Deliberations on the reasons for the crisis of democracy
Added: 2017-10-30
Added: 2017-10-30


From: Księga pamiątkowa na dziewięćdziesięciolecie dziennika „Czas”, Warszawa 1938, p. 81-82


The victory of the “great Western democracies” in the Great War resulted in a wide spread of democratic ideas and devices in all of the new Europe reorganizing itself within new state borders. The new or reborn states plunge without hesitation into the depths of the most extensive democracy; a strong democratic current is carrying the defeated; the democratic flow spreads through the Kingdoms of Romania and Serbia (the latter now transformed into the SCS[1]), allies of the Triple Entente, who greatly expand their territories.

However, just a few years later, the political map of Europe begins to change. The tide of democracy ebbs, uncovering more and more territories. The reasons are various: in each of the affected communities, there is a whole multifaceted combination of them.

The crisis of democracy may be approached from a number of positions: by putting ideological, financial, political, social, economic, or psychological elements first. An immense task awaits future historians and it would be futile to attempt it now, in the midst of events. Without striving for a full picture, one could only try and organize, in a temporary diagram, some of the forces operating in these political transformations.

The new states have not found democracy to be a more permanent organizational form because they never had the necessary conditions for living and thriving in this form. Democracy did not evolve historically in them, it did not grow in the course of historical work and the experience of generations—it was adopted from outside as a ready model. What is more, it has been distorted due to a number of doctrinal stimuli that push for exclusively rationalist solutions and a linear purity of structure. Many a time, aversions and fears instilled by the not so distant past were in operation; this is perhaps where one should look for the source of the new constitutions’ mistrust for the executive, the attempts to weaken it versus the legislative—usually unicameral rather than fully bicameral, lifted to the status of the managing center and granted advantage over the Government, which in turn is reduced to a simple executor of the parliament’s will—and the Head of the State, which is deprived of any independent role. The new societies were not internally ready to enliven the extreme forms of the parliamentary system with their own content, to fill devices with topicality that is confirmed by their efficient operation and provision of work that is used to complete the necessary tasks.

Democracy requires quite rare conditions that are not to be found in every society. A relative equilibrium of the social structure, a strong feeling of national unity among the masses, an instinct for order and a will to co-exist peacefully, the ability to cooperate of the groups established for political actions, and finally a relatively high level of universal education and political thinking of the masses, a widespread political culture creating the good custom of forming political parties. The societies that adopted democratic forms for their states after the war usually lacked these qualities. One could say that the sole exuberance of these forms, their hasty formation from materials collected from concepts developed by various old democracies, showed a lack of political maturity.

Young societies, shaken with military and political upheavals, agitated by the exacerbated social problems, often torn by ethnic conflicts, have not yet settled and found internal cohesion. Hence the multitude of political parties unable to form lasting blocks that could offer support to the Government, the garish demagogy to win the votes of the naive electoral masses, and the radicalization of methods of operation that go beyond the measures of legal, peaceful competition, often reaching for techniques typical of revolutionary fight.

The negativity of conditions was further exacerbated by the lack of prospective statesmen among politicians, who were usually unprepared and unsophisticated, most often reared in the uncreative school of opposition, unable to free themselves from a tangle of minor personal matters, coterie interests, and people not always generating trust as to the integrity of their goals and aspirations. The ease with which such improvised forms crumbled shows the inadequacy of their organic relations with the particular societies.

It was not only the democratic shells of the countries reorganizing themselves after the defeat or starting a new existence that cracked under the pressure of the post-war atmosphere; Italy, a parliamentary democracy for several dozen years (although having fully democratic elections only from 1912), failed to resist the influence of the tumultuous times full of entanglements and uncertainties. The Italian parliamentary system, functioning more and more defectively as it grew more democratic, further unbalanced by the introduction of proportional elections in 1919, was unable neither to bring under control the harsh and constantly escalating social conflicts nor produce a bond sufficiently strong to suppress the decentralizing instincts instilled in the provinces through the ages-long political divisions; it was also unable to tame the national ambition or satisfy the longing for greatness and power. Fascism took control of the rising chaos.

