Twitter du Cercle

Globalisation and democracy: the turning point

Version pour imprimerPDF version

22 juin 2020

In his article entitled “The End of History” published in 1989 after the fall of the Soviet bloc, Francis Fukuyama stated that liberal democracies had definitively wan over monarchy, fascism and communism. He argued that they had rang the death knell of all anti-democratic ideologies and thus constituted “the final form of human government”. Thirty years later, this assertion is put into question. Attacks against democracies from outside as well as from inside have never been as violent as they are now.

Liberal democracies are not perfect. As said by the eighteenth-century French philosopher Montesquieu who advocated in favour of separation of powers as a guarantee of political liberty, “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. In that sense, fight against abuse of power and governmental corruption is a constant imperative. No one is above the law. Similarly, if violence of demonstrators is unlawful and inacceptable, disproportionate use of force from the police works against democracy. Most importantly, democracy implies acceptance of criticism and political changeover.

However, Montesquieu also argued that intermediary powers are necessary to ensure checks and balances. He considered that the corruption of the government sets in when the people attempt to govern directly and try “to debate for the senate, to execute for the magistrate, and to decide for the judges”. Those who followed Karl Marx and established the proletariat’s dictatorship to create a classless society where collective ownership marks the disappearance of the State and eternal happiness for all blatantly failed.

Nowadays, liberal democracies are once again faced with attacks from intellectuals, politicians, interest groups and others who challenge their legitimacy. Globalisation has its share of responsibility. It was deemed the hallmark of democracy’s success. Globalisation may be regarded as a progress since it has allowed raising people’ standard of living. However, its goals have not totally been met.

It was first and foremost supposed to prevent war for ever. The “Never again” motto expressed the determination of the international community not to let wars with their crimes against humanity happen again. But this did not really work. The risks of a third world war have yet been brought under control. Nevertheless, globalisation and the economic interdependence it creates between nations has not prevented Russia to annex part of the territory of Ukraine. It has neither dissuaded China to implement a barely masked aggressive strategy to support its claim for property of South China Sea.

Second, globalisation was expected to ensure prosperity of the population around the world. It was due to enable the people in the less developed countries to be trained and earn a decent salary and allow consumers in the more developed countries to increase household purchasing power. This has been partially the case. However, Western democracies are facing another challenge which is that offshoring to cheaper regions is now seen as a threat for their jobs by workers and a factor of loss of know-how by SMEs. In Europe, it has especially fed anti-European sentiment in Western European countries which are net contributors to the EU budget. For example, the EU directive on posted workers temporarily sent to another EU member State to carry out a service on the employer’s behalf with low remuneration has triggered strong reactions. Fear of losing jobs and one’s standard of living was one of the main causes of rejection of the referendum on an EU constitutional treaty in France in 2005. In the same way, the British who voted for Brexit in 2016 did not want any longer to welcome workers from Eastern countries based on freedom of circulation across the internal market.

Third, the assumption was that globalisation would not only open markets but would at the same time, especially in countries where democracy is not yet established, open minds to the values enshrined in democratic societies; this was premised on the belief of that an intercultural dialogue is facilitated by international trade. That objective has not been achieved. The opening of markets has not prevented the resurgence of authoritarian regimes in China, Russia, Brazil and Turkey. As has been judged by the European Court of Justice, Hungary and Poland while having perfectly well adapted to economic liberalism have not honoured all commitments made at the time of their accession to the EU, notably regarding functional democratic governance. In the US, the “leader of the free world”, such governance is questioned to the dismay of its European allies.

While the democratic world is in turmoil, non-democratic forces tend to occupy empty spaces.

Even the UN whose Charter “reaffirms faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women” is no longer a place where a well-balanced exchange of views on human rights can take place. The General Assembly is obsessed with Israel and essentially anxious to condemn it rather than for instance the violence against women in countries where they are denied the most basic human rights. The Beijing Conference on Women of 1995 whose aim was to achieve global gender equality had virtually no follow-up. Since then women are even more treated as second-class citizens in too many countries. In her speech at this conference, Hillary Clinton stated that “human rights are women’s rights”, but it is far from being true. Still, of all racisms vehemently denounced, this is one of the most outrageous.

Compared with the inability to act of the UN, NGOs are more and more influential worldwide and tend to dictate their discourse to politicians in Western democracies. If they are banned from countries with an authoritarian regime, they rightfully benefit from freedom of speech and freedom of association in democracies. Till recently their action took the form of asking people to sign a petition or to take to the street. Now, they also use judicial strategy to make public their cause and mobilize public opinion worldwide. While this activism may be good to guide the moral conscience of governments, the rubber hits the road is that many NGOs at international level act in the utmost opacity. While big companies are subject to transparency requirements, i.e. financial and non-financial reporting, they are not subject to similar obligations. In addition, some of them take part in the local political debate without direct relevance with the universal cause that they defend. Even the cause of antiracism may be tainted with racism as shown during demonstrations echoing the US BLM movement in France where demonstrators cried out hatred of Israel as well as of Jews.

In such context of confusion of values, it is necessary to rethink the functioning of democracies in a global world. It would be absurd to consider that this form of government was just an experience which is destined to disappear. As famously declared by Churchill in 1947 before the House of Commons: “Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”. In the short term, democracy is endangered. Nevertheless, no one has yet been able to propose to substitute to it a regime acceptable by the people where equal rights and liberty are protected, and thus lasting for the long term. This being said, refoundation of democracy goes through much more attention paid to education to freedom, but also to respect to otherness, diversity and global solidarity whatever the gender, religious, political opinion or ethnic background. But to that aim individual freedoms and collective duties should be reconciled. Western democracies will indeed be reinforced if their citizens are remindful of JFK’s historic words on civic action “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country” and put them into practice rather that remaining as divided as they are today.   


Plus d'information :