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Is democracy overrated?

Andalublue

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Here's an interesting opinion piece by a fairly right-wing political philosopher who makes many points that even I, as a confirmed lefty, can agree with. Here are just three:
BBC News - A Point of View: Is democracy overrated?

1. "In my view, the idea that there is a single, one-size-fits-all solution to social and political conflict around the world, and that democracy is the name of it, is based on a disregard of historical and cultural conditions, and a failure to see that democracy is only made possible by other and more deeply hidden institutions."

How many times have you heard someone say, "You can't do that! This is a democracy!" as if being a democracy somehow made the possibility of abuse of power, corruption or repression impossible. It doesn't. In fact, it probably makes corruption more likely.

2. "In the Middle East today, we find parties standing for election, like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which regards an electoral victory as the opportunity to crush dissent and impose a way of life that for many citizens is simply unacceptable. In such circumstances democracy is a threat to human rights and not a way of protecting them."

This has always been the case, and you don't need to go to a country in the throes of revolution to find freely-elected governments behaving as if their mandate was to behave like gods and emperors rather than governors or public servants. The concept of 'elective dictatotship' is one that should make the most ardent democrat a little circumspect about prescribing one style of democratic system for every location and context. It's a lesson the neo-cons could do with learning.

3. "Then there is freedom of speech and opinion.... Orthodoxy, conformity and the hounding of the dissident define the default position of mankind, and there is no reason to think that democracies are any different in this respect from Islamic theocracies or one-party totalitarian states."

Indeed not, our western 'democratic' governments, co-opted to the interests of global corporations, rather than being the staunch defenders of our right to express ourselves, have become the threat to those rights. The politicians who make such capital on being the proud inheritors of those generations who fought fascism and communism in protection of our basic rights, are enthusiastically discarding those same rights in the name of 'security', 'intellectual property' or, worst of all, 'defending our interests', even though they misrepresent just who the word 'our' refers to.

There are several things that Scruton says that I strongly disgree with and he betrays his roots as a virulent anti-communist by using the former Soviet bloc as the architype for abuses that have been just as, if not more employed by non-communist, so-called democratic capitalist states. But while his choice of examples might be flawed, his analysis of the threats posed to complacent people living in modern, western 'democracies' is relevant.

Another thing with which I disagree is in his citing of property rights as one of the institutions that guarantees freedom, democracy and respect for human rights when that is often the 'right' that tyrannts cite for exploiting and oppressing those weaker and poorer than themselves. He is correct that a respect for contracts is essential and the independence of the judiciary is indispensable in ensuring that. Where he is wrong is in asserting that individual property rights in themselves ensure anything.

Anyway, a thought-evoking article and I hope it provokes some interesting debate.
 

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I think representative democracy is overrated, because it's not democracy at all. We still have a plutocratic class ruling our lives, and refusing to bend to the public majority, they just hide under the cheap veil that we "picked" them. In reality, they bought their positions with cash, favors, and most importantly lies about what they plan on doing.

We need an egalitarian direct democracy where the voice of the people is the most important deciding factor.
 

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" money " governs the world and so l dont believe in any democratic mask :mrgreen:
 

Andalublue

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I think representative democracy is overrated, because it's not democracy at all. We still have a plutocratic class ruling our lives, and refusing to bend to the public majority, they just hide under the cheap veil that we "picked" them. In reality, they bought their positions with cash, favors, and most importantly lies about what they plan on doing.

We need an egalitarian direct democracy where the voice of the people is the most important deciding factor.
I agree, provided the checks and balances like those (although not all those) that Prof. Scruton discusses are built in to the system. I'd also add one that he omits: that in protecting the freedom of expression, the ability to buy superior access to that freedom is denied so that when one comes to exercise one's democratic voice, one person's vote really is as valid as another's. The ability to buy superior access to expression means the ability to devalue that of others.
 

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We need an egalitarian direct democracy where the voice of the people is the most important deciding factor.
That's a recipe for disaster. Haven't you ever heard of tyranny of the majority?
 

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"X" Factor on steroids for every governmental decision? No thanks.
 

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People are stupid, selfish creatures for the most part, incapable of reason, easily programmed and pursuing just about any agenda other than that of the greater good.

