Thursday, 31 May 2012

Democracy Doesn't Work - Vol 3

Hi again - this is the final instalment of 'Democracy Doesn't Work'. You can go back to Vol 2 and Vol 1 here if you want to read this series in full.

A tyrant is a tyrant is a tyrant. Whether someone is elected or not is at best of secondary importance. What is of greatest significance is action, the manner in which the character and dyanmics of a place change under that individual's rule, the recurring themes that suggest some deeper underlying principle. Whether a bloodbath was by majority decision or the act of a lunatic who ruled by fear is something of a moot point.

One of the great falsehoods peddled by those who support the concept of representative democracy is that by following the instruction of an elected government, the ordinary citizenry are 'only obeying themselves'. This is a line of argument that can be easily destroyed on a number of levels.

Take our 2001 General Election as a classic example of where this view of the world falls down. Turnout amongst those registered to vote did not pass 60%, so New Labour's monster majoritiy of 160, sufficient to form what was basically an elective dictatorship, was built on the mandate of less than 30% amongst those of voting age. What happens to the 70% that either did not vote at all or made a conscious choice for something other than what they got? Are they 'obeying themselves?'.

That's before even thinking about the unknown number who go off grid and 'forget' to register. By definition, we don't know how many of these people there might be.

Then there's the practical issue - finding a candidate with whom you agree on everything, or even most issues of the day, is exteremely difficult and therefore highly unlikely. If one must vote, then the choice is inevitably built around figuring out which of the candidates is least worst, rather than being presented with one who chimes with your own sentiments eighty per cent of the time. It's a very messy business and outside of party loyalists, how many people will really walk out of the polling booth believing that they might have changed a nation and its history for the better? One susepects these are few and far between, and those that do might find themselves disappointed in the long run.

Politics is a of course ane immensely dishonest game, and representative democracy cultivates and offers fertile ground for such duplicity. A manifesto takes no account of unforseen circumstances that might render initial objectives obsolete, be they constitutional crises, some sort of economic meltdown like we're having now, a coalition arrangement that nobody had properly anticipated or planned for, whatever. The politician promising you the earth on the doorstep is doing so only in the present tense, based on the citcumstances of right here and right now. Oh, and he or she is probably lying through their teeth anyway, since that is what people seeking election will always, always do.

One of the massive problems that Libertarians have in a democratic system is that the rules of the game that plays out on the doorstep are loaded firmly against them. Before you accuse me of being some bitter and twisted malcontent, let me explain. Getting elected in the modern era invariably means promising that the state will give the voter certain 'things' that they want. Elections invariably descend into auctions where the various candidates pledge to lavish the inhabitants of no4 with more of no12's money than the last guy promised.

With a mantra of "the first job of the state is to fuck off and let you sort your own problems out better than it could", where do Libertarians fit into that picture? The short answer is that they don't, but this serves to illustrate how being in a distinct minority does not automatically make you wrong.

So in short, if you voted for the government, agree with it on (nearly) everything, their manifesto pledges turn out to be completely honest and circumstances do not throw up new challenges that could not have been predicted in advance then you might, just might be 'obeying yourself'. How likely is that?

I mentioned unforseen circumstances and curveballs earlier and the truth is that governments of all persuasions love them since they provide an excuse to follow through what Statists always wanted to do in the first instance . After 1945, authoritatian and/or Marxist types got clever. They worked out that they could achieve their aims within a democratic system by cashing in on crises, turning the fifty-one per cent against other forty-nine and manipulating the masses to cash in further slices of personal freedom in exchange for all sorts of nice words - security, identity, community, fairness, even freedom for fuck's sake!!

Benjamin Franklin probably said it best, "people willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both".

World Wars 1 and 2 provided governments with the opportunity to construct 'a Land Fit for Heroes' and impose welfarism on future generations. In later years, overseas conflict became the basis on which to imprison without charge, curtail personal liberty and apply no-questions-asked snooping on any member of the population that nanny chose. A pensioner was famously removed from the Labour Party conference and held in custody on anti-terror legislation for daring to heckle a prominent cabinet member.

