At a time when problems are accumulating in the world, the moment has come to write the script rather than remain passive onlookers. Now that we know how to translate the rights of man into the citizens’ rights within a given State, we have provided ourselves with the capacity to expand the virtues of good governance to the world scale. What remains to be done is to give ourselves the means to implement it all. If we had acted earlier in this field, the crises in Israel and Ukraine, whose common institutional causes were disregarded, might perhaps have been avoided.
No country has ever found the keys to democracy in its cradle and it was necessary to wait for the history of mankind to be fully known before those could be extracted from the ore of events 1. A natural political regime does exist for the human species. As could be guessed, it is a pure product of reason. Since human behavior is not programmed by nature, but confrontational and even gregarious, a peaceful settlement of conflicts implies entrusting a superior authority with the task of setting the rules of life in a society. The State manages this through a magic instrument, Law, in its primary sense of “what is fair”.
Democracy is thus characterized by a strict separation between the private sphere, in which the citizens act at their own discretion ⎯ this is direct democracy ⎯ and the public sphere, in which, for want of better means, decisions are made by individuals that are elected by a majority vote. Democracy therefore functions on condition that it is in a capacity to achieve a majority within the public sphere, despite the fact that people virtually agree on nothing among themselves. The solution was found by trial-and-error. The simple majority vote does not only enable to achieve a majority and a unified opposition, it also fulfils the four conditions that are necessary for the political system to function properly.
It excludes the enemies of democracy, i.e. the tenants of the autocratic, all-encompassing State, to say nothing of would-be dictators, from the political scene. Through an alternating game between two large moderate forces, the one embodying people’s aspiration to freedoms and the other their aspiration to equality, it helps emerge the optimal dose of State that the society needs, by focusing on the main issue at stake. It prevents a concentration of power in the hands of a single person, for the chief of the executive can immediately be replaced if he strays from his mission. It eventually enables the electors to decide on an identical subject at the different political levels, which allows democracy to expand on a global scale.
Democracy thus does not rhyme with a multi-party system but with bipolarity. This is the best guarded secret of political science. It is not by chance, then, if the transitions toward democracy have virtually all failed in the course of the past few decades. With the help of such a staple by which to measure the gaps between a country’s political system and the democratic model, we now understand why this was so. It is no longer necessary to ask those in power to set by themselves the rules of the political game, a practice which is at the origin of many failures.
The guardians of the temple have changed in nature. The time when theologians were imbuing an official doctrine with some coherence is long gone. Democracy being entirely logical, disagreements nowadays can only bear upon details and semantics. The citizens will soon be able to exert their constituent power through representatives at their disposal. Wise men, enlightened by experts in the highly specialized domain of democracy as a matter, will convene to an Upper House, in the full sense of the word, in order to watch over the permanent maintenance of the political system.
The case of Israel
Israel is one of the rare countries where two different communities are cohabiting on the same territory without any wish to live together. Reason would have had it that they should live in two different countries, as was planned originally. The principle was eventually agreed on at long last, but the governments, which hold all the keys, did not know how to give substance to it. Some will say they did not mean to.
The origin of the evil to look for lies in a flaw of the Israeli political system. The election system was not designed to give power to an authentic majority but to radical factions, whose support is necessary for the government to build up a would-be majority. The origins of the crisis need not be looked for elsewhere. What we have here is a ballot system which has all the appearances of justice but which experience reveals to be a slow-acting poison and even a time-bomb 2.
This is not the first time in history that the Jewish community has been the victim of proportional representation. The founding fathers of Israel did not realize that the Holocaust would never have existed had not the Weimar Republic adopted the selfsame voting system. After his failed coup d’état and his stay in prison, Hitler understood that he could become respectable by presenting a list to the legislative election, even if this resulted in an abysmal score. He emerged anointed by universal suffrage. The rest is all too well-known.
