Better than democracy? (Part 1 of 2)

What is democracy? You could say that it’s a system in which everyone gets one vote and all are equal. That sounds good.

Alternatively, you could say that it’s one specific example of a kind of system in which one group gets to impose its views on another group, explicitly against the will of those people.

Doesn’t sound so nice now, does it?

In democracy, the majority imposes its views on a minority. But in the same broad class of political systems in which one group imposes its will on another we find Fascism, Communism, National Socialism and Dictatorship.

They say that everybody wants to rule the world, but it’s an idea that’s always puzzled me, because I don’t want to rule the world. It seems obvious that this is a bad idea. Not for me in particular to rule the world, but for any one person or group. Because ruling the world means having power over the people in it. And nobody should have that kind of power. Which means that logically there ought not to be any governments, or at least not the kind we have now, which seem intent on micro-managing all kinds of human activities.

This isn’t a very popular idea, I must admit, and I also concede that I don’t yet have an alternative that’s fully worked out. But still, the basic problem keeps rearing its head again and again.

I realise that we need laws to protect us. Paradoxically, the rule of law is what guarantees us our freedoms. But individuals shouldn’t have power over others. Groups shouldn’t have power over others. It seems self-evident. Am I the only one who thinks this?

Continued in Part 2.

17 responses to “Better than democracy? (Part 1 of 2)

  1. “In democracy, the majority imposes its views on a minority.” Yes, majority rules. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Politics rules. Money rules.

    In the States, for example, the majority of people favor some degree of gun control, even things as simple and common sense as background checks. But the NRA is so politically powerful that it is able to overcome the desires of the majority.

    The majority of Americans support gay rights/gay marriage. The majority of Americans support women’s rights (including abortion rights). The majority of Americans are concerned about climate change. Yet these majority opinions can’t overcome the political realities and financial clout that exists within the American brand of “democracy.”

    Good post.

    • I keep hearing the same thing from American bloggers and commentators. In America, lobbyists seem to have a lot more power than they do here in Britain. The amount of money involved in US politics is absolutely staggering.

      • Indeed. And just yesterday our conservative Supreme Court ruled to eliminate limits on how much money people, including corporations, can donate in total in one election season. The US is no longer a democracy when the wealthy control the outcomes of elections.

  2. I think it was Winston Churchill who said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for everything else that’s ever been tried.

  3. You are not the only one wondering.

    I realise that we need laws to protect us. Paradoxically, the rule of law is what guarantees us our freedoms.

    That’s the deal. The laws only work if a) everyone agrees to follow the law; b) there is a way to enforce the law.

    In (a) case, there is even no need for the law. The laws are written for those who don’t agree to follow them. E.g. if nobody litters, there is no need for a “no littering” law. If people voluntarily donate to care for the sick and the poor, there is no need for the welfare laws and taxes. So, we are left with (b) which implies a system to enforce the law with ability to cause harm (physical violence, economic damage, etc.)

    Have you followed the Ukrainian crisis? It’s fascinating from multiple angles. Consider how Russia took over Crimea, for example. Putin used the unrest in Kiev to enter troops in Crimea and physically take control of the peninsula. Then, he turned off all media except Russian propaganda which portrayed the events in Kiev as a fascist coup and terrified the people presenting joining Russia as the only solution to the “problem” (which did not exist – there was no threat to Russians in Crimea from anywhere). On March 16, there was a “referendum” prepared in 2 weeks while the region was flooded with armed Russian troops. The results of the “vote” was predictable – 97% voted to join Russia. On March 21, Russian parliament officially accepted Crimea as a new subject of Russian Federation. Done.

    Now, Ukraine, Crimean tatars, UN, and most of the world except 11 most corrupt countries in the world (like North Korea) say that the “referendum” was illegitimate. Blah-blah. What can UN, NATO, or Ukraine practically do about it? One can vote whichever way he likes. But the people with the biggest guns win.

    Now, the U.S. is working to lower the oil price below $100 per barrel – lifted the ban on oil import from Iran, gave access to oil reserves inside the U.S., and paid a visit to Saudi Arabia to open up the oil faucet. This will deprive Russia from oil revenues and bring it down economically in the near future. The next day after Obama visited Saudi Arabia, Putin called Obama to talk about the solution to the Ukrainian crisis and Lavrov asked to meet Kerry urgently.

    It’s fascinating to watch this international drama unfold and watch how different political mechanisms work.

    While Russia is viewed as an aggressor in the conflict and Putin is increasingly considered a dictator in many parts of the world, in Russia his approval rating is at all-time high. Why? Propaganda. It’s an illusion to think that people “express their will” when they vote. People make decisions based on information provided to them. And what information is available to people is easily manipulated by the media. Russia has suppressed all independent news media. The remaining news stations created paranoia about Ukraine with imaginary threat with nationalistic anti-Russian “fascists” while working hard to boost the very same anti-Ukrainian nationalism inside Russia creating public sentiments to restore the grandeur of Russia as a world power lost after the Cold War. As a result, 449 out of 450 members of Russian parliament voted to annex Crimea, use armed troops to invade Ukraine, etc., with whopping 80%+ popular support. The 97% vote in Crimea was achieved in a similar way.