When a form of government can be devised that somehow changes the nature of those governed, I suppose I might consider it the solution. Until then, I will continue to think any failing has more to do with the raw materials.
 

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I think representative democracy is overrated, because it's not democracy at all. We still have a plutocratic class ruling our lives, and refusing to bend to the public majority, they just hide under the cheap veil that we "picked" them. In reality, they bought their positions with cash, favors, and most importantly lies about what they plan on doing.

We need an egalitarian direct democracy where the voice of the people is the most important deciding factor.
While I do disagree with the idea of direct democracy, I would like it if the population would be consulted more often. we have the technological advancements needed for the political class to have a more interactive discussion with the population, not just at every election cycle or the odd referendum.

The only way direct democracy will ever work is in a highly intelligent, well educated environment that is deprived of partisanship. And that doesn't exist yet or the means to produce it have only been theorized.

Democracy needs an overhaul. The democratic methods of the last century belong in the last century. We need a new democracy for this century.

And we won't find it in the Middle East islam-infected environment. We won't find it in the oligarchy of China. We won't find it in the political cronies of Russia. We won't find it in the super-bureaucracy of the EU and I will bet my life that we won't find it in the 2 party system of the USA. We have the right principles in western style democracy, we just need to find a newer implementation.
 

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I just can't agree that most people are incapable of reason. Lazy and selfish we tend to be, but every day you hear of someone doing good for no good reason. Put to the challenge, many of us rise to it.
 

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That's a recipe for disaster. Haven't you ever heard of tyranny of the majority?
Direct democracy is the most corruptible system of all because it actually promotes mob mentality through the vote. Representative democracy is a case being heard by a judge and jury. Pure democracy is a mob, a tree and a rope.
 

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Here's an interesting opinion piece by a fairly right-wing political philosopher who makes many points that even I, as a confirmed lefty, can agree with. Here are just three:
BBC News - A Point of View:


1. "In my view, the idea that there is a single, one-size-fits-all solution to social and political conflict around the world, and that democracy is the name of it, is based on a disregard of historical and cultural conditions, and a failure to see that democracy is only made possible by other and more deeply hidden institutions."

How many times have you heard someone say, "You can't do that! This is a democracy!" as if being a democracy somehow made the possibility of abuse of power, corruption or repression impossible. It doesn't. In fact, it probably makes corruption more likely.

2. "In the Middle East today, we find parties standing for election, like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which regards an electoral victory as the opportunity to crush dissent and impose a way of life that for many citizens is simply unacceptable. In such circumstances democracy is a threat to human rights and not a way of protecting them."

This has always been the case, and you don't need to go to a country in the throes of revolution to find freely-elected governments behaving as if their mandate was to behave like gods and emperors rather than governors or public servants. The concept of 'elective dictatotship' is one that should make the most ardent democrat a little circumspect about prescribing one style of democratic system for every location and context. It's a lesson the neo-cons could do with learning.

3. "Then there is freedom of speech and opinion.... Orthodoxy, conformity and the hounding of the dissident define the default position of mankind, and there is no reason to think that democracies are any different in this respect from Islamic theocracies or one-party totalitarian states."

Indeed not, our western 'democratic' governments, co-opted to the interests of global corporations, rather than being the staunch defenders of our right to express ourselves, have become the threat to those rights. The politicians who make such capital on being the proud inheritors of those generations who fought fascism and communism in protection of our basic rights, are enthusiastically discarding those same rights in the name of 'security', 'intellectual property' or, worst of all, 'defending our interests', even though they misrepresent just who the word 'our' refers to.

There are several things that Scruton says that I strongly disgree with and he betrays his roots as a virulent anti-communist by using the former Soviet bloc as the architype for abuses that have been just as, if not more employed by non-communist, so-called democratic capitalist states. But while his choice of examples might be flawed, his analysis of the threats posed to complacent people living in modern, western 'democracies' is relevant.

Another thing with which I disagree is in his citing of property rights as one of the institutions that guarantees freedom, democracy and respect for human rights when that is often the 'right' that tyrannts cite for exploiting and oppressing those weaker and poorer than themselves. He is correct that a respect for contracts is essential and the independence of the judiciary is indispensable in ensuring that. Where he is wrong is in asserting that individual property rights in themselves ensure anything.

