The fall of liberal democracy? -Express Tribune

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In his book The End of History and the Last Man, Francis Fukuyama asserts that with the ascendency of Western liberal democracy following the Cold War, society has reached a point where an ideological evolution can no longer happen. Liberal democracy has therefore become the final form of human government since it provides conditions through which one can progress towards the establishment of a “universal and homogeneous” society.

Some twenty-five years ago, the concept of liberal democracy had swept the world, and through mass agitations the centre of power shifted from the state to the people — the Soviet Union had collapsed, new democracies were emerging in Europe and the apartheid regime in Africa was disintegrating. It was a giant leap towards freedom; or so it seemed.

While the ideals of Western liberal democracy encompass a certain type of universal framework i.e. individual freedom as a universal characteristic, the reality today in many parts of the developing world is starkly different. This is because freedom and democracy are in dialectical opposition with one another. The West erroneously conflates the two ideas, and fails to acknowledge that liberal democracy merely leads to the institutionalisation of freedom. Its framework is replete with inconsistent theoretical conceptions.

Considering that very concept of universality has been turned on its head by post-structuralists (no, not post-modernists), Fukuyama’s claim only holds true for some First World countries, where most of the basic prerequisites of democracy i.e. quality education, free media, etc have been met. But once the veil of ideology is removed from this, it becomes evident that this too has not been the case.

Historically, the idea of liberal democracy has increasingly been taken up and used by right-wing populists — one must consider here that Trump was elected democratically — to illude the masses into believing in a utopic version of society. In order for a liberal democracy to reach its ultimate goal of a homogenous society, it has to ensure ultimate freedom and ultimate security for every individual. The nature of politics however is not just of the individual in itself, but of the individual in relation to another. It is because of this tension that the very idea of liberalism mutates itself into something sinister.

In order to reassert itself, and for the sake of its own survival, liberalism needs an enemy that poses a serious threat to individual rights and freedoms, whether it be in the form of communist China and its BRI or the rise of extremism and the weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. The annihilation of this other automatically becomes a necessity under the liberal democratic order.

This is how liberalism operates as an ideology while creating the illusion of instilling a moral standard. In reality, it is being used: to allure and distract the working class of First World countries through lustrous ideals; and re-enforce the mechanisms of capitalism i.e. to protect the wealth and assets that countries and individuals have amassed along the years, either through colonial pursuits or through relentless exploitation (It is here that neo-liberalism takes precedence, but that is a topic of separate debate). In the process, individual liberties and rights are blatantly violated, especially when the system is threatened.

Liberal democracies have over the years manifested in destructive forms, in turn giving rise to illiberal democracies around the world. Thus, governments and capitalists openly violate the rule of law and deprive the citizens of basic rights and liberties in order to maintain status quo. The coronavirus pandemic and the unfolding ecological crisis have highlighted exactly that. In the wake of multiple crises and brewing global tensions, one can clearly witness the disintegration of the liberal democratic and neo-liberal order. The billion-dollar question now is: what will replace it in the coming years? Or will it somehow find a way to strut on?

Published in The Express Tribune, October 21st, 2021.