The same mechanism today serves the cause of Israeli extremists. Despite the protests of the Palestinians, supported by their diaspora, by the populations of Muslim countries and now by part of the international community, a small minority of settlers keep encroaching on Palestinian lands, with the implicit support of the government. Exasperated by decades of humiliation ⎯ the life of a Palestinian is worth infinitely less than an Israeli’s ⎯ the most radical of the Palestinians have eventually taken their revenge in an atrocious manner. It is an illusion to believe that such a problem might possibly be solved by military action.
The solution can not only be purely political; it is also necessary to start dealing with the issue at its roots. If the Israeli political class, a pure product of the system, refuses to change the election system and adapt the country to the norms of democracy, Israeli citizens have an opportunity to prove their inventiveness. They would only have to request that an assembly of Wise Men, alien to partisan debates and unwilling to get into power, should decide on the question after being duly enlightened on the subject. In a democracy, it is the responsibility of citizens to give themselves the representatives that they need in order to solve political problems.
Israel would then be the first country to have the embryo of a genuine Upper House at its disposal. Once they are provided with a strong government, supported by an authentic majority, the Israelis will live in peace. A Palestinian State will surface that will follow the democratic model too. Not only will the Middle-East be relieved, but other countries in the area will follow suit. What we shall attend will be a real Arab Spring.
The war in Ukraine
The war in Ukraine, which is of a totally different nature, nevertheless shares common roots with the Israeli crisis. After the fall of the Berlin wall, Western governments gave bad advice to the countries of Central and Eastern Europe as regards institutions. Ukraine was one of the victims.
We already knew at the time that the election of the Head of State by universal suffrage, if combined with a dose of proportional representation in the legislative election, did not only generate a diarchy at the head of the State but produced a fragile government 3. If Ukraine had enjoyed a truly parliamentary regime, the pro-Russians and the pro-Europeans, being concentrated geographically, would have divided themselves along lines of national policy, instead of having to choose between one candidate supported by the Kremlin and the other supported by the West. This unfortunate division was fraught with the risk of a partition of the territory in case of an open conflict between the two camps.
To make matters worse, the relationships between Europe and Russia did not evolve in the hoped-for direction. Their respective elites have great cultural affinities and the two economies are complementary. Moscow authorities expected a friendly welcome from the Europeans. A leader in charge in Russia that was strong and popular was benefiting from a flattering image among Western diplomats. At a time when China’s power was rising and Yugoslavia crumbling into chaos, he needed first to firmly hold the reins of an ill-assorted federation spreading over some ten time zones before starting to modernize such a vast space, in which urban centers were already changing fast.
Tomorrow’s historians will have to explain why governments on both sides of the Atlantic seem to have kept considering Russia as an enemy country whereas it no longer constituted a military threat. For want of European personalities with an international stature, it all looks as if the European Union had decided to entrust the bordering countries, which had old quarrels to patch with Russia, with the task of defining the European policy towards it. Meanwhile Russia, which remained in a state of strategic confrontation with the United States, quite another cultural universe, watched American missiles being installed in Poland.
It looks as if nothing was spared to force Vladimir Putin to find allies eastward. Constantly vilified, with his past as member of the secret services ⎯ rather a token of competence ⎯ constantly being rehashed, he was to make up for the Westerners’ scorn by developing an all- round diplomacy. It only took the West’s intervention in Ukraine’s home policies to exacerbate tensions. The multiple casus belli signals sent by Vladimir Putin seem to have incited the partisans of a mistrust policy towards Russia to provoke him yet more openly. The annexation of Crimea was to be his first revenge.
Analyses are then diverging as to the reasons for the non-respect of the Minsk agreement and the new tensions that resulted in the stalemate of the Donbass conflict. We already knew that the idea of Ukraine toppling into the European sphere of influence was considered by Moscow as an attempt on its vital interests. Geopolitical experts should have sounded the alarm. Emboldened by the recovery of Russia’s military and diplomatic power, totally overestimating his means and badly informed, so it seems, by his services, Vladimir Putin started what he considers a war of survival for the geopolitical area he is in charge of, without paying the slightest attention to the horrors that resorting to force might cause.
