Part II: More General Musings
[Despite the enormity and deeply worrying nature of last week’s events, or perhaps because it makes these thoughts even more important, I shall minimise, if not avoid, specific mention of what happened in Trumpton]
As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy.
[Abe Lincoln, 1858]
xxSome hack recently referred to Lincoln’s definition, adding parenthetically that it showed his poor grasp of political science. Maybe one should question the writer’s grasp of Honest Abe’s subtlety, not to mention the ethical and philosophic principles which underlie that science.
xxThe test of a democracy is not in the power it gives to the majority but in how it treats the rest who didn’t vote that way (for they are part of the demos too).
xxFor instance, Israel’s claim that being the only democracy in the region is enough to make it ethically superior to its neighbours, holds little water if it persecutes whole sectors of its populace on ethnic or religious grounds (as many claim it does to the point of near-genocide), and wages aggressive wars (which may be justified on defence grounds but not purely democratic ones). Conversely, nor could its neighbours be condemned simply for not being democracies, if they treated all their citizens equitably and created a prosperous state for all. Athens was an early democracy but also had (non-represented) slaves, so I don’t think anyone here would call that a true democracy now.
xxHow well or badly all those Levantine states fit those criteria is not being discussed right here, nor whether any would be better or worse off were it more (or less) ‘democratic’, interesting though this would be to consider at another time. xxThe point is that Abe wasn’t far off the mark when he said that anything tolerating slavery or slave-mastery cannot truly be called a government of the people by the people and for the people — a democracy.
xxProudhon not only said property is theft, property is freedom and utopia never, reform always; but he spoke of democracy replacing the rule of the few with that of the equally unreasonable many. What we seem to have is the rule of the few disguised as the rule of a (duped) many. But Pierre-Joseph dreamed of a world ruled by reason, not by influence or numbers. Now this may be hopeless idealism, but if you apply the principle of endless reform towards an ideal, it must be worth thinking about.
xxAs things stand in countries like ours, it looks like the election of representatives, sensible though its initial motivation might be, leads to a populace somewhat less inclined to take full responsibility for thinking about stuff, even about its choice of those representatives. Watch a programme like Pointless and see how many people recognise Beyonce Knowles as opposed to those who know the names of Prime Ministers or Chancellors. Watching the workings of ‘democracy’ in plebiscites and elections alike, suggests that the mechanisms of democracy themselves militate against the application of reason or involvement.
Three glib aphorisms:
Representative democracy is never representative, and rarely democratic.
Proportional representation is ‘fair’ according to its proponents. But ‘fair’ is a word for playgrounds, not for politics.
Proportional representation is rarely proportional and never representative.
Universal suffrage is the counter-revolution [P-J Proudhon, Solution du problème social, 1849]
xxNot least because the greater the illusion the people have of control over their lives, the more docile they will be, even while conditions are far from equitable and a ruling elite get rich at their expense. But the more ratty they will be when they feel their representatives don’t understand them. Then they are at their most susceptible to Trumpery.
xx“And when the self-styled theorists of the sovereignty of the people pretend that the remedy for the tyranny of power consists in causing it to emanate from popular suffrage, they simply turn, like the squirrel, in their cage. For, from the moment that the essential conditions of power—that is, authority, property, hierarchy—are preserved, the suffrage of the people is nothing but the consent of the people to their oppression,—which is the silliest charlatanism.”
xxAutocracies are pointing to the chaos in major democracies as proof that they are a better bet. I can see their point. They’re wrong, but I can see their point.
“Tomorrow is the day of the yearly election of the Benefactor. Tomorrow we shall again hand over to our Benefactor the keys to the impregnable fortress of our happiness. Certainly this in no way resembles the disorderly, unorganized election days of the ancients, on which (it seems so funny!) they did not even know in advance the result of the election. To build a state on some non-discountable contingencies, to build blindly—what could be more nonsensical? Yet centuries had to pass before this was understood!”
[Yevgeny Zamyatin, We]