This article written by Aleksandra Rybinska first appeared in Nowa Konfederacja.
“Odysseus returned to Circe for a short time, to then embark on a further journey. On his way he faced sirens– half-women and half-birds, who lured sailors with their singing. Clever Odysseus ordered his people to fill their ears with wax, and to tie him to the mast. Thanks to this, he prevented his ship from crashing into surrounding rocks, which sirens lured the sailors to.”
It is not a coincidence that the above quote from Homer’s Odyssey was included in the 2003 book The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad. Its author - Fareed Zakaria and guru of U.S. global liberal elite, used it to express his view of democracy. Odysseus symbolizes the government, Odysseus’s people are the elites, which guide the government onto the right path, making sure that it doesn’t follow the will of the masses blindly, and Sirens are demos, the masses. The government is to lead, and not to be led by the masses.
How much demos is in democracy?
The concept of semi-sovereign people was developed nearly half a century ago by Elmer Eric Schattschneider, an American political scientist, when American elitists were in heated debate with the pluralists. Schattschneider argued that an average citizen had no control over politics. The exclusion of masses from a democratic process was a popular subject of intellectual debates in 1960s. Pluralists wanted everyone to have the same political status, whether it concerned possession, power, or rights. Elitists, on the other hand, such as sociologists Vilfredo Pareto and Gaetano Mosca, thought that only the privileged, successful people should govern, because they “deserved” it, and the role of masses was to follow them. The argument has never been resolved, and the question of how much demos should there be within democracy attracted attention again after historic events such as the fall of the communism, Fukuyama’s “end of history,” and the apparent victory of liberal elitist democracy as a dominant pattern of worldwide governance.
Criticizing democracy has become fashionable, but no one does or has done it as zealously as Zakaria. The CNN popular journalist, the favorite of Washington’s elites, and the self-appointed man of success (he said in one interview that he was sure he would become the Secretary of State). His privileged upbringing in a family of a prominent attorney in India, and his childhood spent in 1960s’ Mumbai heavily imprinted with Ghandi’s “populist governance” and a multi-party system, played a significant role in shaping Zakaria’s opinion that it made India more democratic but less liberal at the same time.
Hindu fundamentalists selected mainly by “poor people from the lowest casts,” grabbed the power, and began to persecute privileged muslin elites to which Zakaria belonged. The apparently positive democracy turned out to be a disaster, as it allowed “dumb masses” to bring back the Hindu nationalism, oppression and violence. Zakaria’s experience of losing privileges was painful.
This account constitutes the most personal part of The Future of Freedom, and explains why Zakaria blames democracy for all the evil in the modern world, such as ethnic violence, poverty, repression, war, and even international terrorism, which Zakaria tends to call a “democratization of violence.” Zakaria writes that democracy cannot triumph without human rights being deeply rooted. It is simply not enough to have elections and promote liberalism as an economic doctrine. Zakaria thinks that democracy does not equal freedom. If democracy does not produce order (this is Huntington’s argument), it becomes an aid to the worst type of conservatism and fanaticism, it hinders reforms, as well as social and economic progress. This is how “non-liberal” democracies are born. In Zakaria’s opinion, freedom of speech and general election are almost a guarantee of victory to the most radical, ruthless and non-democratic groups.
This critique refers mostly to the third world countries going through, often false, democratization processes. Zakaria is trapped in his own net of concepts. He claims to become a “non-liberal democracy,” the country has to become a democracy in the first place, but that requires an authentic, free and pluralistic election. Therefore, countries he lists as an example (Belarus, Tajikistan, or Kyrgyzstan) are inadequate, as their elections were neither free nor pluralistic. They were, and still are, dictatorial. This obvious logical contradiction puts a stamp on the entire content of his book.
Governance by Elites
However, the former editor of American Newsweek is equally critical towards the well-established western democracies. Zakaria complains that politicians from countries of long democratic tradition spend more and more time listening to the voice of the masses, and more and more frequently become prisoners of lobbying groups. Zakaria claims that the process of democratization is growing in a grotesque manner, transforming leaders into slaves of demos, who view their success through weekly popularity surveys. Instead of governing and leading, politicians follow the voice of the great unwashed (another phrase from Homer’s Odyssey), in other words, the voice of the common. As a result, power goes to the wrong people (like fascists, conservatives, populists, fanatics etc.), which leads to the restriction of freedom, especially for sexual and ethnic minorities.
Zakaria does not even try to hide his contempt for the masses that want to participate in the democratic process without being equipped to do so; people, who did not study at Ivy League schools, where Zakaria himself was educated. His idea of a remedy to the “mass democracy” is elites, which represent tighter groups, and promote more oligarchic governance. Zakaria insists that wise oligarchy, which believes in, what Zakaria calls, “liberal constitutionalism” is a better option that the non-liberal democracy that destroys minorities and pagans.
In his book The Next American civil war: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite, Lee Harris wrote that should unregulated democracy threaten freedom, it must be replaced with regulated democracy. Regulated democracy requires regulators, and in Zakaria’s view these should be “independent judges,” central banks, or World Trade Organization and “elite corps of experts.” Governments will function better once politics stops being political. Based on that philosophy, in his CNN program, Zakaria criticized the Polish government and its attitude towards the constitutional judges, led by prof. Rzepliński, on several occasions. He also defended corporations, which he said were under attack from “dangerous utopians,” and anti-globalists.
