‘But we don’t have an example of a democratic society existing in a socialist economy – which is the only real alternative to capitalism in the modern world’.

 Peter L. Berger

In the wake of the devastating conflicts around the world that have dominated the political and social sphere of the twentieth and twenty-first century, the desideratum of social change in the developing countries appears to be democracy and with it, capitalism. Whether this has to do with the West’s aggressive evangelism of the ideas of democracy and capitalism or whether it is a genuine public sentiment based on the democratic ideals, is very much open for debate.

What does, however, appear to be the underlining trend of those speaking about democracy, whether they are in the actual democracies or outside them, is the overwhelming belief that capitalism must be an integral part of a democratic society. Yet, nobody asks why? By what virtue does a state need to be capitalist in order to be democratic?

It is not uncommon for policy makers, politicians and academics to routinely assume that the modern societies are inherently capitalist and inherently democratic. This is arguably perpetuated so often, not just to those who are in the so-called democracies, but to those who are not part of any such system in a manner that any deviation from such ideals is often looked upon as ludicrous. What is more, the populace is increasingly uneducated about political conditions and their role in a democracy. What capitalism has done for democracy, as Anthony Giddens has pointed out, is encourage greed, wealth amassment and depoliticisation at the expense of the democratic process. In other words, many have abandoned democracy in favour of capitalist ideals.

Let’s pose a question of democracy in relation to the United States: Who actually governs in a democratic society where wealth disparity is so immense? In a system where the minority controls large amounts of capital, and with that the ability to influence political decisions, can it really be said that such a system is democratic?

It most likely cannot.

Such large wealth disparity in many postmodern democratic societies has given immense political power to large corporations and wealthy individuals. This unequal distribution of wealth can and is used to influence the average voter’s choices as well as the officials who are frequently funded by large lobbies. It is more than evident, thus, those with the most at their disposal will be the most successful. One of the best examples of the power of wealth over democracy can be seen in the case of the National Health debate in the United States. Although tried, Nationalised Healthcare could not be implemented in the United States due to the immense influence that health insurance companies wield over the officials in government. With enough resources at their disposal, those who have the most have the ability to shape public opinion in any direction they see fit.  It is therefore difficult to make a social change beyond that which is superficial.

Our democratic societies often change their officials, but very seldom their policies.

What is furthermore problematic is that any proposal for an economic system which is not capitalist is often understood as a proposal for non-democracy. This is the idea adopted by the populace, as anything other than capitalism is often tied with dictatorships (either a communist dictatorship, or socialism in the form of Nazism). These ideas are damaging, yet they are overwhelmingly internalised by the average voter. The question of how to bring back modern democracy out of the wealth-capitalism ring is thus a complex one.

Peter L. Berger makes a remarkable point, as cited above – perhaps the biggest obstacle in changing the current society is our lack of  an alternative to it. We simply do not have an example of a socialist democracy as an alternative to capitalism, and perhaps this is because the example that would be, does not itself yet exist clearly. This lingering fear of divorcing democracy from capitalism and all the ways that  this suggests an abandonment of democracy in favour of a tyranny of some kind, is self-perpetuating, stifling and clear evidence of a broken system.

One conclusion that can be drawn from the current system is that what western societies experience today is really a Durkheimian democracy – a capitalist-driven political system that has moved away from what has classically been understood as ‘democracy’. Most importantly, this system is broken. The devastating poverty and the obscene wealth that are uncompromisingly present in the capitalist-based leading democratic countries is unsustainable, damaging and shameful.

In these postmodern times, where the idea of democracy is equated with that of capitalism, the first step towards mending the broken system is divorcing these two concepts altogether.