In the Washington Post earlier this month, columnist Anne Applebaum deplored the occupiers' "refusal to engage with existing democratic institutions."
In New York, marchers chanted, “This is what democracy looks like,” but actually, this isn’t what democracy looks like. This is what freedom of speech looks like. Democracy looks a lot more boring. Democracy requires institutions, elections, political parties, rules, laws, a judiciary and many unglamorous, time-consuming activities, none of which are nearly as much fun as camping out in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral or chanting slogans on the Rue Saint-Martin in Paris.
Of course, Applebaum means "representative government" when she writes about "democracy," but that's a common error. She compounds the error, however, by warning that the occupations around the world portend a crisis for democracy.
The emergence of an international protest movement without a coherent program is therefore not an accident: It reflects a deeper crisis, one without an obvious solution. Democracy is based on the rule of law. Democracy works only within distinct borders and among people who feel themselves to be part of the same nation. A “global community” cannot be a national democracy. And a national democracy cannot command the allegiance of a billion-dollar global hedge fund, with its headquarters in a tax haven and its employees scattered around the world.
Unlike the Egyptians in Tahrir Square, to whom the London and New York protesters openly (and ridiculously) compare themselves, we have democratic institutions in the Western world. They are designed to reflect, at least crudely, the desire for political change within a given nation. But they cannot cope with the desire for global political change, nor can they control things that happen outside their borders. Although I still believe in globalization’s economic and spiritual benefits — along with open borders, freedom of movement and free trade — globalization has clearly begun to undermine the legitimacy of Western democracies.
“Global” activists, if they are not careful, will accelerate that decline. Protesters in London shout,“We need to have a process!” Well, they already have a process: It’s called the British political system.
So even though the West's "democratic" institutions don't work anymore, there's no need to demand new institutions or processes. No wonder so many self-proclaimed democrats in the West, small d and large D alike, find the occupiers superfluous at best and a nuisance more often.
d. eris, a frequent correspondent here and a formidable blogger in his own right, has a clearer notion of democracy in his latest post at Poli-Tea, though some of it is admittedly borrowed from another source.
The people do not need "permission" from the government to exercise their constitutional rights and liberties. It is the responsibility of the government to accommodate the people in their exercise of Constitutional rights and liberties. It remains self-evident, in the words of the Declaration of Independence, that "to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."