The two greatest dealers in democracy, in the last chapter of our turbulent history, have been the US and the UK. Through the years these nations have brought the ideology of democracy into other countries through economics and warfare. Allegations of an illegitimate US President and an unconstitutional Brexit are creating havoc to these nations. Are we witnessing the beginning of the end of the democratic system as we know it?
The Vulgar Crowd
Niccolo Machiavelli wrote: “The vulgar crowd is always taken by appearances, and the world consists chiefly of the vulgar.” The 16th century political writer, political artist lived in a time of political upheaval where merchant (business) families were at the head of nations and at each other’s throats.
It was a time of ruthless deception where the end justified the means and kingly proclamations were as truthful as modern-day politics. In Machiavelli’s time the feudal system had practically collapsed and the idea that man and woman could decide their faith was taking form. From the ranks of the peasants came powerful merchants who excelled, became rich and managed to claim power. Like the Medici, Borgia and Sforza of Machiavelli’s time, President Trump crept from business to take power.
Trump lost the popular vote by a staggering three million. If democracy is about adhering to the rule of the majority, the majority’s rule was not kept. Moreover, only 60 per cent of eligible citizens voted in the election leaving us wondering what is the opinion of the other 80 million who did not. On the same lines, there is Brexit. You can hear one media channel claiming the referendum is unconstitutional and the opposing channel embracing the result.
Power resides where people believe it is
A Valid Populist Vote
In all 62 million voted for Trump and 17 million voted to leave the EU. No one can dismiss these results and say such numbers are a freak of nature. The people who have voted for Trump and for Brexit, though different from each other, have one thing in common: they feel strongly about their position. When Trump was elected and Brexit announced, those opposing were shocked.
They woke up to a world where so many people saw life so differently to them and where they could not see themselves living in a world of Trump or Brexit. Those opposing became equally strong in their opinions. Governments are torn between satisfying two sides that want something opposite of each other. And as things stand if governments fail to find a solution it could lead to civil unrest.
With this divide taking place, people are losing their faith in democracy or in how it is being practised. The days we are living in are presenting us with situations where governments either don’t have a real majority or are being rejected by different groups of people.
The First Divide: Haves and Have Nots
With claims of a Russian intervention on US election results and with a feeling that most politicians are not acting in the best interest of the nation, people are feeling angry. Different groups feel that their basic needs are not being satisfied by this system and are tired of waiting for change. What I see many politicians forgetting is the fact that what keeps a democracy together is the people’s belief in a system that benefits them. In an episode of Game of Thrones, the sneaky Varys, the Machiavelli of the show, says that: “Power resides where people believe it is.” If people stop believing that this democratic system benefits them, laws will be broken.
What makes it worse is that our economy is designed to serve one group: those who can generate money. The result of this is that our food is infected, our air is dangerous and for the majority there is too much month at the end of the pay. By making money the ultimate value, the system has created the first major divide: the haves and have-nots.
Socrates said such a divide is inherent in every nation where the rich and the poor are always at war with each other. Yet whenever the divide between the haves and the have-nots was too excessive kings lost their heads (French Revolution), tyrants dominated nations (World War II) and a Great Depression broke the economy.
The Second Divide: Liberals and Conservatives
Major online news portals have said that eight people in the US have more money than 50 per cent of the world combined. The OECD said in 2009 that the US has the seventh largest divide between have-nots and haves. Studies in the UK noted that the income gaps between the classes is widening drastically. This divide is present and rampant. Yet what do we do about it? Governments understand this divide but they are having trouble addressing it. Although governments are trying their best, in doing so, they are creating a second and more aggressive divide in the process.
There are two major mentalities at play in trying to address societies in the West. On one hand, there is the liberal Robin Hood mentality that money should be taken from the rich and given to the poor. On the other hand, there is the conservative mentality that jobs need to be protected by throwing immigrants out and forcing the rich to invest in their respective country.
It is these two ideologies that to me are the real problem. Trump and Brexit are just the symptoms of a cancer that is festering in our minds and hearts creating clearer and more aggressive social divides.
Towards A Better Future
If we are to work for a better future, we need to detach from this strife of ideologies. After all, it is these ideologies that brought us into this situation. Only a different way of doing things can help the future.
I believe that the first step is to acknowledge that despite our best efforts, our system is not working for everyone. The second step would be education. By education I mean teaching people the ways of life and money rather than offering skills for jobs that go obsolete every decade. For instance, why isn’t there a course called ‘How to be happy’ and ‘How to make money’ in schools?
The final step, and the most challenging one, is for people not to depend on the politicians for change. Many seem to believe that governments create wealth and jobs. Governments create a good environment for jobs and wealth but people create opportunities. If we want real change everyone needs to become the best person they can be and through that create opportunities for themselves and others. We can’t wait for Trump and Brexit to shape our future.
Machiavelli lived through a rebirth of society called Renaissance. The Renaissance was not the doing of kings or queens, the politicians of the day, but of artistic and innovative people such as Da Vinci, Ficino, Botticelli and many others. After seeing the artists’ potential to inspire individuality, the Medici rulers and businessmen invested heavily in them. Through such investments, Michelangelo gave us David, the Renaissance’s idealised individual.
A New Model of Being: Michaelangelo's David
David was Florentine’s idealised hero in which I see three exalted virtues: the will of the individual in the face of a giant, his service to his country and his unshakeable devotion to God. Like David, there needs to be an emancipation of the individual in the face of the world.
People need to realise that they are not victims of circumstance but they are moulders of it. Once this happens, that individuation needs to be given purpose in the form of service to the community. If work becomes about helping others, and receive compensation for it, then work takes a whole new meaning rather than being done for selfish motives. When work becomes an act of service, divine inspiration happens naturally. Through this process and a devotion to God, life becomes a true work of art that dwarfs David.
If people let go of the idea that they are victims of circumstance and embrace the virtues of empowerment, service and devotion to God, a new rebirth is inevitable. Once a rebirth is ignited by people then financiers and politicians will move to amplify the spark. It is through such a rebirth that our society can create harmony in the world for generations to come.