When you look back on the 20th century, it’s shocking to contemplate the economic mayhem, poverty and bloodshed for which undemocratic and totalitarian regimes were responsible.
We can contrast, as mentioned here before, the meteoric rise of formerly undemocratic countries like Italy, Japan or Singapore, once democracy was introduced.
We can also compare the stunning success of democratic North America, in the last century, with the dire performance of South America, bedevilled by undemocratic and dictatorial régimes, or the stunning success and freedoms of pre-unification West Germany, compared with undemocratic East Germany; similarly, the rise of South Korea, to become one of the world’s richest countries, versus its catastrophic northern sibling.
Democracy is economic steroids, yet, for all of its faults, it also creates far higher levels of freedom and human rights than undemocratic régimes.
So, why would anyone want to reduce the level of democracy in Europe? That’s the big question for UK and European citizens today.
The EU limps on, with its five unelected presidents, helped by 28 unelected ‘commissioners’. Even the EU parliament is dysfunctional, since it cannot instigate its own legislation, a key democratic prerequisite – legislation can be instigated by commissioners only, believe it or not.
Another example relates to decisions of the EU’s Supreme Court which override the laws of national parliaments, including our own, for which there is no democratic redress.
If the democratically elected UK parliament dislikes a decision of our own courts, it can legislate to change the law. No such mechanism exists for correcting decisions of the EU court.
The founders of the American constitution would surely have been astounded that such an inferior and undemocratic legal system could have been invented by European technocrats more than 200 years later.
Now, economic chaos reigns in southern Europe, with Greece, Portugal and Spain labouring under youth unemployment of up to 50 per cent, with an adult level of 20 per cent or more. Greece, for example, has lost control of its budget, as well as its interest rates – the main economic levers of any democratic government.
Democratic accountability in the EU is woefully poor in other economic spheres too. For example, EU finances have not been properly audited for over 20 years, an unthinkable and chaotic state of affairs for any responsible organisation.
Just imagine the justified furore, if a company like Wetherspoon went even one year without audited accounts – yet the EU gets away with 20 years, almost without comment: ‘the insolence of office’, as Shakespeare termed this sort of arrogant behaviour.
As we all know, the UK parliament voted by an overwhelming majority of six to one to empower the electorate to decide in a referendum whether the UK should remain in the EU.
“The government will implement what you decide,” promised a pro-remain document sent by the government, in April, to every household in the land.
Most people accept the referendum result and this promise from the leaders of the remain side, but a cabal of politicians and elite groups is fighting to overturn the decision – or to water it down so much that we remain subject to most EU laws in future.
The fascinating question is why these highly educated people are so intent on remaining part of an undemocratic and economically chaotic organisation.
The sad reality is that the current battle for democracy has echoes of similar battles in previous centuries.
Those in charge almost always try to consolidate and increase their power, as the suffragettes knew. Certain sections of society, today, feel strongly that it’s better for power to reside in highly educated elites, closely connected to big business, to major universities and to influential politicians – ‘les énarques’, as our French friends call them.
They deeply mistrust the idea of democratic rule by the ‘man on the Clapham omnibus’. The evidence of history is that undemocratic organisations, like the EU, eventually make a hash of it, as we’re now seeing in southern Europe. Even so, the desire to take power away from the people and to subvert the referendum result has religious intensity for many non-democrats in our society.
The next few crucial months will determine the outcome of this bitter battle.