Wrong. After taking over Republicanism’s track record, democracy has proven time and again that it is not the solution for administrating a country. In fact, democracy has now become intimately associated with socialism.
Please note that I will be covering a lot of ground in this article. Many of these things are already covered in other texts that I have written. I hope this will give you an overview of the case that I am describing here.
The epistemic failure of democracy
But first, we must define what we mean by democracy. A short definition could be : the rule of the many over the few. A democratic system is one where voting is the source of decision-making, either thru direct vote or elected representatives.
In practice, this means a mixed political system, and therefore a system where pressure groups and popular opinion lead the way. This is the politics of compromise and temperance, not defined as the just middle, but as a muddle of positions in order to attract votes.
The failure of democracy is obvious in the light of our current societies. Gun control, attacks against freedom of speech, social programs, all sorts of evils exist simply because people have desired for them to exist. In North America, we have voted for representatives that have desired to implement them, as opposed to politicians who did not want to implement them. Of course there is more than the simple fact of electing people, but rather that they also have the power to do what they desire.
The end result is death by democracy : dozens of thousands of people who die every year because of gun control, the war against drugs, pharmaceutical regulations, and other measures. The end result is also hundreds of thousands of people imprisoned for victimless crimes, more and more poverty and joblessness, as well as a miseducated, unhealthy, miserable society. Everything good and noble in society has been twisted to fulfill the government’s ambitions and to get handouts from said government, from the corporate world to individual action.
Epistemologically, this failure is childishly simple to explain. We know that reality is objective, and that therefore personal opinion alone does not make truth – “fifty million frenchmen can be wrong”. To find reality, we must go beyond our opinions and reach out to the existants around us.
To adopt a democratic system means that we hold personal opinion as a standard of truth. Therefore, the contents of people’s minds, and not reality, becomes our standard. For that reason, any such system or process cannot insure the rights of its people, for the simple reason that it is based on an irrational standard. To have a system based on reality, one must limit it with reality, which is to say, rational thought.
People, considered as a mass (that on which democracy relies on for agreement), are unfit to rule, for the simple reason than people in general are unfit to be dentists, or programmers, or plumbers : politics is an area of study which requires thought and knowledge. In real life, there is, and can be, only a minority of people who have solid knowledge of politics, despite what they might like to think. Therefore, the mind of the would-be politician citizen is left to its own devices.
We know from epistemology that, when left to its own devices, the human mind will usually fall back on culture, common knowledge, and instinct. The laws of a democratic country reflects far more the psycho-epistemology of its people (including the given culture and taboos of a society) than it does reality. This is what we observe in reality. As social engineering became popular early in the last century, we assisted to institutionalized Prohibition and eugenics, which faded away from the scene. Then, as government continued to expand, society started to slow down, and people became dissatisfacted with what they thought was a failure of freedom. This gave way to the emergence of today’s mixed economies and constant threats against social exchange.
The decline of the American Republic has clearly demonstrated that even moderate amounts of excess democracy, kept in check by state divisions and a strong constitution, will eventually lead to a socialist state. Historically, the American government has used the pretext of wars, real or imagined, and catastrophies in order to get people to give it power. Of course, that’s also how Hitler got elected, albeit under more dire circumstances.
In my opinion, the two biggest problems with the American constitution were the state governements being body corporate and to a certain extent independant from the federal government, and the power of the federal government to amend the Constitution, which was too great. With more strict standards, the 16th Amendment, for example, would never have passed.
One may object to this by mentioning the democratic nature of free markets. It is true that the success of a company depends primarily on its customer base. However, companies do not, in a free society, vie for political power. Furthermore, pragmatically speaking, customer choice is actually the most efficient way of determining necessity, because value-judgments are by necessity personal. The context of each individual changes the value of a product, so that, for example, a glass of water which may be invaluable for someone stranded in the desert might be worthless to someone else. While the person might not necessarily be most habilitated to determine his own needs, he is still more capable of doing so than a complete stranger might be able to evaluate his needs, let alone the needs of everyone.
Incidentally, this is also why anarcho-capitalist systems must fail – because of the democratic nature of free markets. If political power is to be decided by spending, then we should assist to an erosion of power, but much less powerful than with a centralized government since power would be decentralized greatly.
A more comprehensive solution
The basic facts on which rights are based do not change. A free and dynamic society will always be the optimal state for any society to be in. However, this does not mean that we cannot make mistakes in establishing those rights. In correcting mistakes, a democratic process may have some merits. Furthermore, the initial advantage of democracy was that it lessened the possibility of revolt. If we can keep the majority happy on the issues, so the argument goes, we can have more public satisfaction in the government in place. Therefore, there is certainly a way in which democracy can be useful, if we understand its proper role.
|Political power is, in the end, the crucial factor which determines the amount of influence humans can have on a system.|
The role of democracy is not, as we have seen, to establish the general mode of government of a country. So far the best system that we have found to do so is the use of a Constitution – a formal document that defines the structure and limits of the government. These things may be established on a rational basis, and thus we have a structure which will follow rational principles.
The problem with having a Constitution is that it is a document, nothing more. It does not ensure its own safeguard. Any political system must, at least until Artificial Intelligence manages to somehow gain power, be manned by human beings – and even then, artificial beings would still be programmed by humans. Where there are human beings, there are stupid human tricks. It is inevitable that a large majority of the population will come to rebel against its own laws and desire to take away the freedom of one or another group.
These poignant desires are usually temporary. Therefore, we might do better by providing a safety valve in the Constitution in the form of amendments, as the US Constitution provides, and making it a democratic system. However, it should be considerably more difficult to ratify one than to nullify one, in order to keep such safety valve for only as long as necessary.
