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Democracy & The Politics Of


We shall speak of a patrimonial state when the prince organizes his political power over extra patrimonial
areas and political subjects which is not discretionary and not enforced by physical coercion just like
the exercise of his patriarchal power.- Max Weber
( March 15, 2015, Montreal, Sri Lanka Guardian) Can democracy and patrimony can co-exist? The political
philosopher Max Weber said that a patrimonial State is where practically everything depends upon
personal considerations: upon the attitude towards the concrete applicant and his concrete requests; upon
purely personal connections, favour and promises. Weber went on to say that classes, status groups, and
parties are associated with power, attempting to achieve ones will, even in the face of opposition from
others. Ritzer followed with the statement: authority legitimized by charisma rests on the devotion of
followers to the exceptional sanctity, heroism, or exemplary character of leaders as well as on the normative
order sanctioned by them. All of these modes of legitimizing authority clearly imply individual actors,
thought processes (beliefs), and actions.
Francis Fukuyama, the Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at Stanford University quotes Weber and calls this
patrimony. Fukuyama states in his latest book Political Order and Political Decay: All modern societies
began with patrimonial States, governments which were staffed with the friends and family of the ruler, or
those of the elites who dominated the society. These States limited access to both political power and
economic opportunity to individuals favoured by the ruler; there was little effort to treat individuals
impersonally, on the basis of universally applied rules. Modern government that is, a State bureaucracy
that is impersonal and universal develops only over time, and in many cases fails to develop at all.

The issue at hand is whether democracy and patrimony can co-exist. The trouble with democracy is its self
serving parochialism and the monotonous regularity in which it has evolved as a condescending social
construct between the affluent elite and the poor masses. No one doubts that democracy is an ancient
concept, but not many would know the disturbing truth that ancient Greek and Roman civilizations
practiced a democracy that was deeply reliant on their sustenance through slavery and an expanding slave
population that they needed to control. In ancient Greece the Athenian government which was governed
by the people excluded many categories on non-citizens such as slaves, women, foreigners, prostitutes
and others of questionable morals and birth from the process of democratic governance. William G.
Gardner, in his book The Trouble with Democracy makes the clear statement that democracy is just a
technique for deciding the distribution of power in society. In other words, it is a tool for deciding which
individuals and institutions would be sharing the fruits of power by coercion. Gardner calls democracya
theory of power where once an election is over, there is nothing said about the rights or freedoms of those
who voted for the losing party, except that they have the right to grab power the next time in the same
Interpreted literally, the word democracy means rule or governance by the people (from the Greek demos,
which admits of the people forming their own government in which the right to take political decisions
rests with the people and therefore by the whole body of citizens of a territory, following procedures of
majority rule). In its pristine purity, decision making by the majority of the body of a people directly was
called direct democracy. However, democracy is a generic term which has its own derivatives, and the
more commonly practiced form of democracy at the present time is one such derivative where citizens
exercise their right of decision making through elected representatives. When this practice is applied to
the exercise of public power and the administration of government, a practical dilemma presents itself to
the rulers, in the form of a central political choice between ways and means of deploying or limiting public
power on the one hand, and the effective maintenance and enhancement of the quality of human life on the
other. Translated to the current global situation where many nations are in the process of conciliation,
peacemaking and national revival, this dilemma takes us to basic political philosophy. One must
distinguish political philosophy from political and administrative organization. The former is theoretical
and normative, calling for the convictions and assumptions of past political philosophers of the past. As a
normative discipline, political philosophy is concerned with what an ideal society ought to be and how this
pursuit can be achieved in practical terms.
The basis of modern democracy is Hobbes Leviathan, which begins with the premise that the supreme
power, whether it be a man, woman or assembly, is called the sovereign. Hobbes (1588-1679), recognized
initially that the powers of the sovereign are unlimited, untrammelled and unchallenged. The sovereign has
the right of censorship over all expression of opinion, on the basis that the main interest of the sovereign is
the preservation of internal peace. Therefore, a true sovereign will not use the power of censorship to
suppress the truth, because a doctrine which is at variance with peace cannot be true. Hobbes emphasised
that the laws of property should be entirely the purview of the sovereign, for in absolute nature and in its
pristine purity, there is no property, as property is created by government.

Hobbes believed that, even if a sovereign were to be despotic, the worst despotism was better than anarchy.
The interests of governments become singularly identifiable with the interests of the subjects. Above all,
rebellion is wrong : not only because it usually fails; but also, if it succeeds, it sets a bad example. The
Utilitarian School, of which Jeremy Bentham was a protagonist, recognized democracy as being composed
of four essential and basic elements: subsistence; abundance; security and equality. According to Bentham,
a good democracy had to ensure these elements for its community. Bentham observed: wars and storms
are best to be read of, but peace and calms are better to endure. The two fundamental postulates which
Bentham attributed to good government were equality and security, which to Bentham formed the
cornerstone of a balanced sovereign.
The above philosophical beliefs bring one to the inexorable conclusion that democracy is government for all
in equality and unity. The inevitable question which follows is: can a community which, in its
constitutional essence, favour a few and require the majority to be content with the second best? Plato and
Aristotle answered in the affirmative, purely to support intellectual independence, which was essentially a
flawed perception of the era they belonged to, if one were to take their positions literally. If however, one
were to interpret the position of these two philosophers as giving the few in power the discretion to decide
for the betterment of the entire community with the ultimate aim of ensuring its safety and security, it
follows that democracy should focus on a lean executive charged with this task. This interpretation is
wholly consistent with religious philosophy and democratic ethics which incontrovertibly hold that the
most valuable assets of human life are power and property and that a political system which is unjust in
these respects is unacceptable.
If equality is an essential element of democracy, patrimony is totally inconsistent with democracy.
However, if democracy is, as discussed above, a tool to determine power by the governing, patrimony
would be the most efficient way in which loyalty can be assured and sabotage can be obviated.
Arguably the most disingenuous aspect of democracy is that any Dick, Tom, or Harry can get himself
elected into power. It matters not whether one is a criminal, half wit, illiterate or just plain simpleton and
ignoramus. Patrimony is the same, and extends this ludicrous reality to favoured appointees of the
government. The appointee may not be the best one for the job. He may not necessarily know or care
about the cumulative effect of his wisdom or lack thereof on the affairs and destiny of the nation. Another
defect in democracy is that in most instances the motives and manifestos produced prior to an election
vanish with the intent to win an election, which compromises the integrity and good intent demonstrated
earlier by a candidate. The all consuming desire to hold office and power defeats the purpose of governance
of and service to the people. Above all, the elected persons may come in with promises they cannot keep to
a people who may not have the intellectual capacity to evaluate the integrity of the person they are voting
Eric Budd, in his article Whither the Patrimonial State in the Age of Globalization makes the point that
although Weber was sanguine that rational legal bureaucracies will replace patrimonialism, yet in many
countries we can still see neopatrimonialsm.

There must be a better way.

Posted by Thavam