    Meanwhile, in Ukraine, the new government is fighting to disarm the extremist forces that violently brought down the old government. The very same people with guns who used to be “heroes of people’s democracy” are now called “illegal armed groups”. You can’t have the people themselves implementing their own version of “justice” with guns, after all.

    • You have put your finger on it. Laws are needed to enforce freedoms, but the wrong laws rob us of freedoms. But governments do a lot more than make laws. They spend vast amounts of money on our behalf, often in ways that we don’t know about.

      Putin is a perfect example of a popular democratically-elected authoritarian leader. Who would want such a leader? Only, it seems, the majority of Russian people. Can the majority be wrong? Yes! Often!

      • Yesterday, I watched an interview with a Russian rock singer Andrei Makarevich. He is now in a tiny minority of Russian citizens supporting Ukraine and criticizing Putin. The interview was made in 2012, but it’s still relevant. He is asked, why, in his opinion, Russia ends up with authoritarian rulers over and over throughout its history. He quoted his former wife who said “If the third husband beats you in the face, it’s not the husband to blame – it’s the face.”

        E.g. in Russia and Ukraine, people complain about corruption of government officials. People often feel “forced” to give bribes. That’s the thing. While people are willing to bribe government officials to get things done or to avoid abuses, corruption will flourish. People who give bribes would also take them if given a chance. Corruption starts in each individual. It does not come from the leaders. Corrupt people elect corrupt leaders who assign corrupt officials.

        What is happening in Ukraine is quite interesting. This mentality of corruption seems to be changing. Today in Lviv (Western Ukraine), people came into the office of a newly appointed head of Traffic patrol department of local police who people perceived as corrupt. They threw money at him to “bribe” him to resign which he did – there and then. Wow. I haven’t seen anything quite like this before.

        • You could say that Russia has suffered from autocratic governments for centuries, and this is why the people seem incapable of moving beyond this state of corruption.

  4. Nope. You ain’t the only one. But I don’t think there are many of us.

    “This isn’t a very popular idea, I must admit, and I also concede that I don’t yet have an alternative that’s fully worked out. But still, the basic problem keeps rearing its head again and again” – exactly!

    Instead of saying that there’s no alternative so shut up (as many people seem to find especially gratifying), we should start trying to develop alternatives. Start trying to come up with a system that isn’t, well, archaic.

    Another problem: why the hell would we want a majority vote? I mean, the issues governments try to deal with aren’t straightforward issues with simple answers. In fact, they’re ridiculously complicated. Why should the majority’s voice rule? It’s like giving a scalpel to a toddler and saying, Look, mate, you’ve got to operate on Mr Smith’s brain… I know you’re not qualified, but give it your best shot. Worse still, it’s like giving a scalpel to millions of toddlers and saying, Okay, you take charge, go forth and spew on. I don’t want the majority deciding on what should be. I don’t trust large groups of people. They make me itchy.

    Another thing I don’t want (as you said) is to be governed by an individual who likes the idea of governing, controlling, micro-managing… an entire country? What sort of person would want that kind of power? Eww.

    Maybe anarchy is the answer? We could completely start over and give some other mutated life-form a shot at this life thing? Cause we’ve properly fucked things right up.

    • There has been quite a debate about democracy here in the UK, sparked by Russell Brand’s comments (which I have criticised here

      “I don’t trust large groups of people.” LOL, that is the rationale for democracy elegantly turned on its head! I agree. How often do you and your friends/family use voting as a method to make decisions? Probably not very often. We discuss instead and try to find satisfactory solutions. If we don’t use democracy for making trivial everyday decisions, why on earth would we use it for making big important decisions?

      • Open discussion about important topics? Are you blooming mad, man? Discussions about important topics must be held in grandiose halls lined with red carpets and velvet curtains, and the participants must be angry, aggressive, preferably white, preferably male, and preferably belligerent.

        I read your other article. I still don’t see exactly why you dislike Brand so much. I don’t agree with him on the point of revolution; like you, I think revolutions are generally a bad idea. But, as he says, they don’t have to be. The 60’s could be considered a revolution, couldn’t it? a revolution of peace and love. No guns or guillotines; no public crucifixions or hangings. Just flowers and rainbows. It might very well take a full-blown revolution to actually change things, and I’m quite convinced things need to change. Let’s bring back the 60’s, slap it with the label ‘revolution’, run around hugging each other and being nice to each other and tripping balls on LSD 21/7. It sounds lovely.

        • Revolution. What a word! One person’s revolution is another’s drug-induced vision of peace and love! For the record, I’m generally against violent overthrow of the state and suspension of the rule of law, and generally in favour of new ideas that transform the way we look at the world. I suspect we agree.

        • We agree. (Although sometimes I must admit I enjoy contemplating the demise of the world.) But still, how do we implement these transformative ideas without a total subversion? I’m not convinced that transformative change can result from within the current system. That would call for the current system to transcend itself and enter into a sphere that kills it.

  5. Yes you are the only one who thinks this. 🙂 democracy has many flaws not the least of which is that the majority is not always right for the simple reason that we are not informed enough and we have many flaws ourselves. Surely you’ve read Platos solution, which is my view of the ideal system. It’s the implementation that’s hard…

    • Yes, the majority is often not right, for all kinds of reasons, although I do find Plato very pessimistic when it comes to ideas of government.

      I am personally optimistic and believe that most people can make sensible decisions for themselves if allowed to.

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