Pitfalls of Democracy
By Abhaya Mudra Dasi
In popular historical accounts the word democracy was first used in ancient Greece denoting a contemporary system of governing. In ancient Athens the word democracy was a compound term which could be broken into two parts: demos meaning people and kratein to rule. This ideal of governing inspires us even today. Democracy echoes the ancient ideals of equality and freedom into the modern governing systems.
Some authors like John Keane (author of Life and Death of Democracy) think that democracy has much older origins. He traces the meaning of the word democracy back to the Mycenaean period which preceded the rule of Greece in the Mediterranean region. There the word demos (a person) is slightly changed to be pronounced damos. John Keane discovered the word demos in the Sumerian language as well where it is pronounced dunu meaning ‘inhabitants of a designated region.’ In the ancient world the many of the different languages enjoyed a greater connection to one another than they do today. That is due to the fact that they all kept close phonetic link to their unifying origin, the prototypic Sanskrit. In Sanskrit or devanagari (lit. “language spoken in the cities of the demigods”) dham means “place.” Dhamu means “one who hails from a particular region.” Kratu implies intellectual ability. It becomes apparent that in ancient time dhemokrat meant to employ the thinking ability of every man and utilize it for the welfare of the total society.
How democracy was applied is evident by one such example taken from Shri Ramayana, the epic about Shri Ramachandara’s life. After defeating Ravana and returning to the throne of Ayodhya, Lord Ramachandra overheard that some low-class person, dissatisfied with his wife, calling her behavior “like Sita’s” (because She was forced to stay in the home of another). Shri Ramachandra immediately took the opinion of the shudra seriously. As consequence He ordered his wife, Shrimati Sita Devi, to be taken to the forest ashram of Sage Valmiki. The Personality of Godhead Shri Ramachandra could not allow the citizens of Ayodhya even to think or discuss Mother Sita in an unfavorable way. By sending Her to Valmiki’s ashram, He protected both Her and the citizens alike. Of course, we may think that the opinions of women were never taken into account in ancient times even when democratic verdict was applied. But women had much to say in their families and had the power to control the opinions of their own men. Kings were only considered true kshatriyas when they offered equal justice to all citizens.
The queen was equal to the king in making decisions. One such example is illustrated by the story of punishment applied to Ashvatthama, the son of Dronacharya. When Ashvatthama killed the five sleeping and helpless sons of Draupadi, he was captured by Shri Krishna and Arjuna. When the Lord and his friend were determined to kill Ashvatthama, Draupati was also consulted for a verdict. Her punishment was much milder and considerate of the mother of Ashvatthama. Consequently, Shri Krishna only disgraced Ashvatthama. For this reason the son of Dronacharya is alive even today. And if someone is fortunate to meet him he could be able to hear the stories of the Mahabharata war from a contemporary of Shri Krishna.
As long as there were true kshatriyas the citizens were protected. But the moment the kings became corrupt the people decided to take the reigns of power into their own hands. In ancient Athens democratic votes were given every day. Whenever there was a predicament all the people discussed the situation. For this reason the governments constructed large places for congregation. Every citizen had the turn to rule the city at some point of his life. Of course a big city was considered even a village of 10,000 people. But that made the application of democracy easier. Even in Manu Samhita and Shukra Niti it is noted that if a city is to be under the control of its ruler it should not exceed the population of 56,000. What is the situation today? We live in gigantic conglomerates. The idea of democracy is stronger than ever in our modern world. But although it may be one of the most used words in political accounts and discussions democracy remains an elusive dream when it comes to practical application.
Words have vast power in today’s world of the variegated media. Words in the form of information rule the world today; they change and shape the global perception of each generation. When we hear “democracy” we think equality and freedom. But there are many different forms of democracy and all of them are meant to discourage the straightforward practice of control by the people.
In Representative democracy the people elect a few candidates amongst themselves and those representatives run in an election. The pitfall of representation is that not all people in the population of a country are politically active and only the political parties elect representatives. Most people end up voting for candidates they do not like or they do not identify with. In this form of democracy the president will never be able to stand for all the views and wants of all the citizens at large. The main reason is because in this form of democracy the rule is wielded by the majority. This situation creates an oppressed minority. The oppressed minority acts in opposition to the elected representative. Because the opposition wants a share in the decision making process, this desire is used as an excuse to create a situation where a consecutive election is inevitable. Thus nobody remains on top of the political game for too long. No president has enough time to solve the major problems concerning his country and the world. Most presidents come to power, enrich themselves for their term of four or five years and then go away to make place for the next elected “leader” to come along and repeat the performance.
