The world tried unlimited monarchy, aristocracy and oligarchy at various times and there is no desire to go back to them. Burns has strikingly said, “no one denies that existing representative assemblies are defective; but even if an automobile does not work well, it is foolish to go back into a farm cart, however romantic.”
We experimented with dictatorship lately and gave it up as a hopeless form of government, since dictatorship is the negation of individual liberty and initiative, and is antagonistic to the development of human personality.
It is, accordingly, mischievous to search for another form of government instead of improving what we have. The essence of democracy, in the words of Mazzini, is “the progress of all through all under the leading of the best and wisest.” Its supreme value is ethical and educational.
As a form of government democracy can flourish and decline in proportion to the moral and intellectual stature of man. As Robert Maclver pointed out, “there is only one way to keep it in being, and that is through the intelligent perception, permeating the people, of what it is and what makes it precious. We guard our spiritual treasures only by learning to appreciate them.”
It is in the people alone to preserve it. It can neither be guaranteed by law nor protected by any police system. The future of democracy in the last analysis, depends upon man and how he accepts man, first as a fellow-citizen and then, as a member of that great fraternity of mankind.
It is the recognition of this sense of brotherhood that helps to stabilise fellow- feelings and cement the bonds of comradeship. Democracy can only succeed, when democratic feelings synchronise with democratic actions at all levels.
But this is the ideal of a perfect democracy. Before such a fraternity is established the existing democratic institutions require immediate examination and readjustment.
Political democracy is unthinkable without a social and economic programme and, as such, our democratic institutions must be progressive, adaptable, and flexible to meet the present aspirations of the people and provide a precious mould for the future.
It is now agreed amongst all that capitalistic democracy is completely out of date as it does not provide an adequate answer to the present social needs.
The demand of democracy is speedy responsiveness to public opinion and capitalistic democracy does not provide a proper atmosphere for the genuine public opinion to shape itself, for where it is tempted to be active in defence is just where democracy is tempted to be active in offence.
The result is obvious. Our social, economic and political orders have become shaky and unless democracy, as a form of government, finds the means of equalizing opportunity and wipes out the existing wide economic disparities, its future appeal is doubtful.
Political need arises for the sake of a happy and just life and if a democratic apparatus of government does not provide to man what his basic demands are, the clamour for its substitution by some other form of government, which can assure the same, is not a vain search.
But that is groping in the dark with far distant hope even for the twilight. Democratic light is still there to illuminate the path of life. Clement Attlee correctly said that capitalistic democracy may not give freedom or equality of opportunity to the mass of the people owing to economic inequalities but democracy is the only method by which economic and social equality will ultimately be achieved.
Finally, democracy is really a question of relationship of rights to duties which have become so complex during the twentieth century. If a nineteenth century democrat could return to this earth and compare the present with the position of the citizens of a century ago, he would certainly not fail to note two striking changes.
First, the modem citizen is much more dependent upon the State, not only for the essentials of civilised life but also for much of what goes to make up his standard of living. Secondly, as the minimum standard rises, as the citizens come to demand more and more from the State, obligations increase commensurately with rights.
Moreover, our conceptions of what men require from the State in order to lead a full life have moved from the purely physical plane to include the intellectual, the emotional and the psychological.
The increase in the responsibilities of citizens demands from them to be articulate and creative to ensure their rights. The future of democracy will certainly depend upon the responsiveness of citizens to the new demands of democracy.
But a caution must be sounded, lest we seem to be concluding on an unrealistic optimistic note. We have said nothing about how long the process of modernizing and democratizing the developing nations of the world may take.
Democratic forms of governments were most cherishingly adopted in the developing countries and experience shows that all, except a few, settled down either as authoritarian regimes or military dictatorship in one form or the other.
Whatever be the reasons, this is the lesson of the twentieth century history. Even in countries which had been deemed as the citadels of democracy, the spirit of authoritarianism is much in evidence and the practice of democratic principles throughout the body politic is at much serious a discount.
The democratic direction, inter alia, depends upon at least a nominal measure of international order and security. And the international situation today leaves an ominous question mark over the future of democracy as it does over the future of the world.
Neither established democracies nor the developing countries can maintain democratic institutions under conditions of international tension or something approaching what Lasswell calls the “garrison state.”