One of the suggested scenarios in the French presidential elections next week is the possibility of the victory of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the radical leftist, or extreme right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen. It seems, major traditional parties, which have been sharing power and influence in France since the early 20th century, have simply collapsed.
This is not a special case for France. It is an observation in all western countries experiencing a democratic transition crisis at many levels, whether it is related to the nature of the electoral process, the structure of the political parties, or the relationship between political and social mobility.
“We live in democratic countries, but we do not live the democracy,” French intellectual and historian Pierre Rosanvallon once said. This means the increasing shift between the procedural forms of organization and election, and the pattern of practicing the actual politics, means that the regime is no longer applying the democratic principles.
The charm of democracy, in terms of being a symbol of freedom and equality, has always covered the serious problems it poses theoretically and practically. Thus, the reasons for the uniqueness of North American and Western European societies are rarely seen in this model in its completed version.
It is true that the classical liberal vision has always been accompanied by a strong belief that pluralistic democracy is the historical destiny of humanity. It expresses objectively the values of modernity, rationality and human liberation.
However, liberal vision itself is aware of the almost constant contradiction between the model of liberal democracy and its ability to incarnate in institutional structures that guarantee social equality, eliminating individual dominance and control. German sociologist “Max Weber” stated that democracy is both a free rational system and a system for legitimizing dominance at the same time.
Weber said: “Democracy is a two co-existent meanings, not necessarily correlated”: The meaning of participation, which is a political mechanism, and the meaning of freedom, which is not necessarily confined to political freedom in the sense of electoral representation. The merging of the liberal values and the system of pluralistic participation is the great specialty of the modern Western experience and the question raised about its continuity.
The specificity of Western model lies in the experience of a stable civil peace that results from the efficiency of the mechanisms of public deliberation and the mechanisms of the peaceful transfer of powerEssayid Weld Ebah
The radius of democracy
In his important book “The Life and Death of Democracy”, Australian philosopher “John McCain” argues that democracy in terms of being a political system is neither new nor a Western production. It was originated within (The Deliberative Councils) in the Levant, represented in the Iberian Peninsula in the 12th century as “an Islamic gift to the modern world.”
What we are witnessing today is the end of the representative democracy that was associated with the age of the printed press, i.e. the book, the newspaper and the mail, the emergence of the “democracy of censorship,” which is appropriated within the media saturated societies, where all traditional political structures have been shaken. What McCain shows is that liberal democracy is not the only possible form of linking freedom to participation.
Today there are representative democracies in which political freedoms are denied (Russia and Turkey). There are democracies with the highest participation rates, without a pluralistic electoral system (China, for example), other liberal democracies in terms of the nature of the political system, although their social structures are hierarchical are without social equality (India).
The current paradox
What is special about the Western democracies is not the manner or the size of participation. All social studies have proved that the integrated competence in pluralistic democracy is not quantitatively or qualitatively different from other political systems. Although the rules and structures of the political and bureaucratic elites are different and the system of freedom is not unified and homogenous.
However, there is no direct link between individual freedom, which is only determined by negation, and the choice to participate in its positive institutional manner. Still, the specificity of the Western model lies in the experience of a stable civil peace that results from the efficiency of the mechanisms of public deliberation and the mechanisms of the peaceful transfer of power.
The great paradox we are currently experiencing is that the new information revolution, rather than fusing the free collective social drive, has undermined the transparency and objectivity of the public truth in a post-truth era. Instead of strengthening participation frameworks, all organizational media in the political field have been weakened.
Now, the whole fear revolves around the balance of civil peace threatened by populist, extreme right-wing tendencies and the threat of terrorism.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Dr. Essayid Weld Ebah is professor of philosophy in Mauritania and visiting professor to many Arabic universities. His writes for various publications across the region.