"Democracy without education means hypocrisy without limitation; it means the degradation of statesmanship into politics; it means the expensive maintenance, in addition to the real ruling class, of a large parasitic class of politicians whose function it is to serve the rulers and deceive the ruled; it has made all public life a server of corruption which poisons the breath of heaven".
Will Durant said the above nearly seventy-seven years ago and his context, of course, was the West. As he was an American philosopher, he had also the American society in his mind when he drew such a depressing picture of democracy. At that time large parts of Asia and Africa was under colonial rule and societies in those countries were still steeped in their feudal pasts. The industrial bourgeoisie, whose struggle for social power and prestige and representation in the government brought democratic revolutions in its wake first in Europe and then in America, were yet to develop in the colonial backwater of Asia, Africa or Latin America. The reason for this backwardness was two-fold: the economies of those countries were yet not ripe enough for social revolutions in the style of Europe on the one hand, and the colonial powers themselves were to a large measure the main impediment to such socio-economic changes on the other. Since, economic growth in the form of industrialisation in the colonies was incompatible with the continuation of the colonial status of those countries. So, the colonial masters did their best to perpetuate the primitive state of those economies they controlled. As a result, traditional agriculture and various other remnants of Neolithic way of life continued to survive under the colonies with certain exceptions. Though the primary objectives of the urban centres and the communications network they built in the colonies were to rule and exploit the subject states better, these also served to create an enlightened middle class as well as bring about a semblance of modernity in the lives of the people there. By introducing their own language as the medium of instruction in the schools and colleges at the urban centres, the colonialists were also instrumental in exposing the middle class of those countries to the western learning and radical political thoughts. This is how the concepts of nationalism and democracy caught the imagination of the western educated enlightened classes, that is, the middle classes, of the colonies. Notwithstanding the circumstances of the growth of nationalistic and democratic awareness among the colonial people, who, unlike the European countries, were not prepared in the true economic sense of those terms to launch a nationalistic and democratic revolution forthwith, the movements began to sprout all the same. The foreign rulers watched in dismay what a self-defeating move it was on their part to create a community of western educated cultural slaves among the ruled, who now emboldened by a new awareness about themselves were out to throw off the colonial yoke itself.
But it was not only the rise of a new awareness about their right to self-determination among the backward peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America that was the main issue of concern among the colonial powers, most of whom had elected and democratic governments in the own countries. The revolutionary phases that those countries had to pass through in their early years of democratic and nationalist movements had already lost their tempo. The rituals of democracy-election, parliament, forming of government by the majority party in parliament-and the institutions that democratic culture had brought forth were there. But the great cause of liberty and equality for which French burghers fought and Voltaire and Rousseau sang in praise gradually died away in the parent countries of nationalism and democracy when such movements got a new lease of life among the colonial peoples. To the devotees of this new political faith in the backward nations, the ideas were not just beliefs, but a weapon of struggle. Though the insubstantiality of the slogans of democracy and nationalism had already become evident in the countries where they were first chanted, it was, however, a different story for the late learners of this new political mantra. As was the case with their European teachers in the early years of revolution, so was it with these late learners, too. History began to be re-enacted in different parts of the world. A new crop of intellectuals and political activists spearheaded the nationalistic and democratic struggles across the length and breadth of the world. There is no denying that nationalistic movements in the dependencies were to a large measure responsible for weakening of the western powers' grip on their colonies. But the real cause lay somewhere else. As was mentioned earlier, the democracy was a mere fašade of the western societies. In fact, if we take what the democracies of the West claim themselves to be at their face value, neither can their oppressive role in the colonies be understood, nor their wars with each other to grab markets can be comprehended. The slogans of fraternity and equality, which were the warring cry of the bourgeoisie during French revolution, were, in the beginning, in fact, equality and fraternity of the members of the bourgeoisie themselves. The peasantry and the working class, who were behind the revolutionary burghers and made the revolution possible by overthrowing the monarchies, were never the equal partners when the question of their sharing power and resources of the state came. In point of fact, if nationalism and democracy were to be accepted also as the mantra of emancipation of the peasantry and the working people from age-old exploitation by the feudal lords and the kings and the monarchs, then the European democratic revolutions died in their cradles. The mass people never benefited from those revolutions. The American civil war, too, was waged not for emancipation of the working people. It was another instance of face-off between the owning classes, not of one between the haves and the have-nots. Not surprisingly, the western thinkers had long ago come to grips with the realities at home. They were already disillusioned with their home grown democracies. But what about the latter-day developments in the name of nationalistic struggles in the colonial countries?
What were the attitudes of the western democracies towards such political struggles in the colonies they ruled? Not democratic in the least. The pattern of repression on the colonial people was the same everywhere. So, the great ideals for which the western democracies had themselves fought in the past, they were not ready to allow those in their colonies. The ideals of democracy and nationalism, therefore, do not of themselves flow from their source to any new ground where the conditions are propitious.
Many philosophers and thinkers of the West had got disillusioned about their democracy even when the bourgeois democratic revolutions in their own countries were yet to be out of steam. Proudhon, Bakunin, Marx and Engels were such thinkers of mid-nineteenth century Europe. They were highly critical of the contemporary system of governments as well as the social order they represented. Though such governments generally went by the name of democracies, many social thinkers and philosophers were totally disillusioned with the system. The main cause of the disillusionment was not just that the new social order and the governments those were represented by failed to deliver. The internecine wars the Europeans were often locked in betrayed the imperial designs of those so-called democratic governments. The fight of the bourgeoisie over the spoils of war was sickening. The politicians and bureaucrats were in engaged in a rat race to fleece the common people who installed them in power.
Naturally, the American philosopher, Will Durant, was questioning if democracy was a failure about decades eighty years ago. What would have been his reaction had he lived till now to witness the present state of democracy in America as elsewhere? What really would he make of the American invasion of Iraq?
The countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, which were once all praise for the West and aped whatever they did or said, including their democracy, are not now any the wiser. Democracy fell into the wrong hands from the very beginning. It is therefore time the people of the Third World stop looking up to the West for guidance on democracy or anything for their self-improvement.