It’d be fair to say that most of us understand what Democracy is. It is the most common type of government in the current era. According to a study, 57% of countries with at least a population of 500,000 uses democracy as their type of government. However, being common doesn’t make it indestructible, and far from it as well. There is a haunting quote from the Nazi Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels,
“This will always remain one of the best jokes of democracy, that it gave its deadly enemies the means by which it was destroyed.”
That all democracies, by their very nature, have the potential to destroy themselves. The forefront runners of democracy prefer to focus on the sustainable practice of democracy instead of focusing on the likelihood of democracy to self-destruct. Perhaps opening this article with a quote from Joseph Goebbels is a bad example, since if there was an enemy of democracy, Joseph Goebbels and Nazi Germany would be a prime example of it. However, if we were to take his words seriously, we could then discuss what sort of destruction democracy can cause itself. To quote the Australian historian Robert Moss,
“Democracy can be destroyed through its own institutions.”
Democracy has the ability to do a democide. According to political theorist John Keane, democide is people who elect, by democratic means, to murder their democracy. This, on an extreme scale, is choosing an authoritarian dictator as a leader in comparison to someone who would lead a country through democracy. As much as the idea of democide sounds familiar in recent history, I’d like to address this issue by pointing out Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith as a reference point.
(MAJOR SPOILERS OF STAR WARS AHEAD)
Star Wars: Episode III had a scene of Chancellor Palpatine made a speech to the Galactic Senate, saying as follows:
“The war is over.
The separatists have been defeated
The Jedi rebellion has been foiled.
We stand on the threshold of a new beginning.”
“In order to ensure our security and continuing stability, the Republic will be reorganized into the first Galactic Empire, for a safe and secure society which I assure you will last for 10,000 years. An empire that will continue to be ruled by this august body, and a sovereign ruler chosen for life, an empire ruled by the majority, ruled by a new constitution.”
The senate erupts in loud and long applause, and Senator Padme, who has fought long and hard to prevent Palpatine from becoming emperor, utters one of the most disconcerting lines in the movie:
“So, this is how liberty dies… with thunderous applause.”
At the current plot of the story, Order 66 was sent out by the Chancellor to kill all the Jedis that has been propagated as wanting to start a coup d’état to topple the Galactic Senates. In this regard, one of the most common types of democracy used in the world is a representative democracy, as direct democracy tends to have its’ own issues of being hard to manage with amongst millions of people in a country. The Republic in Star Wars also adopted the same representative democracy in the form of the Galactic Senates. Thus, it is aligned with the idea of what a Democide is according to John Keane. The Galactic Senates have successfully elected and put power in the hands of Chancellor Palpatine. Making him an emperor in the process, successfully ruining the Galactic Republic as we know it and turn it into the chaos we know as the Galactic Empire.
Democracy has been a prevalent system used by half of the world; however, our forefront runners and acolytes of Democracy tends to withdraw themselves from discussing its’ ability to self-destruct. The effect of democide, in this case, would lead to a concept called Democratic Backsliding. In political science, democratic backsliding, also known as de-democratization is a gradual decline in the quality of democracy which results in a country losing its democratic qualities and becoming an authoritarian regime.
According to Nancy Bermeo, blatant forms of democratic backsliding such as coups d’état has declined since the end of the Cold War, however more subtle forms of democratic backsliding have increased. These subtle forms tend to legitimize anti-democratic decisions through the very institutions where people expect democratic values to be protected.
We should learn from what Chancellor Palpatine did as he legitimized his position as Emperor through the Galactic Senate, the very institution that should be upholding democratic values. Star Wars is perhaps a popular fiction created by George Lucas, however, these very plots merged into the reality of the 21st era is very plausible to do.
Pippa Norris, Harvard University lecturer on Comparative Politics and Australian Laureate Award winner, stated that western democracies might have already show authoritarian values characterized by weak checks and balances on executive powers, flawed or even suspended elections, fragmented opposition forces, state restrictions on media freedoms, curbs on the independence of the judiciary and disregard for rule of law, and the abuse of human rights by security forces. The current era of democracy is in danger of democratic backsliding and resembling hybrid regimes like Turkey, Thailand, the Philippines, and Venezuela.
Star Wars, it seems, is turning out to be much more prophetic than George Lucas perhaps ever intended it to be.
Feat image via: Turner Entertainment