Democracy

Analysis of political issues across the world

Democracy

Postby Gavin » 12 Apr 2013, 10:58

We (or at least I) have been drifting close to the question of whether democracy is even a good idea, especially when society comprises more and more of state-dependent people who are happy to celebrate indolence and depravity.

Human beings are fallible - should they be allowed to fail, or should there be a benevolent dictatorship instead? A monarchy. Some would say society was generally a lot more stable and better under a powerful monarchy. Perhaps - I'm not sure. But I can see that there are some very good arguments against democracy. I mean, Tony Blair was voted in.

The people get the person they deserve, but the trouble is all the other people get him or her too. It can get dangerous, especially when you bring multiculturalism and mass-immigration into the mix.

It's not a simple one, this, I don't think, not one to be summarily dismissed (if indeed anything should ever be). There are many different kinds of democracy too, including direct democracy. This issue has been argued about since Plato's Republic or before. It's here anyway so I can cross it off the list, and I will leave us with another video from Mr Aurini who might start us off since he has also discussed it:

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Re: Democracy

Postby Roger » 12 Apr 2013, 15:13

It is definitely a question mark at this point in time.

I'm not entirely sure whether the answer to our current malaise will involve more democracy or less of it. Aurini makes some interesting points in the video and in particular I agree when he says a vast amount of politics is, in its practical application, incredibly tedious. So I too would question that the answer is necessarily more democracy, more public involvement (or that liberal calling card, "awareness").

Democracy is something of a sacred cow in the west, and in a philosophical sense at least is an entirely reasonable proposition. Why shouldn't each man have a say in governance, after all? A monarchy or dictatorship is just arbitrary power!

The trouble is, with a democracy (or at least our current bureaucratic implementation of it) the arbitrary power is still there, but obfuscated. If you take a utilitarian view over an idealistic one, then a benevolent dictatorship may well bring greater happiness and prosperity to the people as whole. The trouble is keeping it benevolent.

Of course, a rotten king is automatically proof of the invalidity of monarchy, but a rotten president or prime minister can just be voted out (in a few years at least) thus proving that "the system works". The fact that such a person was elevated to power in the first place and that the previous couple of leaders were just as bad is neither here nor there.

It's definitely worthy of a serious discussion but I can't see a mainstream commentator making a case against democracy.
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Re: Democracy

Postby Gavin » 12 Apr 2013, 16:40

I would just like add a link to Elliott's post in which he mentioned that democracy doesn't even work in the UK anyway, because leaders are elected then they simply don't keep to election pledges.
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Re: Democracy

Postby Gavin » 30 Apr 2013, 19:23

I've been trying to think of a syllogism regarding democracy:

Democracy is giving people what they want.
Is it always right to give people what they want? (No)
Therefore, democracy is wrong.
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Re: Democracy

Postby Grant » 01 May 2013, 11:09

The great problem with democracy is the erroneous assumption everyone is the same and hence entitled to vote. This means the fellow who drinks himself silly each night, gambles away his money and mistreats his wife and kids is considered equal to more sober, prudent, civic-minded people. His vote, and opinion, are deemed to be of the same value as that of say a university professor or doctor. This creates a culture of self-interest rather than national good.

I remember a "Wizard of Id" comic strip where a citizen who was about to vote was asked by the booth official to make an intelligent statement on the issues to enable him to cast his vote. His response was, "Do the candidates have to do likewise?" That's the problem with democracy, often political jokes get elected.
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Re: Democracy

Postby Nathan » 01 May 2013, 11:37

I'm going to echo what Roger has already said: the idea of a benevolent dictator is all well and good, but what external force is going to keep him benevolent, particularly after he/she has been in power long enough to lose perspective (which even happens to some long-serving democratic leaders)? At least with a democracy, the hidden hand of fear of losing one's job due to an angry electorate acts as a moderating hidden hand. I think a dictatorship has its virtues, but only as a last resort when for whatever reason democracy has broken down. I believe it is also still true that there has never been a war between two democracies, which considering the human race's track record with every other system of government that has been tried is some impressive credentials.