There are certainly objections to such a view. For example, some people seem to think that human stupidity is an argument against a limited government – that is, that people left to their own devices would degenerate society. However, this is a ridiculous argument because it presumes that politicians are not human. This is obviously not true ! Politicians are as stupid as the people in general, especially so since they are chosen by the people. Indeed, it is an argument in favour of a limited system, because even ignorant representatives would have to work very hard to sink the system, in comparaison to a social-democracy, where politicians have a lot more power.
Political power can come in many forms. The most usual one is the power to change the laws, and to change the “rules of the game” – how these laws are accepted. There is also the power to influence public opinion, thru handouts or biaised laws, in order to get re-elected, the power to vote oneself a higher salary, and many other things.
Political power is, in the end, the crucial factor which determines the amount of influence humans can have on a system. The more power the least people have, the more devastating it will be. This is why the concentration of power in dictatorships and superstructures leads rapidly to the use of force. On the other hand, a system like the United States, where the power is more diffused and limited, leads to the use of force much more slowly.
There are therefore two main characteristics of political power : its concentration and limitations. The more concentrated and unlimited power is, the more evil will come from it. The more diffused and limited by natural rights power is, the least evil it will be able to do.
A case in point would be the American system of state governments. It may seem that the separation of powers between state and federal governments makes power more dispersed and limited, and that therefore the American system is superior. However, state governments are not bound by the US Constitution except in a few trivial ways (such as having a Republican type of government), and can be considered for practical purposes to be unlimited in power, as a whole. Taken individually, state governments are a typical instance of quasi-unlimited, concentrated power. Historically, this was for a good reason, but we can see the consequences today.
In essence, it does not matter whenever the total governmental power is broken down in many body corporates or not. What is important is the limitations and concentration of each political entity, because each of these entities have a direct influence on their citizens’ rights.
And this brings me to the last explanatory concept, which is power flow. The interplay between the different political entities, which is itself determined by the initial configuration of power, entails a certain power flow between entities. For example, in the American government, the power flow is basically divided between citizens, city governments, state governments, and the federal government. Given that the initial configuration of power was determined by national and state constitutions, we can then observe throughout history the changes in power flow which have led to the current configuration.
We observe, for example, that democratic systems have the effect of twisting the relationship between politicians and the people. While they are dependant on the people to get re-elected, and therefore enact various measures or promises in order to get more votes, they have no interest in being honest about their actions. In effect, every element of the government, justified or not, becomes graded on its ability to draw votes, compared to corporations, where things are valuable because of potential profits. This leads to an inherently flawed way of governing. Tyler’s quote, while perhaps not accurate, reflects this state of affairs. In short, people can vote themselves other people’s money, and politicians give it to them so they can get votes. Of course, this leads to the pressure groups game that we know today, and the degeneration of general welfare.
One must not understate the importance of culture, education, societal conditions, in which the system we examine evolves. To take the always handy but exaggerated example of Hitler, a radical fascist preaching segregation and war could not get elected today. Adolph Hitler was elected in Germany because the situation was radically negative and was screaming for change. Not only had the German people retained their independance, but the Treaty of Versailles was a heavy burden on the German people, and the Weimar Republic was a weak, democratic system – probably one of the worst scenarios one can imagine. The National Socialists’ policy of semi-capitalist led the country out of a recession and its anti-social, anti-Jew policies pleased the people.
In New Zealand, the democracy there, in the nineties, turned towards a smaller government for a brief period, during which it went to considerably higher economical freedom. After a while, it then turned back to its old ways, judging that they had attained too much freedom. We do not observe these general reversal tendancies in other democratic societies, or quite rarely.
We cannot, therefore, start exclusively from political premises if we are to examine the power flow in a given society. We cannot say that democracy will lead to one and only one “solution”, or that totalitarism will lead to one and only one “solution”. Indeed, we cannot say as such that there are “solutions”, only different power flows.
One last use of democracy which is worthy of discussion is electing officials. Here what we face is not a safety valve but a straightforward problem. Even if most officials can be appointed, we need people to start up the system. How will these people be chosen ? Here, democracy is usually used, but a few other options can be chosen.
For example, one might adopt plutocracy – the reign of the rich. This is a more serious option than it might seem. While most people would resent being ruled by Bill Gates, or Larry Elison, there is a certain merit in the idea that successful people are more apt to rule than unsuccessful ones. However, there is still the problem that being rich is not a guarantee of political merit any more than being voted in is not a guarantee of merit.
Which brings us to meritocracy. It sounds like the perfect idea, in theory – the rule of the most meritorious. But there are immediately many problems with this idea. What does merit mean in this context ? How do we choose the most meritorious people ? Who will choose them ? If the people who choose the most meritorious are chosen by merit, we are merely being circular. Such a line of thought is unfruitful.
Unfortunately, we still have no practical way of electing people except by popular vote. Agreed, there are various modes of popular voting. The most realistic one that we have is called “approval voting”, that is, a system where everyone can vote for as many candidates as desired. It is more realistic because many candidates can be judged as “worthy” of an office in any given election. One may argue that weighted voting may be even more realistic, since some can be considered more “worthy” than others, but it’s already difficult enough for the uneducated population to deal with little check marks.
Democracy, therefore, is not the most efficient way to determine truth. However, in situations where decisions must be taken dynamically, it seems we have little choice but to rely on democratic processes, while making them as rational and limited as possible. It seems that we cannot, in general, have a free society without having an educated citizenry, however limited the government is.