The Death of Democracy
~ by Ward Smith
The Symposium delivered a number of excellent OP’s but since it is winding down I thought I’d kick in my two cents worth and talk about the demise of Democracy as we know it and the reasons why. The issue isn’t really whether Democracy isn’t a good idea (it is) but whether it is a workable concept in the modern world (it isn’t). The world stage is rife with pseudo-democracies which are really just cover for a new kind of pseudo-voluntary servitude to the state under outright dictators who thumb their noses at the electorate who put them there in the first place. Obviously Chavez is a prime offender as is Putin. Historically we have the prima fascia example of the National Socialist party in Germany, who were duly elected before that sh*tstorm began. Choose your villain from this list. Notice how many were initially “elected” by a majority and how many apparently believe the title “president” really means “president for life”.
Sometimes the democracies get it right. Clearly in the case of Honduras, they got it right and nipped a nascent tyrant in the bud. Obviously Obama got it wrong. To this day in a blatant case of sour grapes, the State Department won’t allow entry visas for Honduran government officials. One can only wonder why Obama wishes to ignore the precedent of allowing the rule of law to control the outcome of a contested issue. The Obama rooters can only be dismayed that I said this but said it I have and we can discuss it in the comments. Of course the CIA has been known to “unwind” democratically elected presidents as well; one can only wonder in hindsight whether they would have turned out to be the next Mugabe or the next Havel.
The fundamental theory of Democracy Stability revolves around the concept that a government which allows citizen representation and economic advancement will have nothing to fear from the citizenry. Obviously while it is a government “Of the People, by the People and for the People” the People will be happy to play along. The wicket gets sticky when the government ceases in that role and it becomes a “Them” vs. “Us”.
In How to Construct Stable Democracies the authors proposed that the democratic institutions (see Honduras above) and adherence to same were key factors in the susceptibility of the democracy to failure. Interestingly the Polity IV criteria ranking from -10 (fully autocratic) to +10 (fully democratic) showed a high correlation to stability. In other words even though an autocratic regime might suck to live in, the odds are that it will survive much longer than a middling democracy. The slippery slope begins with a too-powerful executive at the helm.
The risks of an institutional structure that allows for the rise of a dominant chief executive are twofold. First, once elected, such dominant executives may be tempted to maintain their power indefinitely and extend it over greater reaches of society and the economy; this can either provoke rebellion or result in a slide to outright dictatorship. Second, in situations of factional competition, a dominant chief executive office becomes a prize worthy of an all-out battle to secure. In contrast, a more diffused or weaker system of executive authority might allow different groups to share power…
Perhaps the most harmful notions about democracies that have spread in recent years are the clichés that democracy is a system characterized by “one person, one vote” and “majority rule.” Such notions suggest that the largest social group—be it defined by religion, ethnicity, or class—has the right to run a society as it sees fit. This formula is a recipe for factionalism.
The ancient Greek form of democracy embraced government by majority rule; later states rightly discarded this form as too unstable for large and complex societies. The founders of the United States created something new: a democratic republic in which majority rule was tempered by checks and balances that effectively blunt the power of virtually any faction or coalition. In the U.S. Constitution, the principle of “one person, one vote” is contravened by the power of the Senate; the 500,000 citizens of Wyoming have the same number of votes as California’s 30 million residents. The Electoral College, though cumbersome, was deliberately designed to ensure that a person could become president only with support from all over the country and not just in the few most populous states or in one specific region.
We have a strange amalgam here in the melting pot United States (or if your prefer Estados Unidos de Americana). We concern ourselves with individual “rights” while suborning our liberties to an ever-expanding “other” that is ‘The’ Government instead of ‘Our’ Government. In Oregon you can’t even own the raindrops that fall on your property. The line between “Us” and “Them” blurs ever so quickly. We lose our ‘rights’ to our own person when we fly, just because we’re supposed to be “protected”. But our government has no obligation to protect us as individuals; therefore what are we getting for our trouble?
I’ve already stated that politicians and psychopaths are cut from the same cloth. In a discussion of Liberal Democracy, we have to reexamine the nature of the current liberal agenda. We can argue on these pages about pernicious encroachment of ‘liberties’ under the guise of “liberal” nanny state laws such as foie gras and 22 ounce sodas. The tip of the iceberg is just that, the tip. In a side conversation with Blaise, I believe we articulated our positions fairly well. Conservatives fear this liberal agenda because of an innate understanding of the points contained in this list. Conservatives are the brakes on a society careening out of control as more and more of our natural rights are handed over to the state under the misguided belief that we are getting more out of the bargain than we are giving up. The state is indeed the enemy, the more powerful the state the more powerful the enemy and the more attractive it is to the power mad political psychopaths. Sutton was only half right; the /real/ money is in politics.
Of course when a democracy becomes a kleptocracy all is good until the music stops. Things don’t always go well for the dancers when that happens as the Mideast despots have been discovering to their chagrin. Assad might as well fight to the death, since death is a certain outcome for him and his cronies.
[Moderator’s Note: This post was originally scheduled to be published at noon, Eastern time, on August 10, 2012. For some reason, although the post listed as “published,” it never appeared. Apologies to the author.]