The Downfall of Democracy?


It’s fair to say that over the past few years there has been a growing feeling of disillusionment with western democracy.  This political skepticism, which may once have been confined to an underprivileged underclass, is rapidly becoming a widely accepted notion as the public are increasingly exposed to examples of deceit and corruption that lie at the heart of these democratic systems.

It’s not difficult to understand why people in the UK, particularly the young, have come to believe that attempting to engage with the current political system is a futile pursuit. The result of the 2010 election highlighted the fallible integrity of this country’s political system, as thousands who supported the Liberal Democrats saw their votes go towards the establishment of a Tory-led coalition. The Lib Dem’s failure to live up to their promise not to raise tuition fees, one of the policies that gained them support among young people, is a perfect example of why many feel their vote was meaningless. In some sense, the First-Past-The-Post voting system used in this country has always truly prevented the votes of individuals from being meaningful at all.

These notable flaws in the fairness of the political system have certainly caused disillusionment among some, but this is a mild grumbling compared with the international outrage that recent revelations of mass government surveillance by the whistle-blower Edward Snowden. The former contractor of the US National Security agency is said to have leaked up to 200,000 classified documents to the media, revealing that the NSA have been tapping the phone calls and tracking the internet activity of bureaucrats and political leaders, as well as citizens, on an inconceivably large scale.

Newspapers like the Guardian have fallen under heavy government fire for extensive coverage of the Snowden leaks, which have also revealed information on the surveillance activities of GCHQ, the British intelligence agency. Such newspapers have been accused of hurting the country’s national security, with David Cameron claiming that if they could not ‘demonstrate some social responsibility’ the government would be forced to intervene. These threats seem to completely defy the notion of ‘free press’, which is meant to be fundamental to the UK’s democratic system.

If the surveillance activities documented by Snowden showed that the NSA and GCHQ were devoted to nothing more than ensuring national security and protection against acts of terrorism, then surely they would widely be met with understanding and support from the public. But that is simply not the case. These revelations certainly undermine the legitimacy of the democratic system, highlighting the fact that those in power will always strive to keep details about the workings of the state tightly under wraps. And when someone messes with the established status-quo and attempts to inform people government officials of all political persuasions rally together to condemn them. It is hard to believe that any political party represents our right for knowledge, or that any party that comes into power will ever let us know what’s really going on.

These revelations seem to have served as a wake-up call for many, with a ‘them-and-us’ attitude towards the government and powerful corporations taking a firmer hold of people every day.  Young people in particular, with their constant exposure to social media, seem to be becoming increasingly aware of the inadequacy of the democratic system under which we live. Political battles between rival parties are beginning to seem nothing but a pathetic façade to distract the public from the fact that they have no real power to change anything, with the constant threat of terrorism being used to explain away government mass surveillance of its citizens.

In light of this, it is no surprise to see the amount of support that emerging anarchist groups who stand against corporate and government deceit are receiving. Hacktavist group Anonymous – a leaderless network of anti-censorship activists and internet hackers who have been responsible for attacks on the websites of government, corporate and religious organisations – is among the most well-known of these organisations. Many people view Anonymous as freedom fighters, battling to expose the truths of transparent governments to the public. The online organisation Wiki-Leaks which publishes classified information and news leaks, and has allegedly received many disclosures from Anonymous, has also received praise for its efforts to provide the public with information.

With snowballing awareness of government corruption and cumulative frustration at harsh and seemingly perpetual economic disparity, the idea of revolution does not seem as absurd and impossible as it did a few years ago. In his recent interview with Jeremy Paxman, comedian Russell Brand discussed the apathy of the current political system; he encouraged people to stop voting and called for revolution. This interview gained instant and widespread attention, reaching over 9 million YouTube views. Brand’s ideas, it seems, did not only resonate with the ‘underprivileged underclass’, but also seemed to gain huge support from a young audience of all classes, who helped give the interview mass social media exposure.

This extended support of revolutionary ideas among young people, even from those not so badly damaged by the economic disparity that they could watch the interview on their IPhones, shows that a sense of political skepticism and frustration is not just confined to the worst off but is fast becoming the general consensus. There is undeniably a growing feeling among the youth – who do not share the ingrained and unquestioning acceptance that older generations might – that the current political system is disingenuous and inadequate, and as Brand says, ‘if we can engage that feeling, and change things, why wouldn’t we?’.


