The Dream of Democracy
The term democracy refers to governments formed by the people who, in the best case, act in the interests of the people. The term is widely used, often without understanding of what it means. According to Posner, in the US, the founding fathers did not want to set up a democracy but a mixed government. The presidency is the monarchical element, the Senate and Supreme Court are aristocratic elements and only the democratic element is the House of Representatives. This design had worked to balance competing interests but with increasing size and complexity of government, the design has become obsolete. Government becomes a circus of competing interests, displaying their wares in a variety of private venues.
Canada copied the British Parliamentary system with a three layered, mixed government. Britain has a Queen who remains the nominal head of government, an aristocratic assembly, the House of Lords and an elected parliament where the majority party forms the government. In a display of absurd anachronism, the British Queen continues to own all of Canada not in private hands, and appears on all official documents issued by the government.
Athens, Greece is often given credit for inventing democracy. But in Athens only one in 10 residents could vote. Women could not participate and slaves had no rights. Those who did vote were often tempted to vote in favor of war. Athens flourished for a few years, but the Greek empire and democracy was over within 150 years. While the Greek legacy was carried on more or less by the Romans and spread through Europe, the real story of ancient Greece is tragic.
Elections are the showcase of democracy but may not achieve desirable results. Elected leaders often find subsequent elections to be inconvenient and assume dictatorial powers instead. The real process of government is an endless series of negotiations and private deals. Negotiated deals tend to benefit the more aggressive, influential and wealthy participants. Government as a circus is perhaps better than government as a dictator’s court but in most democratic countries, few citizens are happy with the way governments work.
Democracy and freedom are not necessarily linked. An alert, well-informed citizenry and a politically independent judiciary are essential to the preservation of personal freedoms. A civil society develops multiple overlapping levels of dispute resolution with the right to appeal bad decisions that are common and inevitable when local tribunals decide who is privileged and who is not. A champion of civil rights is often in the uncomfortable predicament of defending the rights of humans he or she disagrees with, dislikes and even fears.
All governments are inefficient and are prone to corruption. In every large institution, there is a tendency to fascism, the dictatorial rule of an elite group who believe only they know what is right and true. A fascist displays innate tendencies, modified by learning, but devoid of compassion. A fascist promotes arguments and dissension, developing the idea that only some citizens have rights and privileges and others become outsiders who must be constrained, imprisoned, deported or eliminated.
Elections are often thought to be the essence of democracy, but as human groups grow larger and social organization more complex, the ideal of citizen controlled government becomes impossible. The value of elections is not so much the selection of the right people to run governments since this result is seldom achieved, but the opportunity to disrupt political oligarchies in the early stages of their development. You could argue that candidate selection for elections is so inappropriate to the task facing the elected politicians that an election lottery choosing from thoughtfully selected, highly qualified citizens would do a better job of forming governments.
In a civil society there must be a wealth re-distribution plan so that money and power is not concentrated in a small elite class but, at the same time, does not discourage or penalize smart people who make the extra effort to innovate and contribute to the general good.
Affluent populations need to protect themselves from attacks that originate from inside and outside the group. The need for protection appears to be persistent and relentless with no prospect in the future of any reprieve. Fascist groups within elected governments typically advance the need for national security to consolidate their power, to threaten political opposition and to suspend citizens’ right and freedoms, replacing external threats with internal repression.
Kershaw recalled that Hitler was elected to rule democratic Germany in 1933.
Hitler used democratic freedoms to undermine and then destroy democracy.
Kershaw stated: “Skillful politicians around the globe have proved adept at
manipulating populist sentiment and using democratic structures to erect forms
of personalized, authoritarian rule. President Putin has moved Russia in
that direction. In Zimbabwe, President Mugabe turned democracy into personal
rule, ruining his country in the process. In Pakistan, democracy largely
provided a facade for military rule, even if President Musharraf put aside his
uniform. Most worryingly, perhaps, President Ahmadinejad has used populist
support in a pluralist system to push Iran into a hazardous foreign policy,
though he does remain formally subordinate to the supreme Islamic leader,