Another argument in favour of a democracy is that in its absence, or indeed in any power vacuum such as that after the French and Russian revolutions and the Arab Spring, power tends to be claimed by whoever has the most force and the strongest ideology - not the kind of people who you can easily trust to stay benign and not to abuse their power. Examples of dictators giving up power without a fight are few, but examples of dictators assuming power without a fight are even fewer.
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Re: Democracy

Postby Elliott » 01 May 2013, 11:40

It's surprising to me that there seems to be a pretty widespread assumption on the Right, just over the last year or so, that democracy is either a mediocre idea or even a very bad one.

I don't have an opinion on this but would like clarification from people who do.

Would you say that the last 100 years have shown democracy to be an unwise system of government? Do you condemn democracy? If so, is it all democracy, or just the universal suffrage whereby anyone and everyone (no matter how stupid or irresponsible) gets a vote?
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Re: Democracy

Postby Caleb » 02 May 2013, 00:02

Elliott wrote:It's surprising to me that there seems to be a pretty widespread assumption on the Right, just over the last year or so, that democracy is either a mediocre idea or even a very bad one.


That could just be in reaction to not getting their own way. People love democracy when their party gets power, but think it's a terrible system of government when in opposition. However, there's probably a lot more to it than that.

I don't have an opinion on this but would like clarification from people who do.

Would you say that the last 100 years have shown democracy to be an unwise system of government?


You'd have to set up some pretty clear points to be measured such as the numbers of wars (and deaths), number of economic crises or other economic indicators, and so on. You'd then have to be able to tease those points out both within and between countries, whilst also taking into account that democracies often had to react to, or interact with, non-democracies. I'd say it would be a next to impossible task to really draw any hard conclusions from.

If I'm to be charitable, my view would be that probably democracy was a wise enough system until around about the eighties. The worm began to turn in the nineties, and really turned last decade. However, very strong arguments (for both social and economic issues) could be made that the problems began at least in the seventies, if not back in the thirties or forties, and there was simply a lag of a few decades until the cultural and economic capital of democracies was used up and the issues came to the fore.

Do you condemn democracy? If so, is it all democracy, or just the universal suffrage whereby anyone and everyone (no matter how stupid or irresponsible) gets a vote?


My non-charitable view is that democracy is a terrible system of government unless it accompanies a highly informed and vigilant populace. It seemed to work fairly well prior to universal suffrage. I would probably limit democracy to certain people who had a real stake in society. Traditionally, that was generally land owning males. I wouldn't make it sexist, and I'd broaden the condition of land owning to include owning other types of assets, but I would have a wealth component in there. I suspect that the reason this worked previously was that the expansion of the state always directly threatened such people (it may have aided certain minor groups, but it threatened the group in aggregate). As such, there was a very real incentive to be quite suspicious of government and to limit its power. However, universal suffrage means that a whole lot of people actually stand to gain (at the expense of others) by the expansion of the state. I think that once that road is started upon, reaching the destination nations are rapidly approaching is all but inevitable.

I don't know how easy it would be to abolish universal suffrage though, and how long that would last. There's always going to be a good counter argument to denying anyone the vote and it seems highly likely that there's just a boom bust cycle of an absolute leader, an aristocracy, an enfranchised middle/merchant class, universal suffrage, collapse, and then a repeat of the cycle.
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Re: Democracy

Postby Gavin » 04 May 2013, 13:25

In this video Dalrymple mentions that the Prime Minister of Luxembourg said "We all know what to do, we just don't know how to be elected afterwards". Or even before, I would say, if they are going to be honest about what needs to be done.

The point can certainly come, in theory, when demographics plus democracy can have the whip hand over civilisation if self-destructive values are what are celebrated by that majority (be this welfare or Islam). At that point, but only at that point, I agree that democracy would have to go out of the window.

As for them "all knowing what to do", I don't think that's true. Some don't comprehend what needs to be done (the likes of Tony Benn), some might know but not care and are short term careerists in it for themselves (perhaps Ed Miliband and George Galloway). Some know and speak about it (Paul Weston), some know and are just trying to get into a position to be able to get the country back on its feet (UKIP). I'm not even sure what the Tories stand for really.
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Re: Democracy

Postby Nathan » 05 May 2013, 21:49

Elliott wrote: Do you condemn democracy? If so, is it all democracy, or just the universal suffrage whereby anyone and everyone (no matter how stupid or irresponsible) gets a vote?


