Mass street movements challenge democracy

By Zhou Dewu Source:Global Times Published: 2019/7/21 19:43:40

Photo: Xinhua

Both socialist and capitalist countries regard democracy as a core value. The word is included in the names of many countries, but very few meet the goals of prosperity, democracy, civilization, and modernization. One reason is some have inverted cause and effect. Democracy should be an outcome of development, not a cause. 

Definitions of democracy vary, but they have one thing in common: Enormous progress has been made in replacing hereditary systems with electoral systems, dictatorships with supervisory systems, and rule of man with rule of law.

Western liberal democracy, once considered by the renowned American historian Francis Fukuyama as the "final form of human government," is experiencing unprecedented crisis. 

Polarization during globalization is hard to resolve. When labor, capital, technology, and information are deployed on a global scale, capitalists maximize greed.

With some industries' gradient transfer to developing countries and regions, industrial workers in developed countries have suffered directly, becoming the most frustrated group in globalization. In addition, weakened labor unions have lost confidence to challenge capitalists. As a result, political and wealth polarization have peaked.

Economic globalization has been accelerating, but its corresponding superstructure failed to adapt to the changes. Politicians have been powerless in the face of periodic and structural contradictions. 

The rise of China has brought both anxiety and surprise to the world. It is hoped that China's institutional advantages would offer the world more choices. After all, even Fukuyama changed his mind and affirmed the advantages of the "Chinese Model."

Since the outbreak of US subprime mortgage crisis in 2008, the dynamics of globalization have declined. The US financial crisis gradually spread throughout the world, resulting in the debt crisis in Europe, and soaring prices and high unemployment rates in the Middle East. The Jasmine Revolution, which first occurred in Tunisia, spread to Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and other countries from the end of 2010.

In 2011, street protests, including the Arab Spring, London riots, and Occupy Wall Street, took turns worldwide. Street politics have been planned online. An online post can be an assembly bugle call. Nearly 130 people died in Ukraine's second Orange Revolution in 2014.

In 2017, the 39-year-old Emmanuel Macron became the youngest president in French history. He has been eager to reform the French economy and revitalize Europe. Due to a lack of empathy, Macron repeatedly raised the fuel tax, making life for the middle and lower classes unbearable. 

The Yellow Vest movement erupted, wreaking havoc throughout major French cities for weeks. 

Bastille Day, or national day of France, was celebrated in Paris on July 14. Except for the military parade on the Champs-Elysees, yellow vest protesters also took to the streets. More than 152 people were arrested. 10 people died and many were hurt in connection with the yellow vest movement. 

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is in the ascendant, and the foundation of political power is experiencing changes unseen in centuries: from theocracy, to the crown, to aristocracy, to elite, to grassroots. 

On one hand, politicians use social networks to mobilize voters. But on the other hand, because the development of information society is accelerating and insufficient proper management of the virtual world, the spread of information becomes twisted. 

It seems the information society is more open. But actually, the smart push based on big data analysis makes it easier to block different opinions, which will lead to different groups whose political ideas are highly similar. 

Consultation is another important principle of democratic society. Regardless of democratic consultation or consultative democracy, they desire the broadest common ground. 

Divided society makes it hard to seek common interests. Brexit is the latest example. When Theresa May stepped down as prime minister, she quoted Sir Nicholas Winton as saying, "Never forget that compromise is not a dirty word." It was her way of saying British politics left little room for compromise. 

It seems that Western street movements are spontaneous, and few have come forward to admit they organized any movements. But in fact, there are organized structures behind such protests. 

The government could not find the appropriate people to talk to when it wants to communicate with these groups. Meanwhile, the masses, who are unaware of the truth, feel their appeals are not heard, and thus become more impatient and radical. A vicious circle is formed.

Globalization makes it easier for less-educated people to be misled and hurt. Capitalism stresses personal struggle, but as it becomes harder to climb up the social ladder, some people become dissatisfied and disappointed. 

Capitalists aim at making money. The capital-controlled public opinion is market-oriented, and it thinks less of social justice. This needs to be adjusted by the government, and is also why some countries have appealed for strongman politics.

Strongman politics satisfies voters' interests and is also unavoidable as social conflicts intensify. The society needs government to strengthen its role as a visible hand instead of letting the market - the invisible hand - to manipulate, especially in cracking down on business monopolies in the virtual world to stop the gap between the rich and poor from widening. 

The author is deputy editor-in-chief of Hong Kong-based newspaper Ta Kung Pao.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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