Focus on cultures of democracy

NEW DELHI, NOV. 29. Examining the causes of decline in voter participation in North Atlantic countries, noted social and political philosopher Charles Taylor juxtaposed this trend with the Indian experience while delivering the Millennium Public Lecture Series at Delhi University here today. Stating that India cannot be understood using the lens of Western theories, he added that a comparative exchange could be a learning experience.

Speaking on "Cultures of Democracy'', Prof. Taylor underlined the importance of democracy in the 20th Century and stated that the trend was likely to continue. "We are entering a phase when democracy will be more important than in the past. Democracy will be the uniquely continuing force of legitimacy in future. Other forms of legitimacy, like hierarchical society is losing that kind of support and the only continuing ground of support will be power from the people,'' he said.

In fact, the trend would be so strong that even in cases of a coup by the military, the new regime would start by assuring the people a quick return to democracy. "Democracies may not be stable but other regimes are even less so and they end up having to sustain themselves by more and more naked force, like Saddam Hussein in Iraq. That's why putschist generals in our day usually begin by assuring people that they will revert to elected government "once we've cleared up the mess''. Like Musharraf in Pakistan,'' he explained.

Speaking about the "malaise'' in contemporary Western democracies, "a sense of a decline and loss of democratic life", Prof. Taylor argued that the change was in the model of citizen efficacy. While voting might have been a priority at a certain point in time in history over the past few decades, citizen efficacy in North Atlantic countries has now "slipped'' to "punctuated, targeted interventions''.

"An effective citizen is the one who can, for instance, defend his rights or a particular right of some category of individuals or else is capable of advancing some particular cause which he cherishes. The chosen instruments in this case are, in some jurisdiction, legal, fighting before courts and other adjudicating bodies or else they take the form of single-issue lobbies. It is clear that on this second model, the importance of voting in elections will be much less,'' elaborated Prof. Taylor.

Drawing into the discussion the "Tocqueville model'' that speaks of voluntary associations and what Prof Taylor terms as "class struggle'', the academician noted that there was a change in the kind of organisations which link citizens to politics. He also touched on the importance of lobbies and the role of the media.

As for the Indian experience, Prof Taylor noted the importance of caste. "Caste can only be the basis of democratic mobilisation within such a strong identification with the democratic society as a whole. How did this combination arrive,'' he questioned.

After the lecture, an interaction with faculty members and Delhi University students was also organised.

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