Democracy is Not the True Arbiter of Societal Excellence

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The real threat to democracy in America is declining levels of societal emotional excellence. Democracy is not the true arbiter of societal excellence.

There is a widespread admiration for democracy across the world. This fondness for democracy arises from the belief that democracies are best equipped to deliver fairness and justice to all its citizens.

Fairness and justice imply that the rule of law, equality before the law, separation of church and state, freedom of religion, gender equality, human rights, etc., are all built into the democratic system of governance.

Ancient Greeks invented the term “democracy,” meaning, rule by the people.

After making a myriad of contributions to human civilization for over a thousand years, Greece declined. Today, Greece is counted as one of the weakest links in the European Union. Depicted below is a plot of all people born in Greece and listed in all 23 volumes of the 1991 edition of Encyclopedia Britannica. The rise and decline of Greece is self-evident.

Similar plots for Great Britain, Germany, and the United States are available.
A second example. In Vedic times, thousands of years ago, India was on top and remained on top for more than a thousand years at a time when Western nations hadn’t made much progress.

In Vedic times, seers pioneered a novel method of discovery which goes by the Sanskrit name, Shruti, meaning revealed, and therefore beyond the reach of reason, that remains more or less out of reach of the most advanced civilizations of today. The Vedas are an example of Shruti discoveries. Products of reason include sciences, laws, policies, etc.

In contrast, today, India is a hundred years or more behind the most advanced Western civilization. It is only now rising. I predicted the rise of China and India, in that order, in the nineties. My graduate students at the University of Louisville scoffed at the idea at the time, but at my retirement dinner in 2008, several said, we withdraw our comment.

In ancient times, the notion of fairness and justice for all was known as Ram Rajya (The kingdom of Lord Ram). There was no democracy then.

Eventually, India, too, declined as did some other civilizations like Egypt, China, Rome, and the Ottoman Empire.

What causes societies to rise and then decline? It is the societal level of emotional excellence. Human emotions are of two types: Positive emotions and negative emotions. Positive emotions include unconditional love, kindness, empathy, and compassion, while negative emotions include anger, hatred, hostility, resentment, jealousy, frustration, fear, sorrow and the like.

Rising positive emotions lead to societal rise, while rising negative emotions lead to its decline.

No one knows why such a transformation should take place, but we can be certain it does. Relatedly, truthfulness, honesty, steadfastness and equanimity lead to rise, while lying, cheating, causing injury in words or deed promote decline.

This discussion brings us to the present time.

Polling suggests that threat to democracy has emerged as issue No. 1 for the American electorate, but no one has investigated why the threat has emerged to begin with and how it can be attenuated?

Cultivation of positive emotions at the exclusion of negative emotions is the only way, but it is not an intellectual exercise; the required positive changes have to come about from within.

We are fortunate to be living in an era when emotions can be measured, and the process with which to bring about positive changes from within is meditation, or more generally yoga, known for thousands of years. Seers of the ancient past used these practices to make Shruti discoveries. The availability of a measurement device for emotions means progress can be audited.

For best results, the science and practices to enhance emotional excellence must begin in schools as today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders.

Note that societal decline can only be postponed, not prevented, as rise and decline are natural phenomena.

Relatedly, I introduced a mandatory Six Sigma Greenbelt Training program in the MBA curriculum of the Gatton College of Business & Economics at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, KY around 2005, and then taught the Six Sigma course in their MBA program at TEI/Piraeus in Athens, Greece for the ensuing twelve years. I had discovered that exemplary performance in the external world is not possible in the absence of an adequate level of emotional excellence. Raise emotional excellence and the performance will zoom.

Therefore, the MBA students also learned the science and practices of emotional excellence and they thoroughly enjoyed it. In one of the classes, students gave me a replica of Aristotle’s book with a card signed by all of them which contained a remark by Socrates, “The one thing I know for sure is that I know nothing.” It appears Socrates understood that the universe came out of nothing, and the students realized that he understood the true meaning of nothing.


In closing, what is threatening democracy in America today is not Democrats vs. Republicans, but a declining societal level of emotional excellence, and therefore, serious efforts must be made to reverse the trend. The article has also attempted to explain why democracy is not the true arbiter of societal excellence.


The editorial assistance of Tony Belak, Mediation Consultant and former Ombudsman, University of Louisville, is gratefully acknowledged. Graduate students Bharat Sanghavi and Sundeep Dronawat scrutinized the 23 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica in the early nineties and prepared the plots for Greece, Great Britain, Germany and the United States.

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