New Internationalist

The No-Nonsense Guide to Democracy

Globalization, climate change, terrorism, fair trade, human rights, health, poverty… The No-Nonsense Guides help make sense of these vast and complex issues, all in under 150 pages - providing a concise, ‘no-nonsense’ view that you can read anywhere. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be highlighting each No-Nonsense Guide in our series with blog posts from the authors concerning the subject of each book. Chapter 1 and the Table of Contents are available for The No-Nonsense Guide to Democracy on our website. 

The No-Nonsense Guide to Democracy
by Richard Swift

The democratic explosion in Egypt is very much in my mind these days. In The No-Nonsense Guide to Democracy I tried to put forward a notion of the democratic potential of such moments. They contain the seeds of a far more extensive democratic engagement than our depoliticized representative democracy can ever provide. At such times a population or at least a large part thereof that crowded into Tahrir Square believes that they have their own fate in their hands. At such a time the powers that be either from the regime or the opposition have a great deal of trouble reigning in people's desires to become captains of their own fate. It was the same in France in May 1968, in the state socialist countries in 1989, during the Iranian revolution and in many other modern political irruptions. What is glimpsed at such times is a sense of what democracy could be: a notion of radical self-rule. This becomes very frightening for those who control most of the wealth and power. They strive hard to get 'the leaderless mass to be 'realistic' in their demands. But above all popular energy from below must be steered away from creating their own solutions and institutions and into the safe channels of continued rule by their political betters and economic masters.

Even when 'normalization' sets in and the people leave the field issues of how deep a democracy will sink its roots remain. The question boils down to another one tackled in the No-Nonsense Guide - is democracy restricted to representative institutions (no small feat in a corrupt political culture created by the declining Nassarite dispensation) or will it have economic and social dimensions? Will it be used as a tool for increasing equality and extending power to communities and workplaces? If not there is a danger that it will be another example of 'everything must appear to change so that everything can remain the same.'

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