Saturday, September 15, 2018

International Day of Democracy: The Worst Form of Government

"Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…" - Winston Churchill, 11 November 1947
The International Day of Democracy has been celebrated by the United Nations every year since 2008 with today marking one decade of observing this day on September 15th. Democracy has been in retreat worldwide throughout these 10 years. Freedom House in its 2018 Freedom in the World Report subtitled it Democracy in Crisis, and the facts paint a somber picture.
"2017 was the 12th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. Seventy-one countries suffered net declines in political rights and civil liberties in 2017, with only 35 registering gains. Once-promising states such as Turkey, Venezuela, Poland, and Tunisia were among those experiencing declines in democratic standards. The recent democratic opening in Myanmar was permanently damaged by a shocking campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya minority."
 Part of the crisis is due to the failure of democracies to distinguish between dictatorship and democracy. When the European Union describes the totalitarian communist dictatorship in Cuba as a "one party democracy" there is a big problem of fundamental understanding or a willful blindness to what is democracy. Cuba has a "parliament" that in practice is a rubber stamp of the Castro regime and not a deliberative or democratic body.

There is also a continuing romance with the lie that dictatorships can deliver better services to their population than democracies. For example, many cite the Castro regime's  healthcare system but fail to mention that Canada, Costa Rica, Chile, and Colombia have better healthcare than Cuba and did not have to sacrifice their democracies to provide it to their citizens. Furthermore, unlike Cuba where there is no independent press, in these other countries their healthcare systems are scrutinized, criticized, and subject to more accountability than they are in the Castro dictatorship.

Western Democracies made the decision to heavily invest in Communist China over the past thirty years and today the same Chinese dictatorship that killed over 45 million of its own people in the 20th Century has achieved great economic growth while maintaining its despotic nature and modernizing it for the 21st century. Empowering a brutal dictatorship, history has shown, is never a good idea.

There is another inescapable reality, that among the 20 countries with the highest standards of living in the world: 19 of them are full fledged democracies.  Churchill was right. Democracy is a terrible form of government except for all others.  (The United States ranks down at 17th on this list with Canada in first place).

Democrats need to remember the important of institutions, accountability and a free press as bulwarks of democracy and a free society. At the same time Democrats also need to be more discerning when dealing with dictatorships.


  1. Hi John,

    I understand I might feel to content to agree that democracy is mankind's best political invention, but since you recall how Hitler was elected as Chancellor by the German people, only to eventually turn Germany into a totalitarian racist dictatorship, you've seen history repeat itself with Nicolas Maduro being elected Venezuelan president, only to eventually attack Venezuela's democratic institutions.

    1. Out of the long list of bad options it is the best option. However it requires a vigilant and engaged citizenry.