Can the conflict be solved militarily? We may doubt it. Ukraine will only be able to stop the Russian army as long as the United States, whose interests are not at stake, will be willing to give it support. Arming Ukraine, however, to the point that it might defeat Russia would risk to drag Europe and the United States themselves into the conflict. A possible intention to integrate Ukraine into N.A.T.O. would more or less amount to the same, unless the idea of having a militarized demarcation zone at the heart of Europe becomes acceptable. This would result in fostering the emergence of a new global duopoly, all the more dangerous as it might comfort in their views those who are already considering a possible division of the world between democrats on the one hand and enemies of democracy on the other.
Fortunately, this scenario is not very likely to apply, for not only are democracies resilient but autocracies often rest on the shoulders of charismatic, but mortal personalities. Since nobody, anyway, has an interest in a collapse of Russia, whose population may itself hope for democracy, the solution can only be political. The time has come to show sense and start searching for the possible phrasing of a peace treaty. The war in Ukraine will possibly appear tomorrow as a mere episode in the chaotic process of the emergence of the new world order in the making.
Starting on the writing of History
At the end of the Cold War, all the signs of an expansion of democracy worldwide were aligned. Not only did the populations of the whole world already have the feeling that they were sharing a common destiny but they had also become aware of the existence of a natural political regime. A giant step forward had been taken in 1945 with the adoption of the Universal declaration of the Rights of Man. Still, the word democracy hardly appeared in it. The world was having to wait for political science to progress a little more before one was capable to state with certainty how the said rights of man could morph from a state of virtuality to the reality of citizens’ rights. This is now the case since the principles of democracy have been made explicit in all their rationality.
We now know both the target we want to reach, i.e. world peace, and the means to reach it, i.e. the democratic model. The international community only needs to provide itself with the tool that is still missing in order to carry out a global policy of democracy. The solution would be the creation of a World Council for Democracy, liable to eventually replace the U.N. Commission for the Rights of Man and even better to become the future Upper House of the United Nations Organization. Such an organization is easy to create 4. It will first have to endorse the definition of the concept of democracy and then provide itself with the means to carry out its mission.
For that purpose, three new protagonists at least will need to be introduced. First of all doctors in democracy, at the service of the citizens themselves, who will now rightly request the adaptation of their regime to the democratic norms. Then engineers in democracy, who will place themselves at the service of the governments in search of political expertise, a quintessentially rare commodity. It would indeed be logical that the whole range of possible solutions should be known prior to making decisions. Public deciders will retain control over their two favorite domains: their talents as communicators and their judgment capacities. Reason would add ambassadors of democracy, scattered throughout the society, to act as guardians of the flame. Elected representatives, academics, journalists and civil servants will thus enrich their CVs with a regular vade mecum so as to upgrade the efficiency of the political system and contribute to rooting the culture of democracy deep into the whole human society.
Their zeal will not be superfluous to combat the institutional flaws that have spread by sheer imitation between neighboring countries. In Europe, the mistrust of leaders does not only stem from bad governance. It also stems from careerism ⎯ the citizens’ and the political leaders’ interests do not always coincide ⎯ and the fragility of artificial parliamentary majorities hammered out behind the scenes after an election. Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands were already impossible to govern. The epidemic has reached Spain, while France, Germany and Scandinavian countries are under a similar threat, to say nothing of Central and Eastern European countries, where the word democracy has lost any credit. The electoral chaos was further enhanced by the voting system used for the European election. The United Kingdom, which thought itself immune, had to leave Europe after straying into it: Brexiters did start by winning the European election.