Therefore, the reasons for the crisis of democracy lie partially in the exuberance of the political forms and their ill adaptation to the soil from which they were to draw its life-giving juices.

There is also another group of reasons, operating together with the former: the pressure of external forces that threaten the existence of many countries. These forces are of two kinds—however, they can only be outlined. The first kind springs from the sources of imperialism of stronger neighbors that have a military advantage, who openly demonstrate their aggressive intentions, either by making demands for the return of territories or by planning new conquests. Democratic systems that are not organically united with their societies crack under such pressure. This also shows that even societies that are too immature for democracy have a will to live and look for hope in creating forms that will be more capable of opposing the danger than the crumbling, or rather not yet properly organized, democratic forms.

Where society has not yet achieved democratic self-discipline, the discipline necessary to repel the danger is imposed by its own more nationally aware elements; these elements, treating others as a fluid mass, carry out a political coup that allows them to curb this mass (which usually constitutes a vast majority) into the framework of a state organization that is managed by an elite operating on the basis of its supreme sense of national interest and an indomitable will to defend independence. In such cases, the breakdown of democracy gives rise to a reaction of nationalist powers to its weakness and internal immaturity and the resulting lack of resistance to the external forces attacking the country. The center of anti-democratic reaction is usually the military or, alternatively, the veterans of the Great War.

The second type of external forces contributing to the abandonment of the democratic path also stems from the root of foreign imperialism, which in this case, however, does not strive for expanding the territory of a single state, but calls for the removal of all borders and the rule of a sole organization built by the communist revolution.

The danger of communism is a complex phenomenon. It can be classified as one of the external reasons for the crisis of democracy, as it draws its strength to attack from the power of Russia transformed into the Soviet Union. Communist Russia threatens not only its direct neighbors, but also even far-away nations whose relations with the former Empire are only loose. The Empire clouded its imperialist expansion either with the pan-Slavic idea or the civilizational mission in the Far East. Bolshevist Russia holds a banner that flies over endless horizons and incites allied forces all over the globe: it is the banner of the universal revolution of the proletariat.

Since the lands conquered by the revolution are to become parts of the Soviet Union, which in principle is ruled not only centrally, but also dictatorially, the red imperialism is close to national imperialisms. What makes it different from the latter is the “international” and social ideology and a method of conquest based primarily not on an open, invasive war, but on attempts to spark internal coups that will only subsequently be supported with its own military power. This is where Moscow’s imperialism comes together, as a reason for the crisis of democracy, with the first group of reasons (the lack of power of the democratic systems that are not organically united with their societies): the seeds planted by Soviet agitation, the local cells of communist organizations, cause diseases in democracies that make it impossible for them to strengthen themselves and grow. The reaction takes the form of anti-democratic upheavals; to the forces unwilling to submit to the dictatorship of the Kremlin, democratic governments appear too weak and unsteady to be able to defeat the internal disease and protect the nation against being melted into the sea of a communist empire. By no means is this reaction a work of the threatened great capitalists; they most likely are a part of it, but it is not them who give it the impetus and the structure; neither do they hold the power in the new political systems (even from behind the scenes). The reaction is often a great, mass movement that drags along large patriotic masses that do not believe in the concept of universal equality based on the destruction of individual property and that reject a bureaucratic and police state that is not only an absolute ruler, but also a capitalist patron that monopolizes all aspects of economy. In this meaning, the force opposing communism is national. It becomes anti-democratic in an indirect manner, due to witnessing the disintegration of democracy set on a bomb by communism and due to the loss of faith that democratic forms can correspond both to the level of society’s political maturity and the new tasks of combat nature. This is because one should fight not only the external enemy, but also his allies operating on the inside and finding the democratic devices to be significant facilitations. There is no contradiction here. A nation may have enough unity to find in itself the will to create things within an independent entity and further develop itself on the basis of the social structure carved throughout its history; but it may not be able to rise to the level of collective political culture and organic cohesion of its constitutive elements that would make it possible for it to rule itself democratically.

This framework, which is by no means sufficient to exhaustively present the clashing forces, is an attempt to encompass the reasons for the rapid retraction of democracy.

[1] SCS – the State of of Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs, existing between 1918 and 1929 when it was transformed into the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

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