Zakaria points at the European Union as a good example of a “non-democratic way of leading politics.” The democratic deficit of the E.U. is an asset in his mind rather than a disadvantage, because it isolates the E.U. from political pressure coming from citizens.
Deny common people their voice
It is impossible to resist the inference that Zakaria, who once claimed that Chinese were grateful for their jobs in slave factories and that more capitalism is the answer to the financial crisis, does not necessarily defends effective governance and personal freedom, but rather defends the privileges of elitist, liberal cast, which fears that losers of the globalization process might get into power and tear away their affluence and privileges. Zakaria experienced it once already and clearly does not fancy a repeat.
This is the source of his poorly suppressed joy over the fall of the “White America” (revealed in the Global Public Square program broadcast by CNN in January 2016). “White Americans are dying in increasing numbers. And things look much worse for those with just a high school diploma or less. (…) The main causes of death are as striking as the fact itself: suicide, alcoholism, and overdoses of prescription and illegal drugs,” Zakaria wrote, adding that the trend concerned Donald Trump’s supporters. Zakaria rejoiced that Trump would fail on delivering his election promise of “making America great again,” and that the oppressed “white trash” was the first victim of Washington’s order, and would never rise from its fall.
That is all there is to his philosophy. It is not about democracy, freedom, or defense of checks and balances system, even though parts of his critique are justified, e.g. dependence of the political process on the movement of opinion poll, or his argument in favor of more republican government.
His remaining views are harder to swallow since Zakaria proposes to replace the chaotic rules of demos with soft dictatorship. A government behind closed doors, supported by non-democratically selected regulative bodies with no consideration for those they governed. Oligarchy, or, according to Niall Ferguson, aristocratic rule in the name of freedom, is an original concept. Undoubtedly, if Zakaria could have his way he would probably deny the “white trash” that voted for Trump their right to vote.
Such ideas were brought up already, for example after the U.K. referendum on Brexit, when some argued that the referendum outcome was invalid due to some voters being “too stupid” to understand what they voted for. Another example is Austria, where Norbert Hofer from a far-right Freedom Party of Austria was leading between first and second round of the country’s presidential election. Experts as enlightened as Zakaria suggested that the right to vote should dependent on education and merits.
Dictatorship as a remedy
Supporters of globalization are between a rock and a hard place. They offer us the replacement of “tyranny of the majority” with “democracy without demos.” The entire argument Zakaria presents in his book sounds anti-democratic. His defense of Western governance by the elites is paired with his support for dictatorship everywhere else.
Zakaria has no issue with democracy being a loser. Hi has an issue with democracy being the winner. In his opinion any flaws in democracy “can be always cured with dictatorship.” Therefore, when Zakaria warns against a corruptive effect of power, it sounds grotesque considering his blind support for elitist government. In particular because political and cultural elites are already in power, thus, they are partially responsible for the flaws Zakaria mentions. His views are also dominated by paternalism. Masses are to believe that being excluded from the democratic process is for their own good, as they no longer have to deal with pressure of making decisions and taking responsibility for them.
Such view is based on a conviction that masses do not grow up. Masses consist of dwarfs, gnomes, midgets, and Pigmies, except single individuals, who grew into giants on the idealistic diet. Masses have inadequate mentality; are xenophobic, chauvinistic, nationalistic, primitive and stupid.
Zakaria writes that when choosing between a free and just election and a guarantee of rights and freedom, the second option should be selected. In his view, democracy is restricted to an electoral process, in other words to a political method. The question is whether such a narrow definition of democracy (without relation to its moral foundation) and contrasting it with human rights, i.e. constitutional freedoms, makes any sense. Especially if we consider that constitutionalism is able to function without freedom, as the case of Singapore proves.
Zakaria chooses not to mention that the democratic universality he criticizes so much is fueled by globalization. As a result, his opinions don’t include a word about inequalities or the erosion of national sovereignty, which are both a direct outcome of globalization. Sovereignty is an integral part of democracy. Yet Zakaria recommends that democracy be further restricted it in the name of protecting liberal freedoms. This is accomplished by his ideas that international bodies, such as World Bank or World Trade Organization, should become “independent experts” and monitor national political processes. And inequalities, after all, make the rights and freedoms available only to some.
Zakaria’s critics call him “a barometer in a well-tailored suit,” because he excels in anticipating political trends. He was in favor of the war in Iraq when everybody else supported it, he criticized it when it became fashionable, in the end he joined the choir of those who prophesied the end of American hegemony. He seems not to notice that the strongest anti-globalist stimulants come from beyond the Atlantic.
Lower middle and working classes, which the former editor-in-chief of Foreign Affairs seems to despise, remain faithful to democracy as an election process and as monitoring means for those they choose to put in power. Trump’s political offer is based exactly on that principle that “not them, but we decide about ourselves.” The breach between the political elites in America and masses of U.S. citizens will continue to grow. The means proposed by globalist elites voiced by Zakaria will only precipitate their own agony.