'Ailing: People's distrust of politicians in Britain is severely damaging to the country's democracy. Tyrannies Across The World Are Crushing Dissent. In Britain Contempt For The Political Class Is Growing.
By Max Hastings
Few modern prophets prove themselves wise enough to invite comparison with Moses, but Francis Fukuyama made more of an ass of himself than most.
Twenty years ago, the American academic wrote a book entitled The End Of History. In it, he announced that with the end of the Cold War and collapse of Communism, liberal democracy had triumphed. It would become forever the dominant system around the world, 'the final form of human government'.
Americans alternate bouts of flagellation about their country with orgies of self-congratulation. They loved Fukuyama's book, which represented them as the winning side, and bought it in truckloads.
For five minutes, it seemed possible that the author's thesis could be right. In the Nineties, even Mother Russia, cradle of tyranny, seemed to be embracing popular consent and freedom.
Communism was the last of the 20th century's evil 'isms' to suffer defeat, after two world wars in which the democracies battled against militarism, fascism and Nazism.
And there was more good news, with South American military dictatorships giving way to elected governments.
In South Africa, minority white apartheid rule yielded to one-man, one-vote black government without the violent struggle many had feared.
A few surviving regimes, notably in China, Vietnam and Cuba, still professed themselves communist.
But the big beasts in Beijing were as greedy and materialistic as Wall Street bankers. Only a dwindling band of British university lecturers continued to fool themselves that Karl Marx was right about mankind's destiny.
Yet today, barely a generation since the publication of The End Of History, its thesis echoes hollow.
Even if communism is a dying duck, everywhere brutal dictatorships are flourishing as if their societies' flirtations with democracy had never happened.
Freedom: A Turkish demonstrator wearing a Guy Fawkes mask sits in front of a giant picture of the founder of modern Turkey Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and a Turkish flag at the entrance of Gezi park near Taksim square in Istanbul
Naive Europeans hailed the 2010 'Arab Spring' as promising a new era in the Middle East. Yet it seems more likely that those nations - Tunisia, Egypt and Libya - will merely be ruled by new autocrats.
The truth is that democracy is ailing - not least here in Britain. Many people despise and distrust politicians.
They doubt that the energy expended on trekking to a polling station once every five years will benefit them or their societies.
A few years ago, Portuguese Nobel prizewinner Jose Saramago wrote a brilliant allegorical novel about democratic corruption, entitled Seeing. It was set in a nameless modern city during an election campaign, where three-quarters of the voters are so disgusted by their politicians that they returned blank ballots.
The government, bewildered and furious about the mass protest, orders a rerun: this produces 83 per cent of blank papers.
The writer's point, of course, is that modern politics has become meaningless to most people. It has simply descended into a struggle for power among small and unrepresentative elites, devoid of convictions or integrity, who ignore or defy the views of the people who elect them.
Rulers: China may increasingly embrace capitalist economics, but President Xi Jinping (left), pictured with President Barak Obama(right), and his politburo are implacable in denying their people liberty to do anything save make money
Force: Russia's president Vladimir Putin is an unashamed Stalinist and his country is in the hands of a gangster elite, committed to suppressing dissent and bent upon personal enrichment
Earlier this month, Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, adopted one of the notorious phrases of the old fascist dictators: 'My patience is exhausted.'
He then committed thousands of riot police with batons and tear gas to remove peaceful protesters from Istanbul's Taksim Square.
Erdogan has said that democracy is an instrument to be exploited only as long as it is useful. He is thought to aspire to changing Turkey's constitution to make himself an elected dictator.
Most educated urban Turks are appalled by his desire to break with the country's century-old tradition of secularism and to once more put Islam at the heart of law.
He has restricted alcohol sales and attempted to criminalise adultery. More journalists are in prison in Turkey than in China.
Erdogan has been able to act despotically because as prime minister, he has delivered economic growth. He has won three elections through the votes of the small business class and rural peasantry, who value stability and traditional values far above personal freedom.
He can claim popular support, even though his style of rule is a travesty of democracy. Turkey is only the latest example of a nation bent on rolling back personal freedoms or resisting demands for it.
China may increasingly embrace capitalist economics, but President Xi Jinping and his politburo are implacable in denying their people liberty to do anything save make money.
Russia's president Vladimir Putin is an unashamed Stalinist. His country is in the hands of a gangster elite, committed to suppressing dissent and bent upon personal enrichment.
Putin himself is thought to have accrued billions in his personal bank accounts. South America, 20 years ago, seemed to have turned its back on dictatorships, but today the continent is suffering a resurgence of personal rule.
Venezuela's Hugo Chavez is dead, but his successor intends to continue his disastrous tradition.
Argentina gained democracy in the wake of the 1982 Falklands War, but is now the victim of crazy Peronist economic policies that are wrecking the country.
President Cristina Kirchner can claim popular support: she wins elections by bribing the poor. But while Argentina still votes, its political system is a travesty.
Weak: Most people who care about British politics are appalled by the weakness of the current Coalition, led by Prime Minister David Cameron (left) and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg (right)
Likewise in Africa, most rulers can claim legitimacy because they have won polls, but they rule in pursuit of personal or tribal profit, rather than in the national interest.
South Africa's ruling ANC party is riddled with corruption and its President Jacob Zuma has been up to his neck in it.