Because the Representative democracy, depending on the winner amongst the two leading parties, is either black or white, the more open-minded societies employ another type of democracy called Parliamentary. In this form of democracy there is an extended representation of the citizens in the form of a parliament. In the parliament all major political parties in a country have their representatives. The parliament has the right to vote against the decisions of the prime minister and the president. Although this is a better version of democracy than the Representative democracy, it is noteworthy to mention that an ordinary person has a little or no access to the parliamentary decisions. The high officials who supposedly represent the citizens are sitting in big chairs behind many closed doors. Their cabinets have high security alarms and the so-called “representatives” are virtually inaccessible to the ordinary citizens. The man on the street has a tough time influencing the decisions of the parliament.
Although the deputies are supposed to represent the opinions of the people they have their own political agenda. Often politics and corruption go hand in hand. On the surface Parliamentary democracy may seem fairer than other forms of democracy but in practice it does not provide better results. This form of democracy is confusing to the general public. The ordinary citizens are deceived that they personally take part in the government via their representatives. In fact, the chosen few in the parliament are only looking after the citizen’s interests in theory. In this unfair form of democracy only a chosen few can truly represent themselves and those few are the deputies in the parliament. When the citizens realize that nobody is truly looking after them they do not know how to overcome this social imbalance. In general society reacts by publicizing against the culprits. After the decision for exposing the guilty deputies is taken, the ones who want to fight for their rights loose track of priorities. They start by looking into the lives of the alleged high personas, and end up just popularizing their mistakes. Thus the freedom fighters inspire society to follow the corruption of the ones in charge. When you deal with many people things becomes very complicated.
Some countries prefer another form of democracy called Presidential. In this form of democracy the president has the right to oversee the work of the government. His power is close to that of a king because he can interfere with all decisions made by the administration. The pitfall of this democracy is that the president is elected through one political party. He is supposed to be without bias and represents all political parties equally. In practice this is impossible because the president is always loyal to the party that promoted him. But a perfect ruler is not created in one or two days and he does not rule a country for one or two terms for limited number of years. A real well-wisher of all citizens is born as a king and trained since birth to follow dharma. Thus the pitfall of the Presidential democracy is that the imposed leader ends up being a mere panderer in the hands of certain powerful political parties or corporations. In some counties there is Semi-presidential democracy where the prime minister and the president have equal powers and are supposedly checking and correcting each others’ errors. The pitfall of this democracy is that the president and the prime-minister go into endless error fining. Instead of working constructively and solving real problems like tax, poverty line, employment and medical care they only add new meanings to political correctness.
Since all democracies in the above list have failed to properly represent all citizens, some political masterminds have made one last attempt to make democracy work using the power of law. Supposedly, in the face of law, the political parties, the president, the prime minister and the ordinary citizens are equal. The chains of law, ideally, stop all unfair and underhanded techniques and secure true representation of all citizens. But the pitfall of Liberal democracy does not make the democratic system more workable. In practice, it makes the drawbacks of the system legalized. And to cast the historical mistakes of modern classlessness as iron clad the last and supposedly perfect form of democracy is created, the Constitutional democracy. This democratic system is based on a constitution and it is a derivative of the Liberal democracy. The difference is that the constitution is supposed to be permanent while the law can be changed when, ideally, everybody agrees on that. The pitfall of the Constitutional democracy lies in the truth that the constitution is not a perfect document. It is written in a fixed time, which has its own trends, by a handful of people with limited experience. The constitution is a weak call to rewrite the laws of the Universe which only Manu, a true representative of Shri Krishna can inscribe and reinforce.
The devotees of Shri Krishna know that democracy cannot possibly represent spiritual equality. Devotees know the futility of voting for any listed political party because there is no representation for followers of Krishna consciousness. The truth is that if we wait for the world of samsara to represent us, we will never be heard or noticed. A devotee cannot be part of a world wherein the rule of selfishness dictates to the majority of representatives from whichever party they originate.
Today in the name of democracy gigantic corporations threaten to swallow even the little remaining freedoms of the ordinary citizens. People have been tricked in the name of democracy into voting away their autonomy. They have sacrificed their free time, the right to drink pure water, the need to breathe fresh air and to work at home producing their own God-given food. Big business assures the people that they do not have to do hard labor because all their needs will be taken care of. The corporations will bottle the water and sell it to the people in pretty containers. They will sell them air purifiers; they will open big supermarkets with all imaginable fruits and vegetables in every season, and they will vend them to the obedient citizens. The human beings do not need to do anything but surrender their freedom and in return they will receive plenty of money to spend it back into the system. Though such big corporations create a motherly image, they are true agents of Kali. They are the witches and the conditioned human beings are sleeping on their laps. Undetected, like beautiful Putanas, they enter our lives and lock us from our ability to think properly. They induce everyone to model their life after their unscrupulous principles. The big corporations console the sleeping souls with the promise that in the next election each citizen can vote for whoever he chooses.
