Coronavirus vs Democracy

Democracy is harmful in times of crisis.

Сoronavirus brought us an unexpected crisis which became a severe test for all mankind. However, just in severe crisis the inefficient is being destroyed while the efficient survives, becomes stronger and spreads. This is how the law of natural selection works. Now the coronavirus is consigning to the dustbin of history one of alleged humanity's greatest achievements – a democracy.

European liberal democracies (Germany, France, Italy) are now forced to give up their democratic principles and follow the path of authoritarian China. They understood that a democratic "carrot" alone does not work against the coronavirus. An authoritarian "stick" is also needed.

Austria went even further with the recent introduction of “stay-at-home” order for all with no proof of immunization. Yet the government plans to make vaccination of the entire population compulsory from February 1, 2022. Non-compliance is punishable by a fine of between €600 and €3,600. In response, tens of thousands of dissenters came out to the streets of Vienna a few days later.

In the US, democracy prevents President Biden from dealing with coronavirus as he needs. His administration has tried to force large private companies (over 100 employees) to be fully vaccinated or to do regular testing, but that mandate has been challenged in the courts. Recently an appeals court allowed the government to implement those vaccination rules, but after a few petitions most likely had been filed with the U.S. Supreme Court to block these measures.

The essence of the coronavirus' "message" to humanity can be formulated in one word: disintegration. The period of globalization is over.

Because the partners find no more consent locally and globally. Inner structures of different countries quantitatively (people and various branches of power) became too bulky and conflict with each other. The more inner conflict is the worse the country is doing. As a result the US, for example, is split from inside and now in stagnation. Tom Standage, an editor of “The World ahead 2022” says that “… As President Joe Biden tries to rally the free world under the flag of democracy, his dysfunctional, divided country is a poor advertisement for its merits.”

No wonder the global structures (UN, NATO, WTO, WHO, EU, etc) are even more slow, clumsy and ineffective. The mankind has been globalized too much, it's time to disintegrate. Everything in our civilization - from traditional family and businesses at microlevel to different countries and international organizations at macrolevel will disintegrate.

Coronavirus pandemic just manifests and exacerbates the contradictions between the governments and their people. Everyone has the same problem now: possible death by coronavirus or guaranteed starvation. The government can afford to work remotely, get paid and pay their bills. The people mostly cannot. It is a huge difference and the task is still unsolvable.

Thus, due to coronavirus the governments of all democratic countries get into a completely lose-lose situation. They cannot do nothing. So they are trying to impose various restrictions which many of their voters do not like, while realizing that the coronavirus cannot be defeated soon which means they will definitely not get elected again. This is a very tough test for the governments of different countries. The coronavirus clearly shows their helplessness, but dealing with pandemic is obviously easier for leaders of authoritarian countries like China or Turkey, for example. They just command to their citizens to "put on masks," "stay home," or "get vaccinated," and those who disagree are forced to comply because otherwise they will lose their jobs, get no paychecks, be unable to enroll their children in school, etc... Yes, this is undemocratic, but it prevents the spread of the coronavirus. And democratic methods of explanations, entreaties, and even rewards (President Biden offered $100 for vaccination in summer 2021) don't work.

"Democratic" and "undemocratic" methods are very relative terms since the precise definition of democracy doesn’t exist. A philosopher Karl Popper mentioned “the theory that democracy is the rule of the people, and that the people have a right to rule.” A former Secretary-General of the UN Kofi Annan says that “there are as many different forms of democracy as there are democratic nations in the world." So whatever you understand by the term "democracy" is right.

Recent times world public opinion strongly favors democratic systems of government despite the fact that democracies and republics have been actually very rare and the humanity lived under authoritarian model most of its history. Democracy nowadays is considered a good and correct form of state government and the only way to a better future. Authoritarianism is the opposite.

Democracy and authoritarianism are just different forms of social organization. The difference lies in the way the decisions are made. In democratic countries (theoretically) decisions are made collectively by different branches of power. People elect their representatives to the legislative and executive branches, they adopt laws and execute them for the benefit of all. In authoritarian countries, theoretically and practically, decisions are made by the first person (after optional consultations with a narrow circle of cronies).

Democracy is also thought to make the right decisions very often, although the process takes longer, while authoritarian decisions are almost always wrong (although everything happens much faster). Moreover, authoritarianism does indeed often end up with power grab and apparently this is why it is so negatively viewed.

As an opposite point of view, I can cite a considered authoritarian Lee Kuan Yew, who has led Singapore to prosperity for about 30 years. I think if he happened to be a democrat nothing of the kind would happen.
At the same time, Argentina has had a string of convinced democrats at the helm of the country since the restoration of democracy in 1983 which brought that state to a Great Depression in 1998-2002 and a few defaults (the failure to repay a debt) later (2014, 2020).

As you can see democracy is not better than authoritarianism, they are two different tools. Each one has its own advantages and disadvantages, so the democracy alone is not a guarantee of the wellbeing of a country.

Authoritarianism is a tool for overcoming crises (economic, political, military) when you need something (good or bad) to be done quickly, while democracy is good for all other cases. The question is how the country as a whole perceives its current status quo (no-crisis, pre-crisis or in-crisis). Unfortunately, all countries (as well as individuals) usually see themselves much better than they really are and often miss the correct timing.

In addition, any tool can be used for the good or for the bad, so it is very important just who and how uses the tool. There are enlightened authoritarians, like Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore or Paul Kagame in Rwanda. There are some shameless pseudo-democrats (Putin is one of the most famous). There are controversial authoritarians like military dictator Park Chung-hee who can nevertheless be called a creator of South Korean economic Miracle on the Han River.

Coronavirus is a ruthless enemy, and all humans are soldiers at this war. There are, of course, generals there - the governments of various countries, who give orders to their citizens-"soldiers”. It's been almost two years of war. We will either win (get rid of the coronavirus), die (it will get rid of us, it has its own evolution) or, most likely, coexist with it like we got used to live with the flu, losing between 290 and 650 thousand human lives a year.

To win a war, the most important thing is that all (!!) soldiers follow orders. Herein is a huge problem for democracies. The citizens of these countries are used to the idea that their voices should matter, and that is why some "soldiers" refuse to carry out commands that do not correspond to their understanding of democracy (wearing masks, keeping a social distance, being vaccinated). Thus, there is some democracy, but no discipline and army. This is a defeat in a war. In the end, everyone - "soldiers" and "generals" alike - will lose. All democracies will have to pay by many deaths for the pleasure of observing democratic principles during warfare.

Democracy is harmful in times of war, that's why all the armies in the world are organized according to the authoritarian principles. Austria seems to be the first out of full democracy countries which realized this, but before the Austrians had realized that they got into crisis.


P.S. Dear Reader! I am very much interested in your opinion on the subject of this article. Please, write a comment or ask a question if you want to clarify something.
Igor Chykalov
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