In country after country, democratic reforms are in retreat. The surprising culprit: the middle class. This Boston Globe article is quite shabbily argued. Beginning from the recent massive populist uprising against the government in Bangkok, the author opines:
“The events unfolding in Thailand are part of a gathering global revolt against democracy
. In 2007, the number of countries with declining freedoms exceeded those with advancing freedoms by nearly four to one, according to a recent report by Freedom House
, an organization that monitors global democracy trends.
And the villains, surprisingly enough, are the same people who supposedly make democracy possible: the middle class. Traditional theories of democratization, such as those of Harvard professor Samuel Huntington, predict a story of middle class heroics: As a country develops a true middle class, these urban, educated citizens insist on more rights in order to protect their economic and social interests. Eventually, as the size of the middle class grows, those demands become so overwhelming that democracy is inevitable. But now, it appears, the middle class in some nations has turned into an antidemocratic force. Young democracy, with weak institutions, often brings to power, at first, elected leaders who actually don’t care that much about upholding democracy. As these demagogues tear down the very reforms the middle classes built, those same middle classes turn against the leaders, and then against the system itself, bringing democracy to collapse.”
An alternate way to read these events is that the protests are not antidemocratic at all, but rather protests against the sort of pseudo-democracy that has been foisted off as an excuse for the real thing for a long time… at least since the West “won” the Cold War. These forces are antidemocratic in the same sense that Bush says the terrorists hate us because we are free. Our smugness about our “freedom” lulls us into a false complacency; Americans should be taking to the streets over the sham that passes for democracy here as well. It has long been evident that the US is at the pinnacle of perfection of authoritarian social control, so subtle that its victims do not even know they are being controlled. Maybe, in places like Thailand, it is just done more clumsily, so that the remaining capacity for outrage in the middle classes can be mobilized as it cannot here?