Time to press reboot on democracy? Only if the criteria are changed


democracyIs it time to press reboot on democracy, Foreign Policy magazine asks. It’s a good lead-in, as we journalists say in the trade.

There’s a good lead paragraph too, likening forms of government to operating systems and finding current variants of democracy to be “a bit like early, primitive versions of Windows. They are neither optimally functional nor user-friendly — they are buggy, susceptible to malware, and lack desired features.”

This is all very exciting but what follows is not. Institution-building is always gradualist and therefore too slow to be watched for discernible change in the short term.

The writers – John Boik, Lorenzo Fioramonti and Gary Milante – suggest that the problem with democracy is not its substance but its form. The promotion of an image, replicated from elsewhere (post-invasion Iraq for example) “rather than a functional, inclusive, accountable decision-making system that is adapted to local needs”.

Well, precisely.

But local democratic initiatives may not qualify for the democratic tab. They may be too centred on tribe, clan, family, local interests. Though that may be the truest expression of democracy – the will of the people, at least those qualified and minded to speak?