Anyway, a thought-evoking article and I hope it provokes some interesting debate.



No, Democracy is not overrated. But sometimes it get's messy. Check with Donald Rumsfeld on that.
 

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I just can't agree that most people are incapable of reason. Lazy and selfish we tend to be, but every day you hear of someone doing good for no good reason. Put to the challenge, many of us rise to it.
People are capable of reason, but I don't trust any mob to get it right or do it even if they're capable of it. People will do good for no particular reason. They will also do harm for no apparent reason. Put them into a democracy of mob rule and forget about individuals. Mob mentality takes over and mobs dispense with many of the higher qualities that make us human.
 

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There is a time and a place for everything, even authoritarianism. Democracy may be what works best for the more prosperous cultures of the Western World right now, but there's really no guarantee that this will always, or even continue, to be the case as our society moves forward.

After all, authoritarian forms of government have been the norm for the vast majority of human history. For most of the world, they continue to be so today, and some of these regimes even manage to be relatively stable and prosperous.

The concept clearly doesn't lack workability on any kind of intrinsic basis.

There is also nothing to say that the "public majority" is necessarily any wiser than plutocratic rule in the first place. Ancient Athens ultimately collapsed due to the incessant squabbling between political factions inherent to its political system. The Roman Republic unraveled for similar reasons, and was ultimately replaced by an ad hoc form of autocratic absolute monarchy which actually managed to function more effectively than the Democratic system which proceeded it for several centuries.

The institutionalized slavery and segregationist policies which mar a great deal of the United States' history conclusively demonstrate that governments need not necessarily be strictly authoritarian in order to oppress significant portions of their populations anyway. A ruthless, amoral, and self-interested electoral majority can trample the rights of others just as easily as any King, Emperor, or Dictator.

Ultimately, I think that the "best" form of government really depends on the circumstances surrounding its inception. Desperate times and desperate people are probably always going to require a certain degree of authoritarian oversight simply in order to prevent things from falling apart. In times of plenty, however; a greater degree of leeway can be gotten away with.
 
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I agree, provided the checks and balances like those (although not all those) that Prof. Scruton discusses are built in to the system. I'd also add one that he omits: that in protecting the freedom of expression, the ability to buy superior access to that freedom is denied so that when one comes to exercise one's democratic voice, one person's vote really is as valid as another's. The ability to buy superior access to expression means the ability to devalue that of others.
I agree. For instance, if it was left up to me all the money used in campaigns to get elected or reelected would be pooled in to one pot to be used to pay for town hall debate formats.

Instead of seeing stupid, dirty, underhanded commercials and candidates being by themselves in a certain town uplifting themselves while denigrating the opponent you can see more debate and less bull****. Let the politicians actually work for that office instead of outspending to get it.
 

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That's a recipe for disaster. Haven't you ever heard of tyranny of the majority?
I've not only heard of it, but raised it in the OP - 'elective dictatorship' is the commonly used term for it in academic debate. It is every bit as much an issue for representative systems as it is for direct democratic systems.

People are stupid, selfish creatures for the most part, incapable of reason, easily programmed and pursuing just about any agenda other than that of the greater good.

When a form of government can be devised that somehow changes the nature of those governed, I suppose I might consider it the solution. Until then, I will continue to think any failing has more to do with the raw materials.
In other words, [shrug] "Watcha gonna do?"

While I do disagree with the idea of direct democracy, I would like it if the population would be consulted more often.
What's the difference between direct democracy and a system of regular consultations with the electorate? Is it the degree to which those consultations are made binding?

The only way direct democracy will ever work is in a highly intelligent, well educated environment
and is that just pie-in-the-sky?
And that doesn't exist yet or the means to produce it have only been theorized.
So why is no one working on that as a matter of priority? Because no one is interested in what the people actually think. The establishment is actually committed to preventing the extension of democracy.

People are capable of reason, but I don't trust any mob to get it right or do it even if they're capable of it. People will do good for no particular reason. They will also do harm for no apparent reason. Put them into a democracy of mob rule and forget about individuals. Mob mentality takes over and mobs dispense with many of the higher qualities that make us human.
What makes you believe that current representatives are less corrupted than this general tendency of what you call 'the mob', and which I'd refer to as 'the people'.
 

