Founder's Debate: This house believes democracy is doomed

Updated: Feb 28, 2019

For (1)

The first question we need to ask when deciding wether or not democracy is doom is how do we judge a failing democracy?

How about economic factors such as inflation and unemployment?

Yes, there are many prosperous democracies but also lots of successful elsewhere. China’s leader has recently extended political terms indefinitely, essentially becoming a dictatorship. This may seem like a bad thing but by 2025 China is predicted to become the largest economy in the world. Living standards are rising and hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty. The government can think long term and have gone from being one of the dirtiest countries in the world to, in the last five years, becoming the global leader in alternative energies.

If you contract this the US, a major democracy, Trump is a climate change denier and they're splitting up refuge families fleeing violence in central and south America. When you put it like that China can seem more humane than the supposed leader of the free world.

Of course, there’s counter arguments, China suffers from a lack of free speech and political oppression so let’s focus on that. Another way to judge a country if the quality of life of the people who live there.

A smaller economy, Honduras, is renowned for its violence and political turmoil. It’s currently a democracy but is nevertheless, extremely unstable. In 2017 there were mass protests after the general elections and they have one of the highest homicide rates in the world, with the majority of cases going not prosecuted. They suffer from rampant crime but believe it or not, it was once quite a prosperous nation. From 1933 to 1948 they were a dictatorship. Considering the fact that this began during the great depression, they were very successful. Tiburcio Andino notably improved and fiscal situation of the country while also investing in infrastructure along with modernising the education system. He brought order and to a certain degree, peace.

I would personally say a government fails when it is unable to bring economic prosperity to a nation and as can be seen in the real world there is no one way that is always doing better or worse than another but Democracies are by design highly inefficient in their decision making process and also highly unstable, giving rise to coalition governments more often than a single major party. In democracies, governments often only focus on topics that will get them elected, meaning many important long term problems are ignored. For example, the education system, children can’t vote and so very often they’re cast aside leading budget cuts, cuts to our future. On the other hand, the old are generally very politically active and we therefore have policies suited to them since they’re the onces voting. The irony of it is, they’re going to die and the youth will have to live with it. You could argue that the youth should just go and vote but when there are no representatives of our beliefs available and when the system is designed to only give power to the biggest parties, you can often find yourself voting for the lesser of two evils. That’s not right.

Not only is the system skewed towards certain demographics but there’s also a lot of lying. During the 2016 campaign for Brexit, the proBrexit parties canvassed the country and spread blatant lies. These are supposedly the cream of the crop, the one’s guiding us to a better future. But we can’t trust them. Corruption is rampant is the majority of democracies and this just leads to a more unequal and divided society. We’ve got to a point where those better off are constantly gaming the system, facilitating the rich to stay rich and the poor stay poor. The net worth of the 26 richest people in the world is the equivalent of the lowest 3.8 billion. Just let that sink in. If that’s what democracy stands for, I want no part in it.

I would therefore say that good governance (whether democratic or not), with a variety of representative and no corruption, is the basis to a good economy and not the manner in which they gained power. However, it is becoming more and more difficult for those who truly deserve it to get into those positions of power where they can make a change for the better. Theoretically, democracy is great, but practically, it is a disaster. People are manipulated with lies and often don’t even fully understand what they’re voting for. And those who are passionate aren’t heard because they’re drowned out by the confused masses.

I want to make it clear that I am not arguing for dictatorships simply pointing out the flaws in democracy and suggesting there are alternatives. My opponent may argue that it is the best system we currently have and that may be true in some cases but this does not mean we should be complacent and accept it as the only solution to the fundamental problem of how best to organise ourselves. Humans are constantly evolving and we shouldn’t give up that ideology just because the problem is too big, or too routed into society.

