Subverting the Principles of Freedom and Independence Through the Transformation of Democracy

We assume for the most part that democracy as a system of political organization of a society is the best system to ensure the freedom and rights on the individual and the community, and it must be acknowledged that the roots of democracy started from a movement to validate the rights of the citizens of society as against the monarchical or aristocratic domination which had controlled their lives previously.  Prior to the advent of mass societies and the industrial and digital revolutions, there was a strong measure of protection for these rights as part of the democratic evolution of society.  Over time, however, as the individual became more distanced from the levers of power, and representatives were elected who could wield power and make decisions without concern for the specific needs or wishes of their constituency, and yet could get re-elected due to the power of money, mass media and manipulation of the emotions and ideas of the electorate, it became clear that the original principles of democracy were being subverted.  For a time, one could sense the will of the “mass” moving the direction of society.  Yet at a later stage, the power elite began to find ways to direct and control the flow of information, the emotional texture of the electorate, and the vital power represented by the mass of society to support more and more the directions they wanted, whether or not with a deeper intention behind pushing them to move in certain ways.  Such an evolution can bring about the use of democratic forms or processes to achieve anti-democratic results.  Whether this is then the tyranny of the whole or a majority being carried out through the will of the mass, or a directed energy managed by a new aristocratic elite wielding the power of mass persuasion, we have clearly moved far away from the Greek ideal of democracy as a form of governance.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “The Greeks associated democracy with two main ideas, first, an effective and personal share by each citizen in the actual government, legislation, administration of the community, secondly, a great freedom of individual temperament and action.  But neither of these characteristics can flourish in the modern type of democracy, although in the United States of America there was at one time a tendency to a certain extent in this direction.  In large States, the personal share of each citizen in the government cannot be effective; he can only have an equal share — illusory for the individual although effective in the mass — in the periodical choice of his legislators and administrators.  Even if these have not practically to be elected from a class which is not the whole or even the majority of the community, at present almost everywhere the middle class, still these legislators and administrators do not really represent their electors.  The Power they represent is another, a formless and bodiless entity, which has taken the place of monarch and aristocracy, that impersonal group-being which assumes some sort of outward form and body and conscious action in the huge mechanism of the modern State.  Against this power the individual is much more helpless than he was against old oppressions.  When he feels its pressure grinding him into its uniform moulds, he has no resource except either an impotent anarchism or else a retreat, still to some extent possible, into the freedom of his soul or the freedom of his intellectual being.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 27, The Peril of the World-State, pg. 239