From Issue: 501 [Read full issue]

Critique of Democracy

At the heart of the "conflict," "debate," or "dialogue" between civilizations, democracy is often presented in the West as "a value" supposed to be either "Western" or "universal" or, with no fear of contradiction both at the same time. Thus presented, "the critique of democracy" becomes suspicious and its instigators tend to be lumped with old-time idealistic Communists defending the "dictatorship of the proletariat" or new Muslim radicals advocating a theocratic implementation of the shariah.

However, democracy is not a value but a generic system encompassing a set of organizational and institutional models for universal, fundamental values and principles. Democracy could only be a "value" if it guaranteed the respect of a series of other higher "values."

The critique of democracy, in the sense of criticizing its dysfunction and the perversion of its models and institutions, is a necessity today. If one approaches the issue on an international level, one very quickly realizes that the high-sounding dialogue between civilizations that would reduce the terms of the debate to accepting democracy or not is most misleading: one knows, or should know historically that being a democracy has never been enough to guarantee the promotion of peace, the respect of human rights, dignity, freedom, autonomy, etc. From the outset, Athenian democracy was forever at war with its neighbours (besides, its discriminatory treatment of women, the poor, and the "Barbarians" is well known) and today as well, U.S.-style democracy keep getting involved in conflicts and wars that, as in Iraq, completely fail to respect fundamental values and human dignity (moreover, that the discriminatory treatment of Native-American and African-American citizens still endures within the system is well known).

The constructive critique of contemporary democratic models must be undertaken, first of all, by identifying what they do not guarantee in terms of respecting values, which must absolutely be reformed if we are to be consistent. Repeating that it is the least bad system cannot justify passivity about denouncing its perversions and excesses.

Compiled From:
"Radical Reform: Islamic Ethics and Liberation" - Tariq Ramadan, pp. 282, 283