Our Democratic Environment

For the last few months the public sphere in Israel has been dominated by legislation,  discussions and protests revolving around the concepts and practice of democracy or the threats to democracy of one sort or another.

This makes quite an interesting and refreshing change from the regular staple of economic and security tensions which most of the time form the staples of public discourse here.

While the situation here is in some respects quite chaotic , there is certainly potential that the publics interest in the nature of the government may lead to improvements in the future.

Still the discussions centered on the somewhat amorphic nature of democracy have given me occasion to ponder on the subject.

When in school we were once given a talk which mentioned four generic systems of government.

Autocracy – Power held  by a single person.

Oligarchy – Power held  by a group

Democracy – Power held by the masses.

Anarchy  –  Power held by none.

And I think it was Aristotle that said that systems of government are not necessarily stable. Anarchy can lead to Autocracy, Democracy can degenerate into Anarchy and so on.

Still there are other descriptions of power structures, some  of which were recognised in antiquity and a few of which were coined in the last few hundred years.

Aristocracy  – Originally meaning power held by the best. Now generally taken to mean power held by upper class.

Meritocracy – similar to the original meaning of Aristocracy.

Bureaucracy: Power held by non-elected officials

Mediocrity –  Power held by the mediocre.

Plutocracy  – Power held by the wealthy

Kakistocracy: A government run by the worst

Kleptocracy: A government run by thieves.

The interesting thing is that our usage of the term democracy is rather wide. People generally refer to the U.S.A as a democracy despite the fact that its founders had no intention of setting up a fully fledged democracy. The U.S.A and many other States are constitutional Republics which are hybrid or mixed systems of government. Thus in the U.S.A the candidate elected President is not necessarily the candidate with the most votes. Were the U.S.A  more democratic Hillary Clinton would have been elected president in 2016 and the world as we know it would be substantially different.

The reasons that pure democracies are mostly not set up in the current age is fundamentally that the great thinkers of the classical age, such men as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were not wildly impressed by the workings of Athenian Democracy.

Still it is quite easy to see the drawbacks of pure democracy. Given that in a democracy decisions are taken by a majority vote, all power is essentially held by the average citizen. Seeing as the average citizen is average the leadership of the country is going to end up somewhat average too. From here we are likely going to see some sort of Mediocrity.

However we may end up with a sort of government which is worse than mediocre. The neceesity of candidates to amass resources to appeal to a mass audience is immediately going to lead to excess influence of the wealthy. From there the distance to some form of Plutocracy is short.

If corruption of one sort or another enters the picture one may end up with some form of Kleptocracy or Kakistocracy.

In Israel the desired solution is fairly obvious , certainly in principle. Israel needs a constitution designed to bring about the best leadership. That constitution should include protections for the environment . The founders of the State of Israel anticipated that a constitution would be put in place shortly after the establishment of the State. As a matter of fact , so far no constitution has been adopted. Still better late than never. Some of the currently existing tensions are only likely to be resolved by a considerable revamp of the political structures of the State.

Some of the above is highly relevant to global political structures as well, specifically with regards to humanities reaction, or to be more precise lack of adequate reaction, to the climate crisis.

The potential deleterious effects of the release of excess greenhouse gasses on the environment have been known and recognised by the scientific communities and by the leaders of virtually all countries (although some have reneged in the meantime) for more than 30 years. The Rio declaration on environment and development was adopted in 1992 and signed by over 175 countries.

Despite that promising start , progress since has been completely inadequate. The climate crisis  now, could have been obviated had the principles enumerated in the Rio declaration been enacted into law or binding treaties between the various countries.

In essence on the global stage vis a vis climate we have a sort of Kakistocracy or Plutocracy where the countries which are most unwilling to reduce their emissions are setting the bar for everyone else. The upcoming  Conference of the Parties (COP28) is due to take place in Dubai, a country highly dependant on oil revenue. The president designate of the conference is Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber who also happens to be the Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology of the United Arab Emirates and also CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.  I will be happy to be proved wrong but on the face of it this web of interests is scarcely likey to be effective in dealing with the climate crisis. As I have mentioned Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber I will bring a quote from his website  “To meet current and future energy needs, the world needs all the solutions it can get. It is not hydrocarbons or solar, not wind or nuclear or hydrogen. It is all of the above”

This statement demonstrates a lack of commitment to take the necessary steps to halt climate change. Halting climate change means reducing and then stopping  excess emissions of greenhouse gasses in a timely manner. In practice this means sharply reducing the usage of coal, oil and natural gas. Carbon capture schemes are not practical or economic on a large scale.

To return to the issue of the desirable political structures at the global level The solution  is actually quite obvious. We need to put in place structures where the power to act rest primarily with the best or a sort of meritocracy. This would involve setting up a new political structure to deal with the climate crisis. Similar in a way to how N.A.T.O was set up deal with the threat posed by the Soviet Union. The constitution of such a climate orientated organisation should include at its base the principles included in the Rio declaration updated to reflect the knowledge we have gained over the last thirty years. The ideas of Imanual Kant are also highly relevant updated to reflect current realities.

In short revamping political structures both on the national and international levels to reflect realities in this day and age is absolutely essential.  Discussion and debate of these issues are an essential step in the right direction.

Jeffrey Glausiusz