I'll have a go at answering this as well. I'll start by copying and pasting what I wrote in another thread:

I will say here that I believe democracy to be the least worst way of governing a country. It stands to reason that a society will be able to make the most of its human capital when people feel they have a stake in society and have a certain level of rights. A government which is ultimately accountable to its own people will be guided by the hidden hand of fear of public wrath much more than any tyranny. The most prosperous, freest and safest countries by any kind of metric are all democracies, and I don’t believe that to be any coincidence. When democracy is allowed to work properly it can make a society richer, not only in pure economic terms but also in terms of strength of culture and civic institutions.


Talking about exactly who should ideally be allowed to vote, I'll start by talking about a demographic group I feel I am allowed to talk about unreservedly without fear of causing offence. When I try to imagine a world where only twentysomethings could vote or play any role in politics, among other things I imagine constant instability with unpredictable swings from one extreme to the other, political debate becoming even more shrill and levels of corruption, dignity and debauched behaviour among politicians returning to something last seen in Ancient Rome.

With a narrower experience of life from which to draw wisdom and to learn from past mistakes, and to be able to appreciate being just a mere custodian of an ongoing culture much bigger than oneself (something which I think the likes of Tony Blair and David Cameron were too young to fully realise) as opposed to being disposed towards making changes just for the sake of leaving your imprint on the world, politics would become more populist, and with all that testosterone going around foreign policy would be much more aggressive with wars becoming commonplace - an suspicion of mine which since Kim Jong-un, either 29 or 30 years old depending on who you believe, came to power in North Korea has only been solidified. From that pessimistic position one might logically deduce that under-30s are not responsible enough to be trusted with a say in how the country is run and we should raise the voting age accordingly.

However, aside from the facile and absolutist “But they’re not all like that!” fairness argument the Left likes, we have to weigh the benefits of not allowing younger people (to give one example, other examples could be, for example, welfare recipients) against the consequences of disenfranchising a whole group. Deprived of a vote and essentially made second-class citizens, you could not realistically expect the younger population to then honour their side of the social contract and remain in any sense committed to the society and its values, which to offer the historical experience of African-Americans as one example can easily lead to widespread and entrenched dysfunctional social behaviour and all the problems resulting from it. I still claim that you only get the best out of people when they feel they have a stake in society and are treated as equals.

Considering how the rise of a democracy has gone hand in hand with a rise in universal education and urbanisation across most parts of the world it’s hard to imagine the last two without the first. Benign autocracies might have worked in past societies comprising largely of uneducated peasants living in isolated small communities for whom politics had minimal influence on their lives, but people living in an interconnected, complex society such as we have today with at least some idea of what is going on in the wider world just will want some sort of say in how their society is run. Those concerned about the idea of the uneducated using their vote unwisely can take comfort in the fact that in most parts of the world voter turnout has quite markedly decreased in recent decades.

Also, once a right such as the right to vote has already been given it is tremendously hard to successfully argue against it and hard to take it away unnoticed, unless it was extremely gradually. It’s not so hard to deny a dog a bone, but quite difficult indeed to take the bone off him once he's got it. Just like lower-income men rioted for the right to vote in the 19th century and women in the early 20th, you can be sure the same would happen this time were any group denied the same now.

It would take such a strong, repressive government such as those in the old Eastern Bloc to successfully preside over an undemocratic but otherwise modern, Western society with modern expectations and ease of telecommunications that I suspect few of us would want to live under it unless it was an absolute last resort.
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Re: Democracy

Postby Caleb » 06 May 2013, 07:01

Nathan: I agree that it would be difficult to take the right to vote away from some groups.

However, there are already groups in society who have a stake in society but who don't get to vote. Two groups that spring instantly to mind are minors and non-citizens. In certain countries (or parts thereof), former criminals are also not allowed to vote. There are very strong arguments for or against any of the above groups being allowed to vote, yet most people accept that universal suffrage is not, in fact, universal.

Last year or before, I remember discussing the issue of citizenship and voting in Taiwan with some other non-citizens. Taiwanese citizens can obtain an additional citizenship, but for non-Taiwanese to become citizens, they must renounce their previous citizenship. The main person I was arguing with is British and has lived in Taiwan for decades, has a family here, probably pays a lot more tax than the average Taiwanese person anyway, and so on. He (and others in similar situations) argued that he/they should be able to get dual-citizenship or at least vote. He also made the argument that other nations are making dual-citizenship and residency rights much easier than Taiwan, and this is making Taiwan less competitive in attracting top professionals.

