedom and dignity as well, something no tyrant will give his people no matter how well he can deliver a consumer economy to them.

And now we watch Vladimir Putin destroy Ukraine and create grief and misery for millions of people in the name of geo-political strategy.  Those among us who want tribal supremacy over democracy cheer him on.  They want to build a white man's Valhalla on the ashes of E Pluribus Unum, and they're willing to kill for it.  Freedom for Me Alone!  Everyone else can stay in their chains.

We are at a moment of decision where those of us who live under liberal democracy must believe that it is worth fighting for abroad and at home.  

I answer for myself an emphatic YES!

Below is a symbol I post frequently on my Facebook page that means a lot to me.  It's the emblem of the Double Victory movement during the Second World War.  It was a movement of Black American soldiers who wanted to link the fight against fascism abroad with the struggle against segregation at home.  Freedom abroad only means anything if there's freedom at home for everybody.  No one is really free separately, but we can all be free together.  "Unless I'm free, you're not free," said Mary Lou Hamer.  That goes up and down all around our community.  
And now we face that moment of decision, whether or not we are willing to fight for democracy on other continents and right here in the neighborhood.  The best of all possible worlds is one where our freedom and happiness no longer depend on other people's misery, but on their freedom and happiness too.

A Black Lives Matter rally in Pittsburgh in 2020.

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