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What makes you believe that current representatives are less corrupted than this general tendency of what you call 'the mob', and which I'd refer to as 'the people'.
Something known as "Crowd Psychology" (or mob mentality). People are intelligent and capable of reason. Mobs aren't.

The best explanation of what's wrong with pure democracy is something attributed to Ben Franklin even though there is no proof that it was his quip. It's still a good one and you've probably heard it. "Democracy is three wolves and a sheep voting on what to eat for dinner." gun rights advocates like to add "Liberty is a well-armed sheep contesting the vote".
 

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I've not only heard of it, but raised it in the OP - 'elective dictatorship' is the commonly used term for it in academic debate. It is every bit as much an issue for representative systems as it is for direct democratic systems.
No, that's not the same thing at all.
 

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That's a recipe for disaster. Haven't you ever heard of tyranny of the majority?
That's why I added the word EGALITARIAN in there. You act like a direct democracy can't have a bill of rights.

While I do disagree with the idea of direct democracy, I would like it if the population would be consulted more often. we have the technological advancements needed for the political class to have a more interactive discussion with the population, not just at every election cycle or the odd referendum.

The only way direct democracy will ever work is in a highly intelligent, well educated environment that is deprived of partisanship. And that doesn't exist yet or the means to produce it have only been theorized.

Democracy needs an overhaul. The democratic methods of the last century belong in the last century. We need a new democracy for this century.

And we won't find it in the Middle East islam-infected environment. We won't find it in the oligarchy of China. We won't find it in the political cronies of Russia. We won't find it in the super-bureaucracy of the EU and I will bet my life that we won't find it in the 2 party system of the USA. We have the right principles in western style democracy, we just need to find a newer implementation.
Even if some poor decisions were made by the majority, at least those decisions were made by the majority of the citizenry. In our current system we have a few plutocrats regularly making horrible decisions on our behalf, which in my opinion is infinitely worse.
 

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That's why I added the word EGALITARIAN in there. You act like a direct democracy can't have a bill of rights.
The role of government is ensuring that rights are respected. Beyond that, there is nothing left for a direct democracy to vote on.
 

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That's why I added the word EGALITARIAN in there. You act like a direct democracy can't have a bill of rights.



Even if some poor decisions were made by the majority, at least those decisions were made by the majority of the citizenry. In our current system we have a few plutocrats regularly making horrible decisions on our behalf, which in my opinion is infinitely worse.
It all sounds good until you start trying to evaluate what "the people" would be voting on. The larger the country and population and the more complex the issues, the less effectively a direct democracy can work as a method of governance, in my opinion. It's at it's best when it's a half a dozen guys voting on where to go hunting or foraging this week. Not so much when it runs the gamut of issues we have to deal with in this overly-complex society.

But if you could suggest a model that could navigate the issues in a sensible and reasonable fashion, it would be interesting to hear what you had in mind.
 

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The role of government is ensuring that rights are respected. Beyond that, there is nothing left for a direct democracy to vote on.
If that were the case and no decisions ever needed to be made, we wouldn't need any kind of democracy at all. However, I tend to assume that even the most limited government will need to make the occasional decision from time to time, and I prefer that decision to be made by the citizenry, not a group of permanently incumbent plutocrats.

Having a direct constitutional democracy is no more likely to decide to "Kill all the purple people" than a constitutional democracy would. In fact, I would consider it far more likely that a group of 100 would sooner use their power for their prejudice than a group of 1 million.

It all sounds good until you start trying to evaluate what "the people" would be voting on. The larger the country and population and the more complex the issues, the less effectively a direct democracy can work as a method of governance, in my opinion. It's at it's best when it's a half a dozen guys voting on where to go hunting or foraging this week. Not so much when it runs the gamut of issues we have to deal with in this overly-complex society.

But if you could suggest a model that could navigate the issues in a sensible and reasonable fashion, it would be interesting to hear what you had in mind.
This is all an excuse to basically say "We the people aren't responsible enough to manage our own lives, we need a group of special people to do it for us."
 