In Africa and Latin America, the principal obstacle to good governance lies in presidentialism. Most of the fifty-four African States, which are still at the back of the pack of countries craving for democracy, may consider this is a colonial heritage. We are also waiting for a new Bolivar to rally to his flag a Latin America scalded by two centuries of caudillismo. Manners have now softened but the flaws of the regimes are still visible. The North American model, combined as it is with a voting system imported from Europe at the beginning of the 20th century, has generated a curious means, also used in Africa, consisting for a member of the government apparatus in taking advantage of a lack of popular basis of the President to directly occupy his armchair.
Democracy thus has a vocation to overflow national borders without difficulty. Owing to the federal principle inherent to democracy, the citizens can delegate their sovereignty to successive tiers. A supra-national entity will at once establish itself as long as it provides itself with the three chief functions of a State, namely: precise borders, the capacity to speak with one voice outside and a common fundamental law within. Those voluntary associations between countries, called upon to become the new means to expand pacified areas without, for once, resorting to violence, will tomorrow replace the wars of conquest as the engines of history.
The urgency of building a political Europe
The best means to avoid war between neighboring countries consists for them in uniting themselves within the same cultural area. The European dynamics started as the outcome of the two World Wars, even if the path taken was not the shortest. The aborted attempt to create a European Defense Community in 1954, rejected by two parties in the French Parliament, led Europe to build itself along economic and monetary lines. The European powers of decision- making having essentially remained in the hands of the national governments, the federal principle has not really been applied. This is why, more than sixty years since the laying-out of its first stone, political Europe still does not actually exist. For want of a common diplomacy, the Union passes laws galore to the indignation of many a European, a misdeal that the rise of Euro-scepticism in the urns helps perceive. Putting an end to the democratic deficit of the Union, a thing most to be wished for, would suppose resorting to an external audit.
Europe’s unfinished state is not totally unrelated to the Ukrainian crisis, for the latter would perhaps never have occurred if Europe’s Eastern borders had been delimited, for the conflict between Russia and Ukraine actually is above all a problem of the limit between two main cultural areas. Their real borders are defined by cultural criteria. This is the reason why it is hard to imagine that Switzerland, Norway and the United Kingdom, the “mother of democracies”, should not tomorrow be part of political Europe, as well as Balkan countries, which used to be part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, the heart of a thousand-years old Central Europe. By contrast, neither the czars’ nor the Ottoman empire have ever been part of Europe, for obvious geographical reasons but also because theirs is a different history. This actually is the reason why the application of Turkey to become part of the European Union is a problem. As to the decision to integrate Ukraine, which could have untoward consequences in the long range, it should not be made on the spur of the moment.
We indeed cannot set aside the future status of the Russian-speaking geopolitical area, which would also include Moldavia, Georgia, Armenia and spread itself out right down to the Sea of Japan. It will perhaps tomorrow constitute an essential piece of the balance of forces that is to be wished-for globally. If we really want to write history, we must ponder over which world order would be most propitious to the emergence of a world democracy. The deadline is necessarily remote but we cannot brush away the fact that, owing to climate hazards, we might be forced, as early as during this century, to take measures of coercion liable to bear on our ways of living. Those decisions will only be possibly taken by representatives, duly commissioned to that purpose and provided with the leverage capacities necessary to implement them. The perspective of a world democracy therefore no longer belongs to the field of speculations.
There remains to be seen how that will be possible. History points to a solution that would be quite consistent with the natural order of things. In a multipolar world, the number of protagonists is too high for common rules to be possibly respected. Only when the number of supra-national authorities is sufficiently small worldwide will the circumstances have become favorable. It is precisely in such conditions that modern democracy, which owes nothing to ancient Greece, took off in Europe. After the long period of instability following the fall of the Roman empire, which had bred a multitude of local and regional powers, it was the emergence of a limited number of nation-states at the end of the Middle Ages that made such a miracle possible, by preventing the imperial unification observed everywhere else in the world.