The government of India, hailed as the world's largest democracy, is mired in corruption. Paul Collier, professor of development economics at Oxford, wrote a brilliant book a few years ago, confessing that his own youthful faith in the ballot box as the solution to the Third World's troubles had been sadly mistaken.
Without a free Press, a tax system that forces citizens to think about what is being done with their money, an independent judiciary and an effective and uncorrupt civil service, democracy does not work.
Hitler showed back in 1933 that if a would-be tyrant can win just one election, he can bribe or fiddle the results of every poll thereafter.
Once a ruthless man or woman holds the levers of power, he can make sport with polls. The story becomes much more alarming when we see politics in deep trouble on our own doorsteps.
In the U.S., sensible people talk and write openly about a democratic crisis. The bitter divisions between Republicans and Democrats have created gridlock in both houses of Congress.
The old willingness to cut deals and make compromises to keep government moving has become a dead letter.
A large chunk of the U.S., and especially its old, white, mid-Western, Western and southern heartland, feels as disenfranchised as do UKIP supporters in Britain. It sees a host of things being done, or not done, in Washington, which inspires bitter hostility on religious, economic or social grounds.
Damaging: Sir Brian Leveson, whose report last year into Press ethics threatens an unprecedented legislative assault on Press freedom, that vital pillar of democracy
The U.S. came closest to being a single nation in the Forties and Fifties, partly as a result of World War II. Today, though, it is profoundly divided, and likely to remain so, not least as a result of the rise of the Latino population.
Different sections of U.S. society want vastly different things for the country; their political leaders lack the will or gifts to reconcile them. And so to Britain.
It is strange to think that less than a century ago, universal adult suffrage seemed a precious thing - finally granted to women only after World War I.
Consider the huge impact of some general elections, above all that of 1945, which produced a Labour government committed to creating the Welfare State.
Today, by contrast, ever fewer people trouble to vote, especially in local and European elections. They feel a contempt for our political class, which seems utterly remote.
We have leaders so excited by plunging into foreign wars that they pay scant attention to the humbler hopes and fears of voters at home. Most people who care about British politics are appalled by the weakness of the current Coalition.
This could well be the shape of things to come, with the major parties repeatedly failing to secure absolute majorities at General Elections.
The result is that we get government at the speed of the slowest ship in the convoy. Most modern ministers of all parties have spent their entire adult lives in the fishbowl of politics and know nothing of real life as lived by the rest of us.
Britain's democratic process invites almost as much public cynicism as do those of Africa or Asia. Accountability seems chronically lacking.
The EU and its distant, all-powerful bureaucracies feeds more public disillusionment. Almost every day, decisions about our lives are being made without the consent of Parliament, and often against its wishes.
Lord Denning, an unusually wise judge, presciently wrote in 1974: 'The Treaty of Rome is like an incoming tide. It flows into the estuaries and up the rivers. It cannot be held back.'
He was quite right, but his bewigged successors today have plenty of their own crimes to answer for.
More and more unpopular and visibly unjust British law is made by the judiciary, often flagrantly over-riding the expressed wishes of voters and Parliament.
We are entitled to ask: why does no other country in Europe suffer as severely at the hands of its judges - for instance, in upholding the rights of terrorists and their sympathisers at the expense of public safety - as does Britain?
The judiciary displays a sorry combination of conceit and complacency. It has contributed substantially to the British people's mounting belief that, while they supposedly live in a democracy, they are denied their rightful voice in their own destinies.
It is another judge, Sir Brian Leveson, whose report last year into Press ethics threatens an unprecedented legislative assault on Press freedom, that vital pillar of democracy.
There are today some welcome signs that politicians are seeing the perils implicit in implementing Leveson's ill-considered recommendations. But it is dismaying to see judges repeatedly displaying their paucity of wisdom - the quality that, above all, we are entitled to expect from them.
Meanwhile, it remains true that democracy, for all its imperfections, is the least bad system of government to which mankind can submit.
But IF it is to function, we must be able to see some small correlation between what we think we have voted for and what sort of society we get.
Heroes of democracy: It is strange to think that less than a century ago, universal adult suffrage seemed a precious thing - finally granted to women only after World War I
The corruption of democracy in Africa, Asia and much of the Middle East places nations at the mercy of elected dictators.
In the U.S., Britain and much of the rest of Europe, we are instead threatened with chronically weak government, incapable of getting big, important things done to preserve our prosperity and even safety.
To restore voters' faith in democracy, we need also to restore that of our politicians. One of my favourite stories of Winston Churchill concerns a moment in 1942 when he was much troubled by the prospect of preparing and delivering a speech to the House of Commons about the war which at the time was going badly.
His chief of staff, General 'Pug' Ismay, said emolliently: 'Why don't you tell them all to go to hell, sir?' Churchill turned on him in a flash and said furiously: 'You must not say such things. I am the servant of the House.'
Who can imagine any modern British prime minister saying, far less believing, such a thing? Until we can restore to politics the legitimacy that can derive only from respect for its processes, democracy in Britain will remain in almost as sorry a condition as it is today across much of the rest of the world.
Even if someone was silly enough to buy Francis Fukuyama's book today, the euphoric vision it offered could invite only hollow laughter.