Why democracy is meaningless to the masses

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

It has become an accepted truism that today, liberal democracy is in a crisis. The common belief is that the threats to liberal democracy are posed by populism, authoritarianism, nationalism and religious fundamentalism. Geopolitical scholars have also traced the threats to liberal democracy to the rise of human dislocations in several forms like economic, political, demographic, cultural or environmental which have given rise to these threats.

In the last decade or so, a growing number of geopolitical scholars claim that the biggest threat to democracy is the growing consent of the so-called new and political social order. This means that the greatest threat to liberal democracy is actually in the new form of democracy arising in the world.

A British political philosopher, John Gray, contends that liberalism is a fundamentally erroneous creed built on dangerous myths and illusions. Rather than bringing freedom to the ordinary citizen, it has led to increased government power that is bringing much of the world to the brink of totalitarianism. Another geopolitical scholar, Samuel Moyn, says that liberal thought is fundamentally sound but the present crisis has been caused not by liberalism but by its betrayal by none other than the architects of the liberal democracy themselves.

The basic ideology of liberal democracy is the equality of all persons, politically and economically. The liberal society is premised on the belief that all persons, regardless of social or economic status, will have the same opportunities.

From the beginning, most of the advocates of liberal democracy have also spread the belief that capitalism is an integral part of the structure of liberal democracy. In other words, a society has to be capitalist in order to be considered as democratic. The problem is that capitalism creates societies which are intrinsically unequal. Without drastic regulation, a capitalist society will result in over-concentration of wealth in the hands of a few people.

The welfare state was designed to allow the average citizen to have the same opportunities in life. This meant that the government would have the powers to equalize the opportunities for rich and poor, especially in the areas of health, education, housing and the capability to improve the daily lives of a family.

All these require untethered government power which could be used to limit the excesses of capitalism. The wealthy class will naturally oppose any restraints imposed by the government on capitalism. This has given rise therefore to the ideals of a welfare state and a regulated market economy.

In the end, the elite who publicly espouse liberal democracy and capitalism find that they are faced with two opposing choices – a truly democratic state with equality in all aspects of life for all people, which will require controlling capitalism. The other choice is to accept a regulated market economy and a welfare state which will limit the powers of the economic elite.

During the last few decades, the elite has therefore tried to control government so that it can counter any moves that will reduce the excesses of capitalism.

The result is that many countries which call itself a democracy has turned into an oligarchy, which means the rule of a few. This has been achieved by the elite controlling the political process through the control of media, political parties and the government bureaucracy.

The welfare state whose aim is an equal society is labelled as socialism or communism by the elite. This has led to such examples as businessmen who publicly advocate democracy and yet condemn the rise of unionism, whose goal is to equalize the powers of the laboring class with the capitalist class.

In its present state therefore, the ordinary Filipino does not see the benefits of democracy. For as long as capitalism and liberal democracy remain intertwined, the masses will continue to believe in populism, which adheres that the main struggle is to remove elitism and the elite.

As far as the masses are concerned, a capitalist state which fosters inequality and an authoritarian state has very little differences as far as their ordinary lives are concerned.

One is the rule by the ruling few or an oligarchy and the other is the rule by a political elite or an authoritarian government. The only solution is to decouple the essence of democracy from the ideology of capitalism. The masses must see that democracy has a positive effect on their daily life for them to consider that a struggle for democracy is worth their effort.

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Writefest 2025, the annual Creative Writing Workshop of Write Things begins on May 20, 3-5 pm at Fully Booked BGC with guest Thea Guanzon, author of “The Hurricane Wars,” which landed on the NYT bestsellers list. This will be a six-day hybrid workshop for kids and teens via Zoom. Register now, as space is limited. For more info: [email protected].

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