I’ve often been asked about what happens when a new electoral process results in an illiberal government. I’ve been told that “if you promote liberal democracy, for example, in many countries in the Middle East, you create a situation whereby a totalitarian-ish Islamist party can take power”.
Surely this presents us with a paradox?
Well… no it doesn’t. If you hold an election, and the resulting constitutional settlement allows the winner to abolish, or rig, subsequent elections, then the election was not part of a process that could be described as ‘liberal democratic’ in the first place.
With these thoughts to hand, he goes on to conclude that it’s not particularly anti-democratic to overthrow regimes which attempt to undermine the spirit and letter of the democracy which brought them to power. Legitimacy, it would seem, seen through such a prism (I’m trying to recover the word “prism” as something we might want to use constructively), is not just the naked following of trains of procedures – each step taken in itself legal and correct – but also an adherence to a bigger definition of what we treasure in politics, culture and society.
And this is what is missing today. The big moneymen and women (I include their political wings, the political parties, in such a description) are skilled at using lawyers and the wider tapestry of snagging laws to control how society operates and civilisation civilises (or otherwise). We get trapped by people and organisations highly skilled in the letter of life; highly skilled in avoiding complying with the spirit of the same.
These itsy-bitsy legal concepts play into their hands: in reality, what was there to defend Western democracy has, of late, been cleverly turned against it. Laws in the hands of the rich and already powerful have become tools to sustain a dead weight on that “liberal democracy” Paul mentions.
Which brings me to my final thought. If he doesn’t exactly suggest we should begin to break laws, he does come pretty darn close. And I wonder if it wouldn’t now be the time and place to implement a democratic equivalent of Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. These run, simply enough, as follows:
[...] The Three Laws are:
A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
Let’s rewrite them, then, but this time specifically in order to define how liberal democracymust defend human beings:
Liberal democracy may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
Liberal democracy must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
Liberal democracy must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
Or, alternatively, and perhaps equally revealingly, to define how human beings should defend liberal democracy:
A human being may not injure liberal democracy or, through inaction, allow liberal democracy to come to harm.
A human being must obey the orders given to them by liberal democracy, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
A human being must protect their own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
Right now, I can think of quite a few governments rather close to home, both local and national, we might want to apply either of the rewritten set of laws to.
If only they could be enshrined in our legal system, as I suspect Paul would like.
A case of allowing a beautiful science-fiction to become a powerful political and sociocultural fact, perhaps?