On February 26th, the IEU Debate Club hosted a historic debate. In what is thought of as the debate of the year, Oscar Martinez argued in favour of democracy, while Balder Hageraats criticised every aspect of it. Two academic giants not only discussed the sense and nonsense of democracy but elaborated on its history, socio-economic implications and political influence.

The debate was preceded by a few opening remarks made by Dario Hasenstab – the IEU Debate Club Leader – who described the structural format of the debate and underlined the qualifications of the speakers on both sides of the table. Later, the floor was yielded to Sarah McFadden – the mediator of the debate – who introduced speakers through personal embarrassing stories that quickly war  med the atmosphere, helping set the mood for the debate.

At first, the floor was given to Oscar Martinez, who not only stated the basic assumption of his argument – i.e. democracy is fundamentally good, a kind of template for success – but also shifted the focus of the debate towards the inquiry of the best existing form of democracy, which he identified as parliamentary multi-party systems. The presidential system, Martinez claimed, does not work.

Martinez’s arguments were rooted in both statistical data, and philosophic ideas. He argued against the notion of cultural democracy – that of white men for white men – by bringing the example of successful Latin American democracies and elaborating on the fact that democracy had brought much more to developing societies than to its Western counterparts. For Martinez, democracy is not Western anymore, it is universally achievable by the people who fight for their freedom. To strengthen his position, Martinez listed growing political participation, rising civil societies, increasing welfare and foreign aid, declining gender inequality, and successful re-distributive policies as the consequences exclusively credited to the ways democracy performs.

Balder Hageraats opened his statement with the words of the Second President of the United States John Adams, who claimed:

“Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”

Hageraats elaborated on the demeaning role of universal democratic bubbles rooted in the Cristo-Judaic worldview and biased through centuries-long political dominance. Moreover, he claimed that democracy had worked well in the specific instances in particular countries not because of democracy per se, but due to the historically preceding socio-economic development. Lastly, Hageraats claimed that democracy had been recurrently used as an instrument for justification for wild, sometimes aggressive, and undemocratic foreign policies, and not as a template for good, as Martinez framed it.

Oscar Martinez used the rebuttal to raise doubts about Hageraats’ ideas. He claimed that democracy is the only system in which we would have had a chance, since it allows questioning of the political regime in the informal setting, as the one discussed in this article. Martinez, once again, defended his idea of democracy as a template by making a distinction between a menu in a restaurant – from which anyone can choose anything of his/her interest – and the secret recipe of Coca-Cola, only known to a few selected individuals, leading to abuse of power, thus tyranny.

Martinez’s critique of American democracy heated the argument between the two. Hageraats was looking for objectivity in Martinez’s claims, while the latter built his arguments on statistical-philosophical claims of a rising number of drug abuse cases, the rapid spread of depression, and intensifying anxiety – all due to the lack of the necessary security from the state rule.

Later on, both speakers engaged in a conversation regarding China – the giant superpower. While Hageraats claimed that China is the first challenger of democracy with many more yet to come, Martinez made a prediction that due to the unsustainability of the Communist regime and people’s strive for education and freedom, China will eventually become a democracy.

During the open discussion, the audience posed questions regarding irrationality of the median voter, political implications of technological innovations, the hypothetical rise of religion, and the protection and support of minorities. After the debate, interested members of the audience engaged in conversations with speakers in an informal setting.

Sava Pavlović was one of the student attendees, who in a short interview for The Stork, claimed:

“Debates, as the one we saw today, not only increase the credibility of professors in the eyes of students, but makes us question common knowledge and think about the information we receive. Additionally, it is an important exercise for professors, who have hard tasks ahead of them.”

Other students highlighted the importance of the professor-led discussions and expressed their hope to see an increase in the number of debates in the future.

Images courtesy of MJ Heshiki.