Automotive Business Review
IS DEMOCRACY DOOMED?
In the previous issue of aBr (March/April 2019), I asked the question, tongue firmly in cheek, whether voters should be required to pass an IQ test. Upon reflection, a deeper question would be whether democracy is doomed?
Now that our sixth bout of “democratic” elections is under the belt, and we look forward to another five years’ of semi-autocratic, corruption ridden misrule, we need to cast around for some deeper wisdom. I found some in a recent article in Time magazine, written by Jon Meacham. In this article, titled “Mueller offers a lesson in the power of reason”, Meachem looks at the current mess in American politics, and the way Robert Mueller tried to find the middle ground in his special counsel investigation of the Trump campaign’s collusion with the Russian government during the 2016 American presidential elections. Meacham then pleads for a new Age of Enlightenment, and the hope that this will rescue us from our tribal impulses. He goes back almost a century to get inspiration.
This inspiration comes from a book by journalist Walter Lippmann, which was titled Public Opinion. Meacham refers to this book as an influential and disturbing critique of democracy and its future, and the hypothesis that the complexity of the changing world makes true perception and genuinely popular self-government impossible. And this was written nearly one hundred years’ ago! Lippmann put it extremely succinctly, with his analysis of the limitations of the political mind, define first and then see.” In other words, we tend to assess events not in the light of reason but with the flames of partisan passion. This is exactly the situation with most countries in the world, and times ten will give you modern day South Africa. Lippmann’s solution may appear radical, but the more I think about it, the more I like it. Lippmann proposed a system whereby a bureau of experts would gather facts and present analysis to guide deliberations about public affairs. The emphasis here is on the word experts – of which there is a chronic short supply in our ruling party, so it would not go down well with our populist elite. But it would work, as long as the experts’ advice is paramount.
And listen to this nugget of wisdom, “Every man whose business it is to think, knows that he must for part of the day create about himself a pool of silence.” Wouldn’t that be wonderful if our political leaders could just embrace this philosophy! After reading this, I found myself strangely inspired, but only for a while. My bubble was burst with some venom when I read the editorial in the Financial Mail of April 18 to April 24, 2019, about president Ramaphosa’s visit in mid-April to the strife torn township of Alexandra, a mere stone’s throw away from Sandton. The editorial started as such, “The convoy of shiny black German vehicles cruised through the rubbish and sewage strewn streets, with blue lights and sirens blazing; relegating other drivers to the verges.” Ramaphosa, safely ensconced behind his security detail, went on to promise that the government would build one million houses over the next five years – a promise that will clearly not be kept, and a promise that would have been shot down pretty quickly by a bureau of experts.
To rub salt in the wounds, we also had to hear the very next day in parliament, that R730 million had been allocated by the department of public works for renovations to state buildings and the homes of cabinet ministers, including one million to upgrade a kitchen and a bathroom in one minister’s house in Rondebosch, and R5.7 million for new carpets at the Union Buildings. A shocking state of affairs, and I am sure that Walter Lippmann is spinning in his grave.