So, I’ve assessed the problems with democracy but let’s be honest, no-one wants a dictatorship, so what’s the better option? I personally think the ideal solution is a hybrid system. Part autocracy in which issues such as education and climate change can be discussed, allowing for experts to come up with an ideal long term plan. Specialist can put forward their arguments and genuinely smart part (Not Trump) can make a fact-based decision. Governments are supposed to guide people in the right direction but with the popular vote ruling our economy, it’s a rollercoaster. Democracy delivered linear A levels when basically all the professionals, such as teachers, were against the idea. With a hybrid system the common folk, such as myself, don’t have to worry about big issues because they will be taken care of by people we can trust and who know what they’re doing, not showmen. Local issues such as the potholes in the street of the parks can be taken care off by local elected councils so things that affect the average Joe can be taken off without making it into a massive deal.

In fact, Plato, a renowned philosopher from Ancient Greece argued for something similar, an aristocracy ruled by philosopher kings who got to power based on merit. The leaders were strong, superior people who were well educated and had the knowledge to rule. That’s what a leader should but with democracy, it far too often isn’t.

My opponent may argue that, since democracy is an ideology it can’t die but so is sexism and racism. The idea may not be doomed but the practise of our current system is or at least, it should be because at the rate we’re going, our society will become more and more unequal till we eventually go up in flames.

Overall, faith in government had nosedived, political parties are fracturing and governments are progressively delivering fewer gains. Nevertheless, the political systems in most countries are too entrenched, populations too old, and economies too robust for the system to collapse outright. Instead, I fear there will be a long period of decline, during which institutions perform just well enough to avoid catastrophe and slowly, something new will emerge.

Jemima G, Year 13

Against (1)

Nowadays, the sky is continually falling. Every year brings a fresh wave of international horror as yet another authoritarian leader is elected by the very systems which he threatens. In the West, the pessimism that pervades current discussions of this domino effect of resurgent authoritarianism, rising populism, and contagious illiberalism is difficult to escape. But there are several things to keep in mind:

Firstly, current trends are not indicative of future outcomes;

It might be tempting to observe the rather dismal current political climate and draw bleak conclusions about the future of democracy, but this would be to ignore the bigger picture, which indicates that democracy has steadily grown over time. The key question is whether this trend will continue. The answer to this question should not lie in predicting future outcomes from current trends. Any maths teacher worth their salt will tell you that extrapolation is unreliable. Neither the opposition nor myself should point to current trends as proof of future outcomes.

Secondly, the current democratic reality is better than one might think;

For the sake of argument, let us consider the current trends anyway. Are they as damning as the opposition has made them out to be?

The current state of democracy is less secure than it was ten years ago, but this is not uniformly the case. The gloom and doom surrounding this issue distort the reality about the trends that we are observing.

As of today, every second person in the world lives in a democracy. It is true that globally, the number of people living in autocracies has increased, but keep in mind that 4 out of 5 people in the world that live in an autocracy live in China. The number of countries classified as autocracies, on the other hand, has steadily decreased.

In the West, perhaps, democracy has experienced a decline, but globally this trend does not hold water. In fact, the global proportion of democracies has actually increased, from 50% in 2000 to 59% in 2016. The proportion of democracies in Africa has more than doubled since 1999. As of 2019, no country with over 40 years of electoral democracy — with the prominent exception of Venezuela — has returned to nondemocratic governance. Democracy remains the most widespread and legitimate form of government. To say that democracy is doomed would be a hyperbolic statement not supported by any sustained analysis of the facts.

Thirdly, democracy still has a future because it has inherent advantages over authoritarianism.

Regardless of facts and historical trends, there is also an ideological case to be made for the continuation of democracy. In my view, democracies have three important advantages over authoritarianism.

Democracy is more attractive than authoritarianism,

People would rather live in democracies than authoritarian countries. Given the choice between a wealthy democracy and a wealthy autocracy, most people would choose the wealthy democracy every time. Democracy appeals to us. We like to have a say in the running of our country - something taken for granted in the West, but no small thing. It is interesting to see how difficult it is for people to relinquish personal and political freedom once they have had it or seen others enjoy it. This is a story we have heard before: in East Berlin under the USSR and now in North Korea, where the regime restricts any visits to the affluent and democratic South Korea. Authoritarian regimes are most unstable when they allow a degree of liberalisation to occur and let their citizens taste what freedom can be like. To revert to the yoke of tyranny having sampled the liberties of democracy is alien to human nature.