But every civilian has but one time to vote every four or five years. And even then, many are watching how he exercises his vote. Family members who are politically oriented will also try to sway him into voting for their representative. The company he works for will also try to buy his vote. Around the time of the election campaign certain faces become famous for a short period of time. They are supposed to be the candidates of the ordinary citizen who has usually never met them in person. There is nothing personal about the aggressive way the candidates approach him from their posters, television, radio, and internet. They talk about themselves and how they are going to solve his problems but they do not care to personally know the voter. Because the candidates are also ordinary people it is impossible for them to know every single person who is going to vote for them on the elections. In the aftermath a person is not counted as an individual but as a vote.
Personalism is possible only in Krishna Consciousness. Lord Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, knows every single soul in the universe regardless the size of his body, from an insect to a demigod. It does not matter what form of democracy, monarchy or patriarchy society adopts. If Shri Krishna is not put in the center, there will always be a failure in the establishment. The system’s principles would stay elusively in the realm of idealism. Democracy is theoretically a very good system but in practice its ideals have been unreachable. On the contrary, Vaishnava philosophy does not claim that everyone is born equal. Every single entity has different karma and has to suffer different consequences in life. Though advocates of democracy claim that vox populi can provide equality but sameness does not exist. A man and a woman have different bodies with different requirements. A person with godly inclinations is also not equal to a person with demonic propensities. People have to be treated according to their individual karma, their respective characters and their goals in life.
Real equality means to treat every single person according to his or her situation while at the same time providing him or her with equal possibility for self-realization. This is the goal of varnashrama system established by Shri Krishna. The Lord explains this in Bhagavad Gita (4.13) to Arjuna:
catur-varnyam maya srishtam guna-karma-vibhagashah
tasya kartaram api mam viddhy akartaram avyayam
According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me. And, although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the non-doer, being unchangeable.
Varnashrama principle is “simple living and high thinking” because it relies on the resources of nature. Self-sufficiency, which is a normal consequence of agrarian living, is the key to freedom. Freedom is not possible if a single person is dependent on countless individuals; as it is the situation in the modern world. For example, we would be surprised to learn how many people handle the distribution of electricity before it reaches the consumer. How many individuals have been engaged in producing the devices which allocate the electricity, and how many devices are there that receive the electricity? How many people handle the bureaucratic side of electric distribution? How many people handle the electric invoices? Before someone receives a single kilowatt-hour of electricity, countless people have participated in its production. On the contrary, agrarian community makes the individual depended mainly on his family. In this way the family becomes the basic unit of society.
Today families are being destroyed by the artificial dependency on technology. Technology dooms human relations and destroys the feelings associated with human interaction. In modern society new psychological diseases are on the rise. We cannot disregard the fact that human beings are mainly emotional creatures. And despite the fact that in modern society all material needs may be met, the need for emotional security is not. The living entity does not have the facility to be close to many different individuals at the same time. For the living entity being close to only one person is natural. The original position of the living entity is to find his close relationship with the Supreme Lord Shri Krishna. All other relationships are based on this fact. Reviving our lost relationship with Shri Krishna is the only way to solve emotional disorientation.
Democracy is just another form of confusion regarding our innate need to be close to another, to be close to the Supreme Lord Shri Krishna. Democracy promises personalism although it can never reciprocate. It is a system which encourages lies and deceit on all levels. In the name of democracy we see all kinds of atrocities being conducted by the big powers of the day. The large and powerful establishments force others into becoming democratic in the name of consumerism which they control. But no market is unlimited when the resources are in the hand of the greedy. The need of the hour is that we, as devotees, should try to entrench ourselves in secure situations. We need to own land and construct temples and other buildings. We need to develop communities which will grow to enact the vision for self-sufficient society which gives freedom and equality to all individuals to love Shri Krishna. Only then the utopia of direct democracy (when everyone’s desires, opinions and rights are fully counted) can be accomplished.
The futility of democracy at work: American elected officials check sports scores, visit Facebook or play video card games while the Speaker of the House addresses the “dignitaries.”
Srila Prabhupada on democracy: “This democracy is a demon-crazy. It has no value. It is simply waste of time and effort and no feeling, demon-crazy. I do not know who introduced this… Everyone is taking part in politics. What is this nonsense? It is meant for the kshatriyas. They can fight and defend. The rascals, bhangis, chamars, and they are also in politics. Harijanas… Every one of them vote, and everyone has got the right to become king, minister.”
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