I think he made a lot of good points, though ultimately, if things went pear shaped here, he could leave Taiwan (though it probably would be very difficult to return to the U.K. and start a life there having been away from there his entire adult life). There is definitely a double standard in letting many Taiwanese hedge their bets (and I suspect that has ramifications for all sorts of economic and political policies here).

So, it comes down to a blood and soil view of citizenship and voting. I can accept that. Yet I still can't accept that someone who is a complete cretin and doesn't contribute at all to society (or even costs society) should automatically be granted voting rights over someone who contributes a great deal more simply because of the accident of birth in each case.

With respect to disenfranchised groups, for example, blacks in America, I think you have the cart before the horse. Such groups have, if anything, become more anti-social since gaining voting rights. Many don't vote, and you're right that it would be counter-productive to take voting away from them anyway (and the left would never let it happen) because they would riot. Yet when do the anti-social in society need a reason to misbehave anyway? They don't need a reason, they only need an excuse. If anything, it's just evidence of how another issue should be addressed first: The seemingly exponential growth of the welfare state. Addressing that issue might actually make any discussion of voting rights moot, though I think (near) universal suffrage would simply lead to the regrowth of the welfare state eventually. I suspect universal suffrage is a pre-requisite of the welfare state.

I also think that the rise of democracy follows/has followed urbanisation and education with considerable lag, and it's not always clear that it does follow, at least in the sense that we think of. Singapore is a strong counter-example. Actually, most of the Anglosphere, but particularly the U.S., is a counter-example. It's just that people fool themselves into believing they still have a say. In much of the West today, the notion of an informed citizenry is a bit of a joke. Firstly, many people don't care anyway. Secondly, there is manufactured consent (Chomsky has that much right, just not in the way he thinks he does). When elections in the U.S. cost billions of dollars and there's a veritable army of lobbyists camped inside and outside Washington D.C. around the clock, it makes a mockery of the whole thing. I'm not even entirely sure that there is democracy. There's a weird situation now where there's a tiny elite of power brokers with a thin veneer of supposed public support by the great unwashed masses. Who in Washington, London or any of the other great capitals, actually represents the middle class anymore? Who actually represents anyone who is productive and doesn't have his snout in the trough?
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Re: Democracy

Postby Jonathan » 06 May 2013, 09:29

Caleb wrote:Yet I still can't accept that someone who is a complete cretin and doesn't contribute at all to society (or even costs society) should automatically be granted voting rights over someone who contributes a great deal more simply because of the accident of birth in each case.


Unfortunately, the alternatives are also bad: Granting the power to determine who can vote and who can't to a person, a clique, or a vast impersonal bureaucracy. Once the exercise of this power becomes a habit - and the public learns to accept its decisions - the road to dictatorship is short.

Given the dangers of the alternatives, perhaps I might suggest that the current mode is not the worst? You have a democracy; every 40 or 80 years voters and politicians become irresponsible and you have a financial crisis: then a depression, a slow recovery, and the loser politicians are kicked out of office to be excoriated by History. This takes 10 years, after which you're back to normal and can start unlearning all these hard lessons.

Of course, it's difficult for you personally if you're trying to build a house and raise a family in those 10 years - but constitutional changes must consider the longer term. Maybe universal suffrage - with all its faults and difficulties - is better than many other options?
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Re: Democracy

Postby Caleb » 07 May 2013, 08:15

Jonathan: Of their histories, how much time have either the U.S. or U.K. spent under full suffrage though? Even if we take British history only from the Restoration onwards, I think the time under universal suffrage has been considerably less than 50% of the total. Yet neither Britain nor the United States were dictatorships during the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries. We also conveniently have one that was an established, successful power, and one that was a rising power.