Democracies are typically better are generating wealth and promoting civil rights.

Economic hardship is the fuel of authoritarianism. When democracies fail to fulfil the social contract with their citizens, authoritarian strongmen acquire a certain appeal, although even in such environments can democracy endure, as it has done in Greece. The recent economic triumph of the Chinese dragon, combined with rising income inequality and sluggish economic growth in developed democratic countries, have convinced many that strongmen do better than democracies in providing for their citizens.

This is the myth of authoritarianism. The great lie of tyranny is that it is better at generating wealth than democracies. What is clear is that democratic countries are better at promoting freedom, quality of life, civil rights, and political involvement. The West has forgotten just how good it is to live in democracies: statistically, democratic countries are richer, healthier, and more educated than countries with lower levels of democracy. 42 out of 49 countries with the highest human development practice democracy, indicating a strong correlation between democracy and economic development. This is not because wealthy countries can afford to be democratic, but because democracy itself is good at generating wealth by encouraging individual expression and innovation through civil rights. Outliers exist, such as China and Singapore, whose successful authoritarian management has led to very high economic growth, but they are few and far between. And who on earth would want to live in China?

Democracies are more responsive to change.

The flexibility of democracies means they can adapt to changing circumstances. The political revolving door in democratic countries means that poor policies can often be corrected with greater ease than in authoritarian countries, where poor leaders have no expiration date. The structure of democracies allows room to correct mistakes since they usually have an elaborate system of checks to avoid the concentration of power. True democracies have self-correcting mechanisms which authoritarian regimes lack. This doesn’t mean that democracy is perfect - the masses can be ill-informed, and tyrannise themselves, as we saw in the Brexit vote - but these flaws are not inherent in the system, as they often are in authoritarian regimes. Therefore, we have not only a statistical argument in favour of the continued existence of democracy but also a theoretical one.

I would like to end with a quote from Winston Churchill. He once said:

“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.” It is most certainly true, and one needs only to look back to history to see the immortal truth of his words, and hope that others can see it as well. Democracy will certainly endure. Thank you.

Alvaro R, Year 12

For (2)

Winston Churchill once said that “the best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.” Yet, despite the wit of the saying, there are many still today who would stoutly claim that there can be no argument against democracy, that it is a system that cannot or more specifically, should not be attacked. And why should it be? Democracy has always been a system governed ,“by the people and for the people.” The tragic and dark events of our world history have taught us (and rightfully so) to revile and mistrust the fascist system, the “socialist paradise” and turn instead to the warm, familiar arms of democracy, government in which we affect the decisions made, a political system championed and clamored for from the storming of Bastille, to nowadays.

Which is why, when the question “is democracy doomed” is posed, it is so shocking to hear. We have grown to view democracy as a perfect, infallible system, one which we taut and hail as the ultimate freedom. Yet now more than ever democracy may appear to be a veritable Apple of the Hesperides, golden and vibrant, but peel back to the centre and you shall see the worms that writhe within its core.

The phrasing perhaps of the motion may be said to make our argument seem unjust or at the very least, exaggerated and over-dramatic. That is not the case. We the proposition are not modern day Nostradumus’s, predicting the apocalyptic crumbling of the free world and the utter destruction of democracy, far from it. Trump is not Hitler, the world shall not be ruled in the future by a cabal of slavers and fascists, we suggest nothing so extreme. Yet the fact remains that as a system, democracy is teetering dangerously on the verge of ruin.

Nowhere is this more apparent with the alarming and explosive rise of populism and demagoguery throughout the world. It’s everywhere you look. More than just Donald Trump, the prize target of ridicule and scorn in any political discussion, but throughout the world, populist leaders, many among them preachers of virulent, bigoted messages have taken centre stage, many even ascending to the highest positions of power in their respective countries. Populism is abundant word-wide, look at Marine Lepen in France, Bolsonaro in Brazil, and even in Spain with Vox and Podemos. In fact the four most populous democracies in the world are ruled by populists, with Modi in India, Widodo in Indonesia and of course, the aforementioned Trump and Bolsonaro.

