Thursday, December 11, 2008

Democracy, Greek Style

Not for the first time in its history, Greece has been teaching the world something about democracy.

Let me be clear. I don't generally support violence against people or property. However....

Whereas politics in many western countries is increasingly restricted to electing governments to rule on our behalf, and while these elections increasingly resemble beauty pageants rather than platforms for substantial political debate, the Greek students through taking to the streets this week are expressing an older form of democratic activity involving mass, direct action in pursuit of the objectives of ordinary citizens, 20% of whom (in Greece) live in poverty while youth unemployment runs at 19%.

In a country that has been ruled by generals within my own lifetime, I would prefer to see young people protesting against police brutality than sitting at home watching X Factor.

Meanwhile, Reuters news agency is quoting police sources as saying they are running out of tear gas after using more than 4,600 capsules in the last week. Apparently, foreign suppliers are being contacted for fresh quantities.

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1 comment:

Steve Smith said...

Although I tend to agree with the sentiment of your argument, I think you identify two core problems when you use the term 'direct action in pursuit of the objectives of ordinary citizens' that political philosophers and so on have long debated. Firstly, the 'objectives of ordinary citizens' are notoriously hard to identify, as are, increasingly, 'ordinary citizens' themselves. Related to this is that people's objectives and people themselves nearly always require some form of mediation in order for both to be identified (and of course, this is a key problem for representative democracy, as you point out). Although extreme cases, this is made explicitly clear in the birth of communist Russia (as an example of many 'successful' dictatorships in history) and Marx's dictatorship of the proletariat, which are both founded on a relatively few people claiming to know the interests of and then speaking on behalf of a larger body of people. I wonder to what degree the demonstrating Greeks speak on behalf of 'ordinary' Greeks (whoever these ordinary Greeks might be) and even to what degree those demonstrating form am homogeneous group with homogeneous interests? Secondly, I think it was Tocqueville who termed the phrase 'the tyranny of the majority' on one of his trips to the USA. The majority can impinge upon the legitimate interests of minorities, and further, the interests of 'ordinary citizens'(often because people speak on behalf of them) may run against what others may claim is 'right' and 'just'. For example, the 'interests of ordinary citizens' might be said to include the repatriation of all foreign nationals, to bring all privately owned property into public ownership, or to murder paedophiles. Thus, my general pleasure at seeing people demonstrate (as I have done) because of the very point you make is often tinged with a little (or even a lot of) concern.