The Failure of Democracy and the Rise of Fascism
Fascism and other far-right populist governments initiated assaults on democracy due to their perception that it predominantly served the elite, failing to address the needs of common citizens. In response, they implemented reactionary forms of governance. However, did this transformation yield the desired results? Regrettably, it only exacerbated the toxicity of the social environment.
Now, the responsibility lies with democracy and its advocates to provide a remedy for this poison. It is imperative, above all else, to abandon the notion of a bourgeois democracy and instead fortify its foundations to ensure that democracy, in practice, benefits everyone, including the commoners.
The Need for a New Vision of Democracy
Over the past decade in India, a striking transformation has occurred. The only change, it seems, is that supporters of the ruling party have gained nothing while detractors have lost their freedom. The promises made by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which came into power, were revolutionary – a pledge to usher in economic equality and progress for all. However, after ten years, these promises remain unfulfilled, and the bedrock of democracy itself has eroded, leading to a significant loss of individual rights and freedoms for some of the nation’s citizens.
When authoritarian Fascist governments rise to power, their ambiguous rhetoric may not explicitly state their intent to dismantle the structures put in place by previous democratic administrations. However, this is often precisely what happens once they assume power.
Before their ascent to power, the BJP vociferously criticized the preceding government for catering solely to the interests of the elite while neglecting the needs of the broader populace. Their unspoken message, as we now realize looking back to the 2014 poll campaign, seemed to be: “Democracy doesn’t work for everyone.”
Authoritarian Fascist regimes often fail to consider a nation’s historical context, particularly the social fabric strengthened by democratic values. For instance, while capital punishment and frequent executions may be the norm in countries like Iran for political and moral offenses, achieving the same in countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, or India would prove significantly more challenging. As George Orwell noted in 1941, common citizens, unlike politicians, tend to hold onto democratic values.
Yet, in contemporary times, even as political opponents clamor for the revival of democracy, many ordinary citizens seem to embrace the anti-democratic narrative. As Orwell aptly put it, “A sixteen-year-old schoolboy can attack Democracy much better than he can defend it.”
The Need for a New Vision of Democracy
The birth of Fascism, Nazism, and modern reactionary right-wing nationalist governments often stems from a perceived failure of democracy by a majority of the population. Even communism presents an alternative ideology fundamentally at odds with democracy.
In essence, democracy can sometimes resemble bourgeois democracy, enabling a select few wealthy individuals to dictate the terms and conditions of life for the common people. These elites determine hourly wages, control information flow, and decide what citizens should or shouldn’t learn about or become aware of—traits that also align with those of a Fascist authoritarian regime.
With its potent propaganda machinery churning out falsehoods, Fascism systematically undermines democracy. It attacks all the institutions, laws, and regulations of a country as ‘superstructures,’ designed solely by the elite to complicate the lives of ordinary citizens. These superstructures are operated by a diverse group of individuals working collaboratively.
In contrast, under a Fascist regime, the supreme leader wields sole authority, making decisions on behalf of these superstructures without inviting input or opinions from intellectual communities outside their own circle. This underscores Orwell’s assertion that attacking democracy is far simpler than defending it.
Orwell further states, “And one cannot answer him (the 16-year-old schoolboy) unless one knows the anti-democratic case and is willing to admit the large measure of truth it contains.”
However, it’s crucial to note that suppression of individual rights and freedoms isn’t exclusive to authoritarian Fascist regimes. Even democratic governments exercise a degree of such suppression, albeit not as abruptly as in a Fascist regime.
The irony lies in the fact that authoritarian Fascist regimes, often born as a reaction to relatively minor instances of individual rights suppression, proceed to deny these rights entirely once they come to power.
For instance, until 2014, journalists and media enjoyed the right to criticize the government responsibly in India. However, over the last nine years, major media outlets have either become ardent champions of government policies or have come under government attack.
This transformation towards an anti-democratic form of Fascism is deeply concerning. Authoritarian populist governments, rising as alternative and reactionary responses to democratic regimes, such as the BJP under Modi in India, the GOP under Trump in the USA, the AK Party under Erdogan in Turkey, and the Fidesz party under Orban in Hungary, promised to restore economic equality.
Yet, they have failed to deliver on this promise and have simultaneously undermined the individual rights and freedoms previously enjoyed by their citizens under democratic rule. This shift underscores the critical importance of vigilance and the preservation of democratic values in an ever-changing political landscape.
If Fascism cannot deliver its promise of social change by purging democratic values, democracy in its own form should be able to bring social justice and equality. We are at a critical juncture where democracy shouldn’t be perceived as bourgeois anymore but a system that works for every citizen in a country.