Democracy it seems, is in the midst of an unprecedented global retreat. And it all points to the Achilles Heel plaguing democracy today, which so many have targeted with vicious abandon: Disillusionment. To put it simply, people are growing dissatisfied and disenchanted with the very concept of democracy itself. Like a shiny brand new toy so perfect in its wrapping, after being played with for a while we have become bored of it and considered tossing it away. To further extend the analogy, we have begun to notice the peels and scratches in the paintwork, the cheapness of it if you will. I am no scholar, and far from a genius, so I direct you to the words of David Runciman, who in his book, How Democracy Ends said the following:

“Mature, western democracy is over the hill. If this is a crisis, it’s a midlife crisis. Democracy’s best days are behind it. The great battles of the last century—expanding universal suffrage, extending civil rights, establishing the welfare state—have been won. Yet people are still unsatisfied.”

For the unfortunate truth is, that democracy thrives only when it provides enough benefits so that the common populace will overlook the systems inefficiencies. Panem et Circences if you will is how democracy stays afloat, offering the world a treat lathered in honey to sweeten the taste, but as its very foundation is eroded from under it and rots away, how will democracy continue? When the makeup is peeled off to reveal its real face, when the naked truth is exposed, of the inequalities, the catastrophes, the corruptions plaguing countries around the world, whilst all around populist vultures circle eagerly to pounce on the dissatisfied and squabbling mob clamoring for change, how will democracy survive?

The clock is ticking, and it is ticking fast. Democracy has always built itself on a foundation of trust and sadly, in this day and age, we are dry of trust, of idealism. In a world where the selfsame governments who preach of justice, equality and freedom can wage wars of terror, oppress, torture, spy the once crystalline waters of what we viewed as a free and honest world have become stagnant and stinking.

Democracy is doomed because people have abandoned the hope they once cultivated of it, democracy is doomed because in the past years it has ceased to be the system we hailed and worshiped. It has become perverted and corrupted, a dull pastiche of what it once was, transmogrified and metamorphosed into something unrecognisable. A world where foreign governments dabble and meddle in elections, where private information is hoarded and leaked by multi-million dollar conglomerates, where the common man is manipulated, lied to, controlled like a puppet jerked on a string. We live in a world where ‘democracy’ has allowed men who propagate messages of hate, who champion violence, who hold foul, contemptible histories of abuse, discrimination-democracy has allowed these men to rise to power. And many of you will ask indignantly, “but what of the alternative?” “Would you have us discard democracy like a used piece of trash, usher in an age of fascism, dictatorships, autocracy?” And the only answer I can give is....I don’t know. It is a terrifying uncertainty to admit nursing, where to turn when what was once held to be the purest, perfect political system corrodes and begins to shrivel up and die. But it is a truth we must face, and one that we the proposition must reiterate. Democracy is stumbling, and surrounded by demagoguery and disillusionment, it may never get up again. That is why we claim it is doomed.

I leave you with a final quote by a great man. A quote that inspires, in my view at least, a great deal of food for thought. On the subject of democracy, I turn to the words of Plato:

“Dictatorship naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated forms of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme liberty.”

Pablo L, Year 12

Against (2)

In this room, and in many other rooms across western civilisation the word ‘democracy’ is untouchable. We have grown up with the expectation of the vote on our eighteenth birthday. We are safe in the knowledge that elections are held every four years. We are educated in schools in which debates such as the one we are having right now are decided by students, the people. To many here anything but that would seem unthinkable, and so when we hear some proclaim loudly that ‘Democracy is doomed’ our first reaction might be disbelief, and then we turn on the news and see troubled times. Trump in America, Bolsonaro in Brazil, Putin in Russia and Jinping in China, Viktor Orban in Hungary and the illiberal democracies of eastern Europe, a steady list of surnames and scary sounding words jump at us from the headlines, telling us the end times are here, that the election of one man in some corner of the globe means the collapse of our impregnable democracy, that its only a matter of time, that democracy is ‘doomed’. And yes, the election of some men in some corners of the world can be dangerous, and yes, maybe we do live in troubled times, but I am here to tell you that democracy is not on the point of collapse, that it will emerge stronger than before, not unscathed but undeterred, and I have three reasons why.

