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Haim Harai on Democracy's Doom - Impressions and Expressions of Ijon
January 3rd, 2006
06:55 pm


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Haim Harai on Democracy's Doom
From The Edge's 2006 questionnaire, Haim Harai, physicist and former chairman of the Weizman Institute of Science:
Democracy may be on its way out

Democracy may be on its way out. Future historians may determine that Democracy will have been a one-century episode. It will disappear. This is a sad, truly dangerous, but very realistic idea (or, rather, prediction).

Falling boundaries between countries, cross border commerce, merging economies, instant global flow of information and numerous other features of our modern society, all lead to multinational structures. If you extrapolate this irreversible trend, you get the entire planet becoming one political unit. But in this unit, anti-democracy forces are now a clear majority. This majority increases by the day, due to demographic patterns. All democratic nations have slow, vanishing or negative population growth, while all anti-democratic and uneducated societies multiply fast. Within democratic countries, most well-educated families remain small while the least educated families are growing fast. This means that, both at the individual level and at the national level, the more people you represent, the less economic power you have. In a knowledge based economy, in which the number of working hands is less important, this situation is much more non-democratic than in the industrial age. As long as upward mobility of individuals and nations could neutralize this phenomenon, democracy was tenable. But when we apply this analysis to the entire planet, as it evolves now, we see that democracy may be doomed.

To these we must add the regrettable fact that authoritarian multinational corporations, by and large, are better managed than democratic nation states. Religious preaching, TV sound bites, cross boundary TV incitement and the freedom of spreading rumors and lies through the internet encourage brainwashing and lack of rational thinking. Proportionately, more young women are growing into societies which discriminate against them than into more egalitarian societies, increasing the worldwide percentage of women treated as second class citizens. Educational systems in most advanced countries are in a deep crisis while modern education in many developing countries is almost non-existent. A small well-educated technological elite is becoming the main owner of intellectual property, which is, by far, the most valuable economic asset, while the rest of the world drifts towards fanaticism of one kind or another. Add all of the above and the unavoidable conclusion is that Democracy, our least bad system of government, is on its way out.

Can we invent a better new system? Perhaps. But this cannot happen if we are not allowed to utter the sentence: "There may be a political system which is better than Democracy". Today's political correctness does not allow one to say such things. The result of this prohibition will be an inevitable return to some kind of totalitarian rule, different from that of the emperors, the colonialists or the landlords of the past, but not more just. On the other hand, open and honest thinking about this issue may lead either to a gigantic worldwide revolution in educating the poor masses, thus saving democracy, or to a careful search for a just (repeat, just) and better system.

I cannot resist a cheap parting shot: When, in the past two years, Edge asked for brilliant ideas you believe in but cannot prove, or for proposing new exciting laws, most answers related to science and technology. When the question is now about dangerous ideas, almost all answers touch on issues of politics and society and not on the "hard sciences". Perhaps science is not so dangerous, after all.

(6 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:January 3rd, 2006 06:53 pm (UTC)
Future historians may determine that Democracy will have been a one-century episode.

[User Picture]
Date:January 3rd, 2006 07:01 pm (UTC)
I guess that what he means is that the triumph of democracy will have lasted only a century. Obviously the American democracy etc. is older.
[User Picture]
Date:January 4th, 2006 02:32 am (UTC)
i tend to disagree
the roots of democracy can be attributed to the old england. The french revolution and the american independance war which were not too far apart time wise - get all the headlines in democracy's favour, but democracy is something that evolved over years and years in some places (like england) and overnight in others. the overnight democracys, were naturaly, not as stable (Wiemer's Germany, South American governments until last couple of years and etc)

democracy can and should survive as liberalism in politics goes hand in hand with free market capitalism which is so far the best proven method of making the economy work (and thats what counts at the end of the day). even china is doing some advances.
While the worlds large economies are working more and more together, in trade and monitoring.. in politics they are still far from it.
the EU constitution collapsed less then a year ago and for now postponed till later date.

if political unifications are on the way (and such unifications could lead to extreme shifts in demographics which in turn will lead to shifting in voting patterns which could lead to an eventual toplling of democracy... and even then - only if democracy will fail to protect itself by outlawing parties that are anti-democratic), anyway... even if political unifications are on their way - i think it will start between western nations, not including poorer nations - hence the effect on voting patterns should be not that major, as all voters will be from a relatively good social-economic standard.
[User Picture]
Date:January 3rd, 2006 07:24 pm (UTC)
To these we must add the regrettable fact that authoritarian multinational corporations, by and large, are better managed than democratic nation states.

That's a pretty revealing statement right there. I would not call most multinationals better managed at all. Many require large government subsidies of one form or another to function (airlines, pharmaceuticals, oil and gas) and many are actually pretty poorly run -- we just don't see it because they're not very transparent.

Even granting that they're efficient at what they do (which I don't), is that really "better"? It has different goals, and different tools, and it's very hard to make a direct comparison.
[User Picture]
Date:January 3rd, 2006 07:49 pm (UTC)
Bah. Heed not the philosopher who is predicting doom from science, and heed not the scientist who babbles about stuff he does not understand in the field of social science.

Factually speaking, never in the history of the world was such a large proportion of the Earth's population under democratic regimes. And the rest of his assertions are likewise embarrassing.
Date:January 4th, 2006 12:43 am (UTC)
Dr Harai seems to think representative government and liberalism virtually the same thing.

My only real concern would be for the preservation or advancement of the latter.

To be a sustained threat to liberalism, an illiberal globalization would have to be sustainable; I'm quite sure that it wouldn't be.

Globalization is driven by a pursuit of wealth made possible by coördination of desires, expectations, and resources on a large scale. Administrated systems prove bad at this, because they are unsuccessful at centralizing the information needed for such coördination. Markets coördinate by a decentralized interaction of “supply and demand”.

(The grand meetings of such world trade and finance institutions as the WTO aren't so much meetings of globalizers as they are of administrators trying to cling to as much power as they might, for as long as they might, in the face of globalization.)

Some states have attempted to achieve or maintain relative affluence with a bounded liberalism — being “economically” liberal while “socially” illiberal. But any distinction between the economic and the social is ultimately spurious, and a tension (often violent) will prevail between “economic” liberalism and “social” authoritarianism. Those states which have been most successful in sustaining “economic” liberalism with “social” authoritarianism have been small.
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