Several centuries later and on a global scale this time, it would then be worth reestablishing the same type of diplomatic balance that was already so beneficial to mankind in the past. Such are the virtues of an oligopoly. In such a gaming system, no element can expect to impose its hegemony as Napoleon and Hitler vainly tried to without at once bumping into a coalition of the others. Since the planet consist, quite by chance, of six or seven large cultural areas, they would just have to morph into as many geopolitical plates to provide the natural bases of a global democracy. All the parts of the jigsaw puzzle would eventually fit in.
We can already see the main lines of a new world order taking shape under our eyes; it would be important as of right now to foster its emergence. Once the Middle-East is purged of the Israelo-Palestinian abscess, the United States will be the first nation to feel relieved. The international community has nothing to fear from radical Islam, whose mental schemes are contrary to reason and diametrically opposed to the real expectations of Muslim countries. As to the great-great-grandchildren of Uncle Xi, they will not accept to be regimented much longer. The ideocracy that had previously contaminated Russia is on its way to extinction. Northern Asia and Indo-Pacific Asia will then feel freer of their movements and will know how to unite themselves to the best of their geographical proximity.
To hasten this salutary process, we have to complete the construction of political Europe, whose telephone number Henry Kissinger was already vainly asking for fifty years ago. The benefit will be a double one. In the new Atlantic alliance, the European Union and the United States will be placed on an equal footing and the relations with Russia viewed quite differently. The acceleration of Russia’s entry into modernity, one of the possible keys to the future peace treaty, would be the safest means to make good of the serious contemporary diplomatic imbroglio. Since the demonstration will moreover have been made by Europe that a large cultural area can morph into a supra-national entity, other countries, mature enough to weave a democratic network to the scale of their geo-cultural sphere, will more quickly join the new diplomatic circle called upon to administer world affairs tomorrow. The first pillars of a global democracy will already almost be in place.
Let us start by creating a World Council for Democracy and let us entrust it with the task of proposing solutions to those two conflicts. Once they are seated around the same table, the protagonists of those major dramas will discover that institutional solutions exist that might be highly beneficial mutually. This is a unique opportunity that must be seized. Democracy is not in crisis, far from it. Once it has revealed its full potential and put an end to war in the world, the main principles that are its characteristics will gave become the most precious gem of the immaterial heritage of mankind.
President of Institut pour la Démocratie
- By taking the history of mankind as his laboiratory, Jean Baechler (1938-2022), member of the French national Académie des Sciences morales et politiques, was the first to highlight the rationality of the concept of democracy. The Institut pour la Démocratie (Paris, a research center specialized in the history of institutions had set itself as its prime objective to fill a serious gap by giving a precise definition of the concept of democracy and identifying the institutions that, logically and experimentally, are most conform to it. ↩
- For a more detailed analysis, see: Guy Lardeyret, The problem with P.R., Journal of Democracy, Washington, Summer, 1991. See also: Réinitialiser la démocratie, Revue Politique et Parlementaire, Paris Juin-Août 2022. ↩
- Institut pour la Démocratie had then tried an intervention to thwart the French and American recommendations as regards constitutional dispositions. A similar intervention in the case of Ukraine was blocked by a European chancery, which prompted an article on the subject: Cf. Як вийти з кризи? Украïнська правда, Comment sortir de la crise ? La Pravda ukrainienne, Guy Lardeyret, Kiev, 11 janvier 2010. The Institut had been invited to Moscow earlier on, by the United Russia Party to give its opinion on the Russian constitution. Russia later on opened in Paris an Institut pour la démocratie et la coopération that was operational from 2009 to 2020. ↩
- Three organizations funded by public funds to promote democracy in the world existe at the moment: the National Endowment for Democracy (Washington), the European Foundation for Democracy (Brussels) and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (Stockholm). It would seem natural to call upon them to get the first funds necessary to initiate the operation. Private foundations could also contribute. ↩