Fitna 3: The Paradox of Democracy

Abdelmoumen
4 min readDec 29, 2023

A Deeper Look into Democracy’s Contradictions

As we progress through the Fitna series, I want to explore the prevailing governing system championed by Western civilization as humanity’s greatest achievement: Democracy.

By the end of WWII, emerged as a promising realm where individual rights would find safeguarding. Is this assertion accurate? To address this query, it becomes imperative to comprehend the essence of democracy. To do so, we must go back through time to explore how the first civilisations have delt with democracy.

By suika_eman

Introduction:

Frequently, democracy is narrowly defined as a set of institutions centred around the right to vote. Nevertheless, this definition represents only the formal structure of democracy and overlooks the contextual aspects of this regime.

It is crucial to approach it not merely as a governmental system but as a culture of free expression. Democracy can be liberal, illiberal, or populist. And the result depends directly on its tool of communication and the ideas promoted within a society.

In the book “The Paradox of Democracy”, ZAC.G and ILLING.S. considered that the principle of the democracy lies on as a Paradox. As per the authors, a communication environment characterized by freedom and openness has the inherent risk of inviting exploitation and subversion from within. In other words, while freedom of expression is integral, it also carries the potential to pose a threat to democracy.

Democracy can be viewed as a system without a predefined purpose, continually shaped in real time by the communicative choices of individual citizens and politicians. However, it provides no assurances of good governance or favourable outcomes. Consequently, we may find ourselves with a government that, to varying degrees, serves the majority.

The contradiction of democracy:

Despite its inherent weaknesses and contradictions, we continue to place our trust in democracy. While emphasizing that democracy allows for freedom of expression, we often overlook the paradox that democratic freedom can be self-negating precisely because it serves as the operative variable.

For democracies to operate effectively, it is imperative that citizens not only have access to information but also engage in an open system of debate, transforming it into a culture of open persuasion. Contrary to common assumptions, democracy offers no guarantees regarding outcomes. A democratic culture may indeed bolster a liberal-democratic government, but it can just as easily give rise to plutocratic or authoritarian systems.

Democracy issues:

Throughout history, some scholars and philosopher understood the challenge of democratic life.

Plato regarded democracy as an inherently unfair system that fails to guarantee the truth. He positioned himself as an early critic of the sophists, who, in contrast to seeking truth, were focused on cultivating rhetoric for political purposes.

Plato contended that rhetoric could, at best, provide only a semblance of true wisdom. He saw rhetoric as an inherent aspect of democracy, not a flaw. The underlying concern lies in the openness of free speech to the public, wherein speakers may exploit their rights, and the public may, in turn, neglect to support wise leaders or sound policies.

The concern primarily lies with the public, as the majority of the masses may lack the qualifications to discern the truth, leading them to favour the well-articulated leader over the right one. John Adams, the second President of the United States, echoed this sentiment aligning with Plato. Adams asserted, “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”

In addition to Plato, Walter Lippmann approached the issue of democracy from a distinct perspective. In his 1922 work “Public Opinion,” he delved into the qualifications of citizens to navigate political matters within a society. Lippmann questioned,

“Can citizens achieve a basic knowledge of public affairs and then make a reasonable choice about what to do?

His opinion was negative: if citizens cannot attain this knowledge, then the entire democratic project collapses.

Lippmann observed that since most voters lack direct knowledge of political affairs, they tend to rely heavily on images and narratives presented by the media. This turns democracy into a competition of compelling stories, where the most eloquent often emerges as the victor.

Lippmann’s additional concern revolves around the vast and rapidly changing nature of the world. The swift pace of communication in the era of mass media, he argues, compels journalists to convey information through slogans and superficial interpretations. Consequently, Lippmann advocated for a technocratic elite to govern effectively on behalf of the masses — a concept reminiscent of the Islamic system of government known as Ash-Shura.

Moreover, democracy faces instability due to the foundational issue of values. The determination of the value’s significance in a democratic culture, according to Lippmann, is influenced by the tools of communication facilitated by the media to persuade. He highlights,

“Our media environment decides not just what we pay attention to but also how we think and orient ourselves in the world.”

To sum up, democracy is merely a system that provides the freedom of speech, where eloquence and Rhetoric matter more than the truth. The elections and the leaders are chosen by voters who are not enough qualified to make the good decision. The information is provided by the tools of communication that are not necessarily truthful or deep.

As we progress through our Fitna series, the upcoming article will delve into three instances where democratic nations experienced internal contradictions that ultimately led to the demise of their democratic systems. Stay connected for an insightful exploration.

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Abdelmoumen

Business consultant. Engineering Master's. Exploring politics, history, and tech through analytical storytelling. Sharing insights and opinions on Medium