I don't think it has to follow that restricted democracy leads to dictatorship. I actually think that limited suffrage would lead to a more vigilant voting class precisely because they would be naturally extremely wary of government intruding upon their rights. With universal suffrage, there is always the ability for politicians to play the productive, middle and/or working class off against the unproductive underclass. They can divide and conquer. The current situation in many countries actually strikes me as more tyrannical than limited suffrage because the non-elite spend their whole time squabbling with each other over often trivial issues that the elite get away with whatever they like. Look at the whole 47% argument of the right. Look at the whole 1% vs 99% argument of the left. The right didn't win their argument -- the 47% are still mooching. The left didn't win their argument -- the bankers and politicians are still getting away with whatever they like. Who has really suffered in all of this? The middle class. They've been completely used and abused. Then, there are issues of civil liberties. The intrusion of the state into ordinary citizens' lives who are minding their own business (I'm not just talking about surveillance in the so-called War on Terror -- these days you literally can't build your dog a kennel or open a lemonade stand on your front lawn without visiting fifteen government departments) is more pervasive than almost anyone eighty years ago could ever have hoped for in his wildest dreams. Then there's hate speech, political correctness and all the rest of that. It's a tyranny of the petty.

I also don't think your description of the political and economic cycle is quite accurate. The last major depression was about eighty years ago. In the U.S. it actually ushered in the New Deal. Britain (and Europe didn't exactly solve their issues sensibly either). Arguably, there wasn't rampant growth of the welfare state until the 1960s, though the fundamental nature of the state had changed before the 1960s. The eighty years seem to have been broken up as follows: approximately ten years of real economic woes (there was another recession in 1937, if I remember correctly, and the 30s were pretty dire -- economic growth largely came as a result of the war effort); depending upon the location, about another decade of serious war; again, depending upon the location, one to several decades of real economic prosperity (the stagflation of the 1970s put an end to all of that) and then economic decline on many indicators in real terms (i.e. adjusted for inflation) masked by a massive credit bubble that has popped/is popping.

From where I sit, the last cycle doesn't look too good. The main thing in its favour has been technology. That's what drove/has driven much of the advancement in standard of living. However, even that has stalled. For instance, the past decade has seen a complete reversal of 100 years of falling commodity prices, and that's most likely going to affect the basic cost of living quite dramatically in the future. Moore's Law is not much use if the price of phosphate based fertilisers is set to explode, thus affecting agricultural output and the price of basic foodstuffs.

When I look at politics itself, aside from a handful of standouts, would people really suggest that the politicians have more or less been okay? Who ushered in all of the disastrous social policies people on this site discuss? In the U.K., it might be easy to blame Blair, but we all know it goes back beyond him. Likewise, we may blame Obama or Bush in the U.S., but we can trace a line directly back from them to FDR. Even Reagan, that darling of the right, presided over an expansion of the (leftist) state and for all of the talk of the "Moral Majority" barely checked the complete conquest of American culture by the left.
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Re: Democracy

Postby Roger » 22 May 2013, 11:48

It is a conundrum.

Perhaps Nathan is right that democracy is necessary for a modern, developed nation state to function and there is no going back on universal suffrage any time soon. I'm willing to concede that it is the least worse option, although there are near infinite ways of configuring democracy, some of which will be immensely better than others. Enforced voting, although somewhat draconian, could address the apathy problem and if combined with some sort of 'no confidence/none of the above' option is hardly the greatest transgression against human rights, although I'm not entirely sure if this will make things better or worse.

Can democracy be said to be stable, though? Will it not tend towards a tragedy of the commons with people voting in their own interest but against the interests of the democratic society as a whole? You can see this in the growing unaffordability of the welfare state and the buying of votes through continual deficit spending. That's aside from the subversion by elites at the top who wield immense power in controlling the cultural narrative. The elites get their riches, the masses get their cookies and the larger society hobbles on until it can no longer bear its own weight. Perhaps it is all part of an eternal cycle: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kyklos

Aurini's video mentions the fact that people don't care how many people Levi Strauss employs, how many managers there are or how the decisions are made. People just want to go and buy a pair of jeans of a quality and price they find reasonable, looking elsewhere if necessary. Will these aspects of consumer capitalism serve as a model for future implementations of democracy? Modern technology, the internet, communications networks and the resulting decentralisation and distribution may yet play a major part in governance, for good or ill.
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Re: Democracy

Postby Gavin » 05 Jun 2013, 09:10

Fjordman on this issue.
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