Nice to know nanny is keeping us safe from these 'dangerous' people...

Just as the NHS was not unravelled after the passing of those who saw off the Nazis, not one law passed in the 21st century in the name of fighting terrorism has a sunset clause attached to it. Of course we're assured that these things are temporary and will only be applied to 'real terrorists', but then who gets to decide when 'it' (whatever 'it' is) is over? And who gets to decide the identities of those 'menaces to society' that need locking up?

Is it any wonder that authoritarians, along with the politicians who represent their views, love wars as much as they do? Industrial loss of life on both sides and the tendency of invading foreign lands to paint a target on one's back works as a licence to print money for those who want it to. It's easy to whip up popular support for a foreign war when you tell them it's a gimme on the scale of playing North End at home, as governments of all persuasions have done. Then of course it's 'our war' and we all have to pay the price for it. In Britain we got waves of draconian anti-terror and 'hate crime' legislation, whle the Redneck tendency across the pond cashed in on the chaos by passing the quite terrifying Patriot Act. A penny for the thoughts of Washington, Jefferson et al on that one...

Many quotes have been attributed over the years along the lines of "democracy is the least worst system" or whatever. They may or may not be right, but of much greater significance is that any nation, be it a demoracy or otherwise, is governed first and foremost by a constitution that is sacred, prevents society from descending into mob rule and acts as a framework around which the law of the land can be built. Once this is established the scope for legislators becomes rather narrow, so does it matter how many we have, or whether they were chosen by popular vote, as long as they honour those principles that are stronger than this week's fashion?

Democracy may be great as a basis for making decisions in a poetry or tennis club, where members are present of their own free will and have the right to walk away at any time they choose should they find themselves amongst an uncomfortable minority. The barriers to leaving a nation for a new one are of course much greater - language, means, employment prospects, the finite list of countries who would actually take us. Nobody chose to be born and so the basis on which people win or lose cannot simply boil down to a question of whether they are members of the fortunate fifty-one or the fucked-over forty-nine.

All in favour of abolishing democracy, say aye. Take care and I'll catch you soon.


  1. Hi Daz; another great post may I say.

    I read somewhere that huge percentages of top jobs like judges, senior journalists and all those plum jobs we'd all like to do (possibly) go to those who've been to private schools. It makes a mockery of democracy and in some cases we are still living in a kind of feudal system. This is a block on ordinary people rising above their station in life, but few of us seem to talk about it. It's still a posh boy's country; when will it change? When will we have enough?

  2. Yes. Democracy is a version of mob rule manipulated mainly by the media.
    Which is why there has been such a war between the BBC/Guardian axis, and News Corp.
    The phone hacking was a sought out excuse to release the dogs.
    Whoever controls "the consensus" controls the democratic state.
    Unfortunately, as you mention and Churchill observed, it is the worst form of government except all the others, or something like that.
    What is the alternative?
    Reagan was somewhat encouraging with his observation: "The nine scariest words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help.
    At least he understood the principle.
    The US has a constitution drafted by people who understood the inherent venality of us all, and put in place checks and balances, but it has subsequently simply been run around by those motivated enough to slither to the top of the heap.
    I suppose the biggest help would be that the power and influence of the state apparatus should be reduced as much as possible, but unfortunately, largely as a result in the advancement of technology, the exact opposite is happening.

  3. The interesting point about News Corp vs Guardian is like in most of the tribal debates of the 21st century, we're presented this false argument where there are two choices and you are either 'for one' or 'for the other'.

    Personally I've no time for either. Phone hacking is of course a serious offence and my only hope is that NewsCorp don't find a William Calley type they can point at and say "it was all his idea".

    Reagan had many good ideas and followed through with some of them. The problem is that while he was a small-state conservative, a string of big-state ones followed him and undid that good work (both Bushes, along with Clinton who was nominally a democrat).

    My favourite Reaganism is "anything that moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. When it stops moving, subsidise it."

    Interesting how the advance of technology has made it possible for the state to know everything about us while keeping more of its own business secret.