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Are we experiencing a crisis of democracy or freedom?


There is, in the free market of ideas, a subject that is gaining volume and growing trend: a supposed crisis of democracy. The subject is of the highest relevance, especially in the face of the acute discredit of current politics. For the exact understanding of the facts, it is essential to trace variables that, once verified, will legitimize the correct conclusion in this regard. In this analytical context, it is worth asking: are contemporary democracies imposing any restrictions on the imperative of periodic elections? Is the principle of universal suffrage undergoing some kind of relativization, restricting civic or partisan participation in elective elections? Finally, do we have some kind of limitation to the exercise of political criticism to those who exercise popular mandate?

Without going into details, it can be said, as a general rule, that if there is a guarantee and holding of periodic elections, respecting universal suffrage and the sovereignty of the people, with the possibility of manifestation of thought against political agents, we will be facing a living democracy and pulsating. It is clear that, based on the effective deliveries to the population, such a democratic regime can be evaluated in qualitative terms; we will have better governments and others worse. But the basic structures of democracy will be present, thus enabling topical and structural improvements.

Something is not right. The symptoms are evident. The notion of right and wrong begins to disappear. Overt lies are fantasized into futile truths.

Laying down the premises above, it is possible to affirm that the western world, before a crisis of democracy, exposes a deep deficit of liberalism. It is the freedom of people, companies and organizations that is being repeatedly attacked; some subtle and silent, others violent and frontal. in your excellent Liberalism and its Discontents (2022), Professor Francis Fukuyama, after underlining that it is liberalism – and not democracy – that has been under heavy attack in recent years, highlights three fundamental reasons that justified the flourishing of liberal societies in recent centuries: (i) liberalism it is a way of containing violence, allowing different population groups to live peacefully among themselves; (ii) liberalism protects people’s basic dignity, especially human autonomy and their ability to make choices; (iii) liberalism promotes economic growth and resulting social gains, protecting private property and the freedom to trade.

In other words, it is the free and civilized world that is on a course of retreat. Liberal decline is obvious, violence – social, verbal, virtual, public and private – is a feature of contemporaneity. Instead of common sense and thoughtfulness, we see the thriving of radicalism and stupidity; nationalist protectionism once again threatens the free movement of goods, compromising the growth and productivity margin of global markets; Acute geopolitical risks (wars, financial bubbles, etc.), as well as natural catastrophes (pandemics, environmental disasters, etc.), replace fear as an element of panic and mass domination.

At the same time, the institutions that are supposed to protect human freedom have categorical dysfunctions. The instances of power containment lost systemic synchrony, mutilating each other. The Legislature no longer seems to represent the people, creating laws blatantly contrary to the popular will, such as the party and electoral fund, secret parliamentary amendments and violation of the spending ceiling. The Executive, staggering and bewildered, seeks help in the previously criticized political swamp for purposes of support and continuity.

Stunned, the people look for hope in the value of justice, but see their Constitutional Court, through questionable interpretations, freeing the corrupt, instituting professional criminal proceedings, creating legal uncertainty and decision-making instability, weakening non-negotiable fundamental principles.

Well, something’s not right. The symptoms are evident. The notion of right and wrong begins to disappear. Overt lies are fantasized into futile truths. Power starts to do everything, gradually transforming the citizen into nothing. The phenomenon is reminiscent of Hannah Arendt’s (1951) indelible warning, when analyzing the bowels of totalitarianism, in the sense that “in an incomprehensible and constantly changing world, the masses have reached the point where, at the same time, they would believe in everything”. and in nothing, they would think that everything was possible and that nothing was true”.

From the attack on individual freedoms, one arrives at the blow of political freedom. And with it goes what is meant by democracy. How long are we going to deny the gravity of what we are seeing?

Sebastião Ventura Pereira da Paixão Jr., is a lawyer and advisor to the Millennium Institute.

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