Firstly, democracy is not liberalism.

It is hard to deny strong male leaders are on the rise. The elections of more authoritative or authoritarian figures such as Trump, Bolsonaro and Orban are part of a worrying general global trend towards nationalism and populism, but the key word of that statement is not ‘authoritarian’ but ‘election’. Donald Trump was elected into office by the American people, so was Bolsonaro by Brazil and Orban in Hungary. The reason we view these figures as ‘undemocratic’ is not because they have dictatorial power or in any way champion an alternative to democracy, but because they do not embody the liberal values we have associated with democracy for so long. Trump, despite being unilateralist and consumed by ‘America First’ rhetoric will only remain in power if he is re-elected in 2020, Bolsonaro has sworn to uphold the Brazilian constitution and Orban won his fourth consecutive term in a landslide victory only last year. The opposition’s argument that democracy is in danger due to the rise of these leaders is completely invalid if said leaders reached such positions of power, and stay there, as they have, through democratic means. Elections are still elections. Illiberal democracies are still democracies.

Secondly, democracy has withstood rougher storms.

Nowadays it is easy to fall to the sensationalism and out of proportion apocalyptic claims of many major news outlets. Some, including the opposition, might have you believe we are living an unprecedented crisis, that the values that have acted as the pillars of our politics and government are being eroded at an unparalleled rate. So I pose the question, what is Putin to Stalin? What is Xi Jinping to Mao Zedong? What are the illiberal democracies of Poland and Hungary to Nazi Germany and Facist Italy? Granted just because democracy did not fall then does not mean it won’t fall now, but I take comfort in the fact that despite the common characterisations of democracy as a system easily exploited and fragile to maintain that it survived two world wars and a cold one, going on to spread more widely then ever before in the history of mankind. It is true that, the AFD in Germany represents the most radical right wing German movement since WWII, but does anyone believe Nazism is on the verge of a comeback? I’ll make my point even clearer; maybe Poland and Hungary are less democratic then they were 10 years ago, but less then when they were under the Soviet Union? Even in America, where pundits shout to the sky that democratic institutions are under attack, that polarisation is rampant, that the President is divisive, is a relative sea of tranquility compared to the 1960’s, which saw the assassination of a president in 1963, the turbulence of the civil rights movement and murder of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr, the assassination of another Kennedy in 1968, and all the while embroiled in the conflict and protest of the Vietnam War. One step back in the past decade does not represent an unrecoverable fall, in reality, we have been making leaps and strides.

Finally, deciding democracy is doomed is what will doom it.

To borrow from hundreds of bad inspirational videos on youtube, whether you believe you can or you can’t, you’re probably right. In this case what applies to being able to hand in your homework in on time is also relevant to the very system of government that dictates the very course of our country. Apathy, indifference, resignation, ultimately these will be what could lead to the collapse of democracy, but they are in all of us to resist and control. If we abandon democracy, convinced by the opposition that it is a failed system then it will, without a doubt, fall. If on the other hand, we maintain a cool head and hope, coupled with the determination to vote for democratic leaders and fight if necessary for democratic values then our future will be infinitely brighter for it. Work for that future, believe it is true, and future generations around the world will also know what its like to have the vote on their eighteenth birthday.

In conclusion, deciding democracy is doomed is a self fulfilling prophecy, the moment we think democracy cant be saved is the day we cant save it, but for now all of us can rest assured that our democracy is changing but not at risk, that we have faced and triumphed over worse and can do so again, and that if we stay convinced in the foundations of our freedom, our rights are all the safer for it. So stay convinced, vote against the motion.

Javier R, Year 12