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This is all an excuse to basically say "We the people aren't responsible enough to manage our own lives, we need a group of special people to do it for us."
Not at all. I'm saying that unless we want to cut way, way, way, way, way back on the sorts of changes we make, having direct democracy decide them doesn't seem very practical. At least not for people with full time jobs already.

How do we make a manageable list of issues for people to vote on and help make sure they know enough about the issues to cast a vote on a decision? Or do we care if our issues are decided by people that don't even know or ever heard of the issue they're voting on?
 

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Not at all. I'm saying that unless we want to cut way, way, way, way, way back on the sorts of changes we make, having direct democracy decide them doesn't seem very practical. At least not for people with full time jobs already.

How do we make a manageable list of issues for people to vote on and help make sure they know enough about the issues to cast a decision?
Well there has to be a full time administrative staff that has to organize things in government, and these people can be elected, however the big decisions especially need to be brought before the people. We as a society would need to take more responsibility. Some people would not be up for that, and that's fine.

The fact is, we have an insanely low congressional approval rate, yet an insanely high congressional incumbency rate. Our current system obviously isn't working, nobody is happy and our interests are not being represented.

For instance, what would be the harm in the government taking hot button issues like the drug war, abortion, gay marriage, etc. to the people to vote on? You really think these issues are so complex that we can't figure it out?
 

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Well there has to be a full time administrative staff that has to organize things in government, and these people can be elected, however the big decisions especially need to be brought before the people. We as a society would need to take more responsibility. Some people would not be up for that, and that's fine.

The fact is, we have an insanely low congressional approval rate, yet an insanely high congressional incumbency rate. Our current system obviously isn't working, nobody is happy and our interests are not being represented.

For instance, what would be the harm in the government taking hot button issues like the drug war, abortion, gay marriage, etc. to the people to vote on? You really think these issues are so complex that we can't figure it out?
See, this is what I meant when I said we needed to clarify and explain what we were talking about because that's still a representative democracy that we have in place that is only tempered by national referendums on things that we somehow decide are important enough for a national vote. Even how we decide to put it to a national vote would probably end up being something contentious and ultimately, I agree that they should be also tempered by a bill of rights. I do think some of the issues are too complex to be easily understood by voters that haven't spent a great deal of time studying the issues and talking to experts. In fact, I'd say many of the issues are like that. I wouldn't think homosexual marriage or abortion are too complex for people to form their own valid opinion, but then again, should they even be federal issues?

We may not be happy with the way congress is working, but I think we would be much, much less happy with the way we were creating and passing laws if we used some sort of pure democratic methodology for them.

Appointing decision makers is a pretty clever way of getting the job done and I don't know of any large organization or country that has thrived with a purely democratic decision making process. That's great for very small groups of people, but not so much for larger groups, in my opinion.
 

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The larger the country and population and the more complex the issues, the less effectively a direct democracy can work as a method of governance, in my opinion.
That's very true. Our current levels of governance make direct democracy impossible. Until the idea of subsidiarity takes hold, and I wouldn't hold your breath. Politicians promoting real devolution, a quantum reduction in the size of government and anything approaching ideas of subsidiarity would be, to quote David Penhaligon, "turkeys voting for Christmas".

It's at it's best when it's a half a dozen guys voting on where to go hunting or foraging this week. Not so much when it runs the gamut of issues we have to deal with in this overly-complex society.
I disagree, if you scale decisions according to the level of government closest to the point of implementation, you can deal with all matters of complexity. It is the very scale of the arms of modern government that creates the complexity. It is its own self-fulfilling paradox. "Government needs to be big because modern society is too complex", and yet society is made infinitely more complex by the ever-expanding scale of the hydra of government.

But if you could suggest a model that could navigate the issues in a sensible and reasonable fashion, it would be interesting to hear what you had in mind.
There are plenty of alternative models floating around. What's needed for them to be examined, tried and tested and implemented in any way is for the continuing democratic deficit to continue, social inequality to continue to grow and unrest spread to the point of threatening entire systems. Those totally invested in ensuring that the current system maintains its hegemony will use every opportunity to ignore or denigrate alternatives up to, and way beyond, the point of using coercive violence, but eventually systems decline and are replaced and usually for the better.
 
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