The ‘isms’ that Threaten Democracy
Nobody thinks in terms of ‘isms’ when we consider various ideologies that are incompatible with democracy. But when we analyze different political systems, it quickly becomes obvious that the forms of government, parties or organizations most antithetical to democracy are those whose labeling end with ‘ism.’ (Not all ‘isms’ conflict with democracy, but many do.) Democratic nations in the 20th century have fought major wars against countries with ‘ism’ ideologies and won the battles. But periodically, remnants or new adherents of these failed beliefs arise in new nations or new forms, threatening democracy once again.
The most conspicuous of these democratic opponents are fascism, communism, Nazism, and all types of totalitarianism, where one man or a small group rules a nation and sets its policies and courses of action without the consent of the nation’s citizens. The driving forces in the countries with ‘ism’ governments are the desires of the dictatorial leadership to amass more power, more wealth, more nations to rule over, and more ‘honor’ for its peoples. Honor for these leaders is considered victory when there is conflict with other countries and obtaining more land under their domain.
Communism and Nazism are for the most part vanquished, though neo-Nazis seem to sprout in expected and unexpected places at times, singing the song of white supremacy. This may be reinforced by nationalistic creeds and populism, where a nation’s citizenry is dissatisfied with their lives and want to earn more money and have more material benefits. Usually, they see minority groups or immigrants as their enemies, claiming that they are taking jobs away from them and are willing to work for lower wages. Often, nationalism and populism evolves into totalitarianism, with citizens listening to demagogues who promise the nation honor and greatness while blaming the minorities and immigrants for the nation’s problems. Or there may be an unseen enemy that is taking the nation down. Racism and anti-Semitism usually thrive in these states where the media spout constant propaganda to keep the masses in the leader’s pocket, as only he can bring the nation honor, glory and well-paying jobs.
Russia under Vladimir Putin is an example of a nationalist democracy whose citizens tossed away their freedom to give a strong leader the reins of government. He may have given Russia more land in Georgia, the conflict in the eastern Ukraine and the takeover of the Crimea, but only the oligarchs are doing well financially as the economy continues to falter. Victor Orban is the strong man in Hungary, with his Fidesz Party dominating the country. And Poland under the Law and Justice Party headed by Jaroslaw Kaczynski controls the nation and makes the rules. The AKP Party with President Erdogan at the helm manages Turkey with his family and associates obtaining the most lucrative government contracts. Dutarte has the Philippines completely under his thumb with mass killings of supposed drug users, murdered by the police or vigilantes ignoring the rule of law. Totalitarianism is the common denominator in all the above countries, with one person making all the important decisions.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, colonialism was the scourge of the undeveloped world with Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Holland, Belgium, and Germany dividing the loot between them in South America, Asia, Africa, and the Pacific islands. Extracting as much wealth as possible, there was little attempt to make the colonized nations self-sustaining. Freed after World War II, most of the colonies have not prospered. Now, the main colonialist country is China, lending money to undeveloped countries at high rates which they know will not be able to be paid back. So instead, China takes over a port in Sri Lanka, mines in African countries, builds air bases and other ports to sustain its military forces, while the clock keeps running on the debt owed to it. Its client states see grand schemes which will supposedly modernize their countries too late, but China is not a charitable lender.
Islamism and terrorism are also isms that threaten democracy, though ISIS and Al Qaeda appear to be suppressed now to a large degree. American democracy appears to be under siege from narcissism with a major malignant narcissist sitting in the Oval office in the form of Donald Trump. Keeping narcissism constrained is not an easy task when one political party has completely abdicated its responsibility to America and is willing to support Trumpism no matter what the president does.
Democratic socialism is not an ideology that has to be in conflict with democracy, though if full blown it can clash with capitalism which appears to be the economic system responsible for the advances in health, life expectancy, and living conditions for humanity. Men and women need incentives to work adequately and socialism lacks these. On the other hand, capitalism has extracted too high a toll on much of mankind with the degree of inequality that has developed and the working conditions that many men and women must endure to produce for the top one percent. Perhaps a meld of capitalism, democratic socialism, and democracy (with robotics and computers) can be found that will increase productivity, diminish inequality and provide satisfactory lives for the mass of workers. There is a need for change.