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Democracy is a Culture Rather than a Process

The main reason for the failure of democracy in Pakistan was that the ideas associated with a democracy were alien to Pakistani people. Pakistani society consists of tribal or feudal landscape. The tribal and feudal systems are based upon authoritarianism instead of mass level participation. Our military and political elite could not embrace the idea of democracy. That is why, there was no strong resistance whenever the military junta toppled the elected government.

Honour Becomes'em
Thursday, November 01, 2012

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Introduction

Since the beginning of the collective life of mankind on this planet, many political systems have been tried. Political system — or in sociological terms— the arrangement/distribution of power in a society is a product of the political beliefs of that society, the political beliefs which stem out of the political socialisation of that society, which in turn is a combined product of the economic structure and political ideas dominant in that society. Any political system is a system of values and culture instead of a process with clearly defined SOPs (Standard operating procedures) and clear-cut instructions and guidelines. Democracy is also a system of values and culture which as a political system needs a breeding ground in the roots of a society in order to flourish. The breeding ground for democracy needs two conditions in a society. First is the emergence of democratic ideas and values by the indigenous people of that land and second are the socio economic conditions which support democratic values and culture.

Democracy, as defined by Abraham Lincoln who is founder of the world's economically powerful democracy, the United States, is:
Democracy is a system of government under which people are governed by the people, for the people, and from the people.

Mahatama Gandhi, the ideological founder of the world's largest democracy in terms of population defines democracy as: “My notion of democracy is that under it, the weakest should have the same opportunity as the strongest.”

These definitions imply that democracy is not just about holding and contesting elections but it has rather certain values and a specific culture associated with it. Amongst all others, the most important democratic values include:

1. Equality of opportunity in all spheres of life.
2. Equality of everybody before the law, i.e. rule of law.
3. Participation of all the segments of society into power.

These values can only be formed and then implemented in letter and spirit if people embrace them during their political socialisation and aspire for them as high ideals. Otherwise, the democracy cannot survive as it is a culture rather than a process.
 The ideas of democracy, rule of law and adult franchise went to their favour so armed with the weapon of these ideas, this new class succeeded in building up a new political culture under which a new political order was established.
 Evidence from History
History has always provided evidence for the fact that ideas and values come before actions. The motherland of modern democracy, i.e. England is a manifestation of this principle. In the changing times of 16 and 17th centuries, during the age of discovery and at the dawn of industrial revolution, these were the ideas of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jeans Jacques Rousseau which paved the way for democracy. These were their political ideas in the social contract, treatises on government and other such political classics which got acceptance among masses and intellectual elite and became a part of political socialisation and ultimately political culture. Coupled with these ideas were the socio-economic changes going on in Europe particularly, England. With the advent of Industrial revolution emerged a new mercantile class which had wealth but not prestige and political power. The ideas of democracy, rule of law and adult franchise went to their favour so armed with the weapon of these ideas, this new class succeeded in building up a new political culture under which a new political order was established. The famous British historian, Thomas Carlyle, describes this phenomenon in the following seminal words: “There was once a man called Rousseau who wrote a book containing nothing but ideas. The second edition was bound in the skins of those who laughed at the first.”

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Process without culture; the post-colonial experience

Democracy cannot flourish in a land where the ideas of rule of law, adult franchise and other such notions have not become a part of political culture. If democracy was a merely a process it could have flourished anywhere in the world it was tried to establish but recent past of the world proves that thinking this way is like day-dreaming. The post-colonial world is a very clear example of this phenomenon. The imperial European nations, wherever they want in the world felt it the “white man's burden” to introduce their political ideas and build an arrangement of power based on those ideas but since those ideas had not evolved out of the political consciousness of the native people of those lands, the idea of a democratic system without a democratic culture proved to be a fallacy as most of the post colonial world was plagued then by military interventions which was later to become a distinguishing feature of the underdeveloped post-colonial world. Between 1952 and 2000, 33 African countries experienced 85 military coups. Augusto Pinochet of Chile, Saddam Hussain of Iraq, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt to name a few are a memory of the recent past.

Whither democracy — the Pakistani dilemma
Pakistan had a problem with democracy since its inception. The fundamental reason for the failure of democracy in Pakistan was that the ideas associated with a democracy were alien to Pakistani people. Democracy was not evolved out of the Pakistani culture; rather it was imposed by our colonial masters so there was a lack of democratic culture and its associated values.  Pakistani society consisted of tribal or feudal landscape. Tribalism or feudalism, as a political system, has certain values associated with it which include authoritarianism instead of mass level participation, kinship instead of merit, patronage instead of rule of law due to which our military and political elite could not embrace the idea of democracy wholeheartedly and that is why, there was no strong resistance whenever the military junta toppled the elected government.
 In the underdeveloped world, it is the prime responsibility of the free media, if there is any, to educate and train the masses about democratic culture and values, then comes the responsibility of the political parties to educate and train the people and build up a political culture inside themselves in which the basis for promotion should be merit, not patronage.
 Secondly, the political system which we have in Pakistan is rather something else in the garb of democracy. Where one needs at least ten to twenty million rupees to contest a National Assembly election and around half of that for a seat of provincial assembly; where the legislature has become a club of the elite is rather actually plutocracy, i.e. a government of a rich few. Middle class, having understood that the doors of the political system are closed for them, get disenchanted and ultimately get alienated from the system; and here lies a basic reason for the lack of development of democratic values and culture in Pakistan.

Concluding remarks
The abovementioned historical facts and arguments validate the notion that democracy is a culture rather than a process. The democratic values and socialisation have to gain acceptance in a society if democracy is to flourish as a political system. However, this does not mean that democracy cannot be established in the long run, in a state where there is absence of democratic culture. Culture itself is an organic thing and changes with the course of history. If the intellectual elite of a country succeed in propounding those ideas to the extent that these values are embraced by the people of that land at a mass level, and the socio-economic conditions, to some extent, are conducive for them then the democratic system can genuinely flourish in that society and country.

In the underdeveloped world, it is the prime responsibility of the free media, if there is any, to educate and train the masses about democratic culture and values, then comes the responsibility of the political parties to educate and train the people and build up a political culture inside themselves in which the basis for promotion should be merit, not patronage. And lastly, it is the responsibility of the state to hold elections in such a way that everyone be able to contest elections regardless of his financial status. The state must try to build up a culture of meritocracy instead of monetocracy (money as the basis for progress) which is the prevailing norm of the political culture of the underdeveloped world.

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