Democracy: Re-dressing old arguments

Slovaj Zizek in a recent article


'The popular rage that gave birth to Trump also gave birth to Sanders. Both express widespread social and political discontent, but they do it in opposite ways—one engaging in rightist populism and the other opting for the leftist call for justice. And here’s the trick: The leftist call for justice tends to be combined with struggles for women’s and gay rights, for multiculturalism and against racism. The strategic aim of the Clinton consensus is clearly to dissociate all these struggles from the leftist call for justice, which is why the living symbol of this consensus is Tim Cook. Cook, the CEO of Apple, proudly signed a pro-LGBT letter to North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory and can now easily forget about hundreds of thousands of Foxconn workers in China assembling Apple products in slave conditions. He made his big gesture of solidarity with the underprivileged by demanding the abolition of gender-segregated bathrooms.

'If Cook is one living symbol of this consensus, Madeleine Albright, the first woman to be U.S. secretary of state, is another embodiment. On CBS’s 60 Minutes (May 12, 1996), Albright was asked about the Iraq War: “We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?”

'Albright calmly replied: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price—we think the price is worth it.”

'Let’s ignore most of the questions this reply raises (including the interesting shift from “I” to “we:” I think it’s a hard choice but we think the price is worth it) and focus on just one aspect: Can we imagine all the hell that would break out if the same answer were said by somebody like Vladimir Putin or Chinese President Xi Jinping or the Iranian president? Would they not be denounced immediately in all our headlines as cold and ruthless monsters? Campaigning for Clinton, Albright said: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” (Meaning: women who vote for Sanders instead of Clinton.) Maybe we should amend this statement. There is a special place in hell for women—and men—who think half a million dead children is an affordable price for a military intervention that ruins a country, while wholeheartedly supporting women’s and gay rights at home.' 

Clinton on War with Iran: here



One could say that arguments against democracy are as old as democracy itself, but it's possible that they're older. 

Whether the arguments come from the far left or the far right or anarchism or the founding fathers or the ancient Greeks, they usually are or have been similar in nature. The soft critique says it doesn't work and that representative democracy should be abolished. The hard critique is that it does work, precisely by harming minorities and focusing only on immediate issues. 

Not often enough is it asked, who is offering us these choices? To vote between two candidates who, as history has shown us with past candidates, are more than likely going to wage war with someone somewhere in the duration of the decade they'll be in office is no kind of choice.  

As it is and has perennially been the case, consensus often does harm when it isn't genuine. Democracy does the most harm precisely when it is.