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July 12, 2013 / Congau

Stability or Democracy – Not Both

Some societies are falling apart, and some are peaceful and stable. Where do you want to live? Obviously in a quiet place.

The reasons for a country’s misery are many and few of them are pretty. But in the middle of their ugly situation, there is a paradox with a hint of mild beauty. There is conflict, yes, there is strife, and there is even civil war, and that is the symptom of an extreme disagreement about the direction of the country.

But is disagreement bad? A democracy encourages disagreement.

Disagreement, unpleasant as it is, means that there are real choices available. The more disagreement, the more choices and accordingly more democracy.

In the prosperous and stable countries of the West there’s little fundamental disagreement. The differences that exist between the established parties barely touch the surface of the vast pool of ideas that could have been debated. It seems as if the truth has already been found, and now we can quietly go to sleep on a full stomach and let the politicians do their job in mutual harmony. Why not? We have no choice anyway. Exactly because the institutions of a stable democracy are so stable, real choices have been eliminated and democracy has been canceled. Democracy is not democratic.

But then sometimes disaster hits. In Greece, the cradle of warring factions, the threat of bankruptcy attacked and the political structure crumbled. The road was no longer smooth, and a real question arose; where should the country go? Last year, in the middle of financial chaos, the Greeks were presented with a real democratic choice. A party which proposed a very different solution to their problems was suddenly a realistic alternative. Great distress had enlarged the scope of choice and thereby made the country more democratic. That was good, wasn’t it?

Well, I’m not sure how happy the Greeks are at the moment and countries that have escaped the crisis so far don’t seem to be envious. There is no stream of pilgrimage toward modern Greece to learn about its expanding range of democracy. Germans and Canadians are content to stay where they are, in countries which offer few political alternatives, but which give them a quiet and lazy stability.

And who can blame them? We don’t want democracy.

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