Pundita is on vacation until September 16. The following essay was originally published in March 2005.
The stage-managed Orange Revolution in Ukraine was a product of what could be called the Democracy Stage Show Kit. The kit comes complete with instructions on how to stage civil disobedience, how to use the media, and coaching on how to line up your talking points. The basic kit is not new. It's as old as big money buying mobs. In the modern era the kit was refined by Western governments and used to peel some former Soviet regions from the Kremlin's influence.
A problem with the kit (aside from the question of whether it's really a democratic revolution if a foreign government is behind it) is that it doesn't teach how democratic rule is administered. The problem is easily solved if the democracy revolution is stage managed by a powerful democratic foreign government. Such governments have the money and expertise to throw in after the revolution phase. They can teach the leaders how set up a real democratic government. When that situation is not the case, there's nothing more untidy than gaining the palace then having to ask each other, "Now what do we do?"
With that thought, it might be helpful if someone published, Democratic Government During the First Hundred Days for Dummies. To Pundita's knowledge, the Democracy Stage Show Kit is not yet available for sale on the Internet--not as a package for $294.95 plus shipping and handling. Yet things are approaching that point; there are now organizations (ostensibly) independent of any national government that will advise any movement worldwide calling themselves democracy advocates on how to confront their non-democratic government.
On paper, that's not such a bad idea--provided foreign government influence can be kept out of the confrontation process. Yet there is an insidious drawback to the packaging of democratic revolution, which works greatly against real democracy.
That people in a democracy have the right to stage mass protests is not the same as saying that mass protests are a demonstration of democratic government. They're demonstrating a benefit of such government. Yet many people who use the Democracy Stage Show Kit are not clear on the fact that democratic government requires the rule of law, not the rule of a crowd.--and that democracy demands increased personal responsibility on the part of the self-governed.
These two concepts--rule of law and personal responsibility--are strikingly absent in the sales pitch for the Democracy Stage Show Kit. What you hear most in the pitch is "freedom." People are encouraged to seek more freedom. But freedom is not free. It's a tremendous responsibility, which imposes considerable discipline on the individual and takes up much time.
That's just why dictators keep being returned to power. After the glow of a stage-managed democracy revolution wears off, the populace realizes how much work and responsibility it entails to make democracy work. Thus, many become willing to make a tradeoff between freedom and free time. They go looking for a hardworking fool to take on the burden of governing responsibility--preferably, a benevolent fool.
This impulse doesn't stem so much from laziness as from the need to conserve energy. Those who labor 12 hours a day in fields, coal mines and factories don't have much energy left over for the task of self-governance. But of course there is no such thing as a benevolent dictator when push comes to shove.
Thus, the conundrum. One might characterize the 20th Century as the era in which democracy won the argument about which form of government is best. The 21st Century will pound home the point that you can't have it both ways: you can't have the luxury of letting someone else take on responsibility for your governing and expect to have good government.
This argument is not easy for the developed nations to make. The majority in advanced countries have labor-saving devices and disposable income, which allow them to conserve enough energy to spend on activities that go beyond eking out an existence. So they have enough energy for the task of participating in the work of government, which democracy demands. Large swaths of humanity still don't have much energy beyond tending to survival basics. That means it's easy for them to hope that a benevolent dictator is a bearable compromise between lack of freedom and physical exhaustion.
Humanity will work through the conundrum; we have no choice, given our current population and where the figure is headed. Democracy is not only the best form of government in terms of protecting human rights, it's also the only workable form of government in the era of huge human populations. We have simply passed the era when a small elite could be counted on to properly manage the problems of governing a populace. It takes large numbers of people to efficiently govern populations that run into the hundreds of millions.
But you can't have responsibility for governing without attendant authority. Thus, the authority of the elite must be shared with the majority of the citizenry. That's what democracy does: it confers authority on the people along with the responsibility for government.
Today, and in country after country, the elite running non-democratic governments are simply overwhelmed with the everyday problems of managing hundreds of millions of people. The other side of the coin is that those millions can be too exhausted to undertake the weighty, time-consuming responsibility of choosing good government representatives and overseeing them.
Technology is one part of the solution. Satellite-linked town halls, computerized voting, talk radio stations in rural areas, and other technologies can reduce the amount of physical labor it takes for citizens to participate in government. Yet the technology is wasted, if the people using it are not clear on the nature and operation of democratic government.
So another part of the solution is education. That's the problem with kits. They don't teach the fundamentals--they're not meant to be educational; they're meant to be used. The Democracy Stage Show Kit doesn't teach the principles of the democracy gizmo and how to put the gizmo together and keep it working. Chanting "Freedom!" and flashing the "V" sign is no help to understanding the system and operations of democratic governance.
Unless more people learn how the democracy gizmo works, they will continue in the counterproductive practice of relying on an elite to make democracy work for them. Hello, that practice is obsolete, given our population number. Today, when the elite screw up, they can climb into their helicopter and fly away. The millions left behind have to clean up the mess; flashing the "V" sign at it generally doesn't work.