From Raw Democracy to Distilled Polyarchy: Where do we go from here?

Corporate power is the fusion of corporations and state.

Richard Moser

Before analyzing the question as to what is a democracy and why it has failed, at least in Asia and Africa, again and again, to deliver, we should first revisit the times of Socrates.

Most people believe that Socrates died after he drank a poison hemlock. But, in my view, there is also another angle to the story: His death can also be called the result of a democratic decision.


In fact, Socrates, a classic Greek Philosopher and ironically one of the founders of Western philosophy, was himself to have the first hand, catastrophic experience of the foolishness (or may we call it the free choice?) of voters. In 399 BC, according to some accounts, the philosopher was put on trial on trumped up charges of corrupting the minds of the youth of Athens. A jury of 500 Athenians was invited to weigh up the case and it decided by a narrow margin that the philosopher was guilty. He was put to death in a process which is for thinking people (who, in my view, happen to be few in every age and don’t fit into the scheme of things called democracy), every bit as tragic as Jesus condemnation has been for Christians.

It is also pertinent to note that in the dialogues of Plato, Socrates is portrayed as hugely pessimistic about the whole business of democracy.

Nonetheless, we must not deduce from the above that Socrates had an elitist mindset. He, according to some Socratic analysts, wanted to make a distinction between “an intellectual democracy” and “a democracy by birth right” as he knew exactly where the latter kind of democracy would lead: to a system that Greeks feared above all, demagoguery.

Now we zoom in on the 21st century democracy: In the modern age, where democracy has become a buzzword, gigantic corporations have come to rule the planet laying down railways, constructing motorways, developing other means of communication, flattening forests, and distributing fizzy drinks to even the remotest parts of our continents. Communities have been broken up, people exploited, and rubbish being dropped everywhere. And all this is going on in the name of democracy. Isn’t it a tragedy that in democracy, Pepsi or Coke can reach even the remotest villages of the world but clean drinking water is not available even in the cities. Reason? Potable water has been monopolized by Pepsi and Coke all over the world and is being rapidly sold to the people after changing it in the carbonated drink.

It is also a fact that in the United States of America, both Democrats and Republicans are backed largely by the same corporate contributors and interest groups. Congressional members also receive contributions from many of the same interest groups. Both parties, according to some sources, were heavily lobbied by Corporate America to the tune of 3.3 billion dollars in 2011 alone.

Then so called private corporations like Facebook, Google, and Twitter, according to Richard Moser, control information and manage the Ist amendment. The corporate media now broadcast propaganda and play the role of censor once monopolized by FBI and CIA.

According to Glem Greenwald, an American journalist and author, Republicans and Democrats discuss certain general issues during debates while ignoring other more controversial issues (as is the norm of the mainstream media too) hoping to convince public that there is a huge difference of choice.

And in an article titled: “100 Ways Republicans Are Just Like Democrats,” an analyst Taylor Tylor points out that at least 360 former Democrats and Republicans congress people have left office and accepted jobs as lobbyists for corporations or special interest groups who attempt to influence the same government they once worked for. In addition, he continues, as many as 5400 congressional members have done the same in the past many years . Referred to as the “revolving door,” members of both parties routinely move between influential private sector positions and policy making positions in the executive and legislative branches.

Therefore, it seems evident that in the prevailing form of democracy, the elite give us the illusion of freedom but control all our choices. For instance we are given the choice of hundreds of television channels (as was also stated very proudly by our P.M. Imran Khan during his visit to USA from July 21 t0 July 23, 2019 while briefing USIP regarding the media freedom in Pakistan), yet the same message comes from all of the channels. There are more advertisements than any other content. Audience are constantly bombarded with the (mostly vulgar) advertisements with intermittent bits of news and analysis to keep us informed of things that don’t even matter to layman who is always concerned about meeting the never ending and constantly ballooning deficit of his domestic budget. In this context, the announcement by our P.M that he would order to withdraw the facility of T.V given to corrupt politicians in jail seems a blessing in disguise for them and not a punishment as he claims. Then, as some critics of democracy rightly point out, we are given the freedom to choose from the aisles and aisles of food, yet 90% of it is just corn and soy products. Same is true regarding the choice of fizzy drinks.

And this formula also applies to our choice regarding political candidates. We are given the freedom to choose from an array of political candidates, yet nothing changes because both sides are bought and paid for by the elite. Differences between politicians and political parties used to be ideological till the demise of Soviet Union, but now with the continuous and unhindered rise of neoliberal ideas since 1990s (and political parties working like family owned business), these differences seem no more solid than differences between fizzy drinks. Similarly, in some instances the votes of poor masses are also bought in exchange for some illusions.

Freedom to criticize government or right to information (a luxury for Ashrafs) won’t matter if layman has nothing to eat, no place to work, and no money to invest.

In the end, a paragraph from Noam Chomsky’s book “Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance” sums up the whole idea of so called democracy and freedom in following words:

[Controlling the general population has always been a dominant concern of power and privilege, particularly since the first modern democratic revolution in seventeenth-century England. The self described “men of best quality” were appalled as a “giddy multitude of beasts in men’s shapes” rejected the basic framework of the civil conflict raging in England between King and Parliament, and called for government “by countrymen like ourselves, that know our wants.” Not by knights and gentlemen that make us laws, that are chosen for fear and do but oppress us, and do not know the people’s sores.” The men of best quality recognized that if people are so “depraved and corrupt” as to “confer places of power and trust upon wicked and undeserving men, they forfeit their power in this behalf unto those that are good, though but a few.” Almost three centuries later, Wilsonian idealism, as it is standardly termed, adopted a rather similar stance. Abroad it is Washington’s responsibility to ensure that government is in the hands of “the good, though but a few.” At home, it is necessary to safeguard a system of elite decision making and public ratification — “polyarchy,” in the terminology of political science — not democracy.” (page-5) ]

Hence in the democracy you can enjoy the freedom to use facebook and express all sorts of opinions, but you cannot have access to potable water. As simple as that.








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Aizaz Baqir

I am a freelance writer and translator based in Multan, Pakistan having interests in reading, writing, travelling and social services.