Discussion4 Comments

  1. avatar

    Whilst there have been a few recent events that have damaged the reputation of the current political class, this is by no means due to the failure of democracy! Its due to a few politicians who don’t have the public interest at heart- and writing that Democracy is at fault is a dangerous delusion.
    Our democracy regularly exposes corruption to the public, through the press and the court system. As for ‘them and us,’ this is due to economic and class disparity rather than democracy- our nation is ruled by politically correct, career politicians who work in the self interest of hereditary families. It is our choice who we vote for (and students are noticeably absent at the polls, the issue is not systematic rather a ‘i don’t give a shit’ mentality that even some of my closest friends have. Democracy is proven to have worked time and time again against totalitarian or anarchist movements and states- why do you think the Syrian, Egyptian, Russian and Chinese people (along with hundreds of others) are pining for democracy? Because it works! Democracy won against communism and fascism. It lets you go to university, lets you write this article and lets you go to bed at night with a full stomach and free from the fear of the Stasi knocking down your door. It is not democracy at fault here, rather the lack of it! We need to re-affirm our rights that we are so easily giving away! The most recent example is the segregation of Women on campuses- this completely undemocratic and fascist idea was barely noted by students- but it nearly happened none-the less.
    As for Snowden, the play between state democracy and the security services is always fraught- sometimes the press wins, sometimes security arguments prevail. The fact that the guardian is even having this debate with the government is because of democratic free press which underpins our society- something which undemocratic nations do not have. If i were you i would be much more worried with our own union who over the last few years have repeatedly gagged articles at the WS and the Soton T.
    I am pretty enraged at the lack of historical and political understanding you have about other political systems such as the anarchists who you seem to favour, please come back after having read something more than russel B’s biography!


    This article was simply supposed to draw attention to the ideas of people who feel that the current democratic system does not represent their interests fully. There’s no denying that a democratic state is better than a totalitarian or a fascist one, but it is certainly the case that a lot of people feel that the current system in place is not sufficient in looking after their interests. This was not supposed to suggest that we descend into anarchy, it was simply meant to highlight why some people have become disillusioned with the system. You cannot deny that many people feel this way, and this is simply a justification and understanding of why. The mention of Russell Brand was again intended to indicate how this feeling of disillusionment is becoming more present in the public awareness, I was not heralding him as any sort of political figure head. Thank you for your feedback, much appreciated.


    You are sadly mistaken if you think people across the world are clamouring for democracy. Your analysis of the situation in China, Russia, Egypt and Syria is flawed.
    In many parts of the world including China and Russia the sentiment amongst the general populace is towards greater nationalism rather than greater democracy. Having visited China twice I found no great desire for democracy there and in Russia many would like a return to Communism.
    The Egyptian people backed by the army recently overthrew the democratically elected government and again in Ukraine the democratically elected president has just been ousted by people angry that he did not represent them. Similarly in Thailand there are mass protests to overthrow the democratic government. Many of those in Syria are not fighting for democracy but for the imposition of a theocracy – a fundamentalist Islamic state. Across the world populations are turning away from democracy which has failed to represent their interests due to corrupt politicians and vested interests. Nationalism and religious fundamentalism are the new hopes of great swathes of the world’s population

    James Mowatt

    Steve, correct in part. But in the cases of Egypt and Thailand, the dissent is not anti-democratic. Quite the opposite. The majority, with the exception of the Muslim Brotherhood’s large support base in Egypt, are criticising the inadequacy of democracy. For example, the Muslim Brotherhood was voted in after a cynically limited choice between the army and the Brotherhood, who had made an alliance between themselves in order to narrow the ballot in that way. This ballot was demanded by protesters against the army’s succession, and Mubarak’s superficial abdication. They then celebrated when the Muslim Brotherhood was overthrown by the army, because the brotherhood proved nearly/just as bad. But in other words, they are pro representative democracy, and the power structures in Egypt are currently prohibiting this.

    Similarly, in Thailand, protests are against corruption, wealth inequality and globalisation. In other words, they are against the oligarchic for of modern liberal/capitalist democracy which takes on a particularly crude form in poor non-western countries.

Leave A Reply