Thursday, April 30, 2009

Democracy is not a given good

Your humble Devil has been admonished—both here and in person—by those shocked at his stance on democracy, i.e. that democracy is not an a priori good.

Via Samizdata, it seems that Nigel Lawson not only agrees, but has been brave enough to say so.
"Democracy is nowadays a greatly over-hyped blessing, particularly by Americans, who have no pre-democratic history to provide a perspective. It is clearly less important than freedom, the rule of law and constitutional government, which ideally it should entrench, but may well not do so."

I had to point this out to some card-carrying member of the Labour Party—who also happened to be a young, well-spoken Oxford graduate—the other day, and it bears repeating: democracy is not an end in itself—freedom is.

In terms of maintaining a reasonable government—in that it provides some checks—democracy is the least bad system so far tried (and true democracy is, possibly, the least bad conceived of). But democracy is not an a priori good, it is not the object of all of our struggles—it is not the endpoint.

Democracy can be, has been, and is, used to oppress and stifle people just as effectively as any dictatorship. Just consider the case of our current government: it has imposed massive taxation (through oppression) and destroyed civil liberties (a means of oppression) and yet it was elected by just 21.6% of the electorate.

Less than a quarter of the voting population actively voted for these fuckers, and that has allowed them to loot and pillage the property of everyone in the country.

Were the government, of course, so fucking tiny and powerless that it could do almost nothing at all, then none of this would matter or, at least the damage done is greatly lessened. Which is why I am a (consequentialist) libertarian.

People who cite democracy as an absolute good are devious fuckwits and should not be trusted as far as you can throw them: they are almost certainly conspiring to steal your freedom and your property to pay for their own, personal fucking morals—and then they will cite the "will of the people" as justification for their looting.

If you are a disgusting little socialist who thinks that it is absolutely fine to steal from people because "democracy said I could", just consider whether you think that hanging Muslims in the streets would be morally right if people voted for it. And don't tell me that it could never happen—have you seen the polling results for the BNP recently...?

Although I found Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner to be a slightly hysterical book, the protagonist's father does have one interesting thing to say—that the only absolute moral evil is theft: the theft of someone's life is murder; the theft of someone's freedom is slavery; the theft of someone's property is... well... theft. All are absolute moral wrongs stemming from the same action: theft.


Stu said...

I disgree. Sort of.

You're right that democracy doesn't ensure that the people get the best government possible, and it doesn't deliver freedom - and with your aim of having little or no government democracy is an irrelevance.

However, democracy ensures a system of free market competition between political ideas, and more importantly it means that the Government we get is always the one we deserve.

The fact that only 22% of people in this country voted for Labour MPs doesn't demonstrate a problem with democracy or the idea of democracy - it demonstates that the British people are apathetic enough to deserve the Government that the largest minority vote for.

The fact that Gordon Brown can become the most powerful person in the country without being directly elected demonstrates the fundamentally undemocratic nature of our party system. Again this isn't a problem with democracy.

John East said...

So fucking obvious, and yet I would guess that less than 5% of the population even have a glimmer of understanding concerning your point.

Keep banging the drum for freedom DK. It won't do much good until IQ's evolve somewhat, but what more can we do.

sconzey said...

Indeed. Many people forget that the Apartheid government of South Africa was (initially) democratically elected. They then entrenched their power by enfranchising white women.

Arguably more important than Democracy is Rosseau's idea of the Social Contract (though not entirely how Rosseau envisaged it) The idea that government happens by the consent (or at least apathy) of the governed and that any system of governance should be thought about in terms of Contract Law.

James Higham said...

Democracy is nowadays a greatly over-hyped blessing, particularly by Americans, who have no pre-democratic history to provide a perspective.

The concept of two cheers for democracy is old but I'm surprised at you. You nobble it and it's the thin edge of the wedge, with the global socialist dictatorship taking over.

When you have no democracy, the strong and the organized oppress the others.

Welcome to the new feudalism.

Roberto 'Tito' Sarrionandia said...

You are right. Democracy means making man slaves to men.

Democracy is only a good system in so far as it adds accountability to the state. It doesn't matter if 1% or 100% of the population support a certain idea - it has no weight on its validity.

Right is right, wrong is wrong - democracy is no excuse to substitute might with right.

Anonymous said...

If you think democracy is an absolute good, you need to brush up on what happened to Socrates when his unpopular views came to the attention of the democrats of Athens.

Democracy is always a hair's breadth away from ochlocracy - that is, the rule of the mob. Ancient commentators understood this; modern ones do not.

Democracy always has to be restrained in order to preserve freedom. In ancient Athens, you could vote for someone to be exiled from the city (an act called 'ostracism' because the names were written on pottery shards or 'ostraka') for no reason other than that they were unpopular. That may be a democracy but it is not freedom. It is not liberty.

At the same time, it's hard to see many dictatorships that have provided meaningful freedoms. Democracy is, as Churchill said, the worst form of government, except for all the others. The key to maintaining a free society is to recognise the many, many shortcomings of democracy, to recognise that people, if they are given the option, will cannibalise themselves and will happy lynch other citizens on a humbug. We must never fall in love with the abstract concept of democracy. Instead, in recognising its shortcomings, we must police its impulses so that the will of the majority is never used as an excuse to harm the minority.

For a democracy to work, the rights of the individual citizen must always trump the will of the state. In any other situation, you have, at worst, a tyranny that calls itself a democracy (like the old Soviet bloc) and, at best, the brutal democracy of a mob voting on whom to rob, rape and kill next.

If you disagree with anything I have written above, you are a cretin and should die slowly and in great pain.

Nick said...

Spot on about the theft part.

Similarly with that bit of religion.

Do unto others as they would be done to unto themselves.

Perverted repeatedly by the left to mean one size fits all, and we can take money (theft) to achieve it.

The critical part is that you do for others what they need, and not to do your requirements to others.

This is one of those key moral beliefs.

Look at all your theft arguments, and the also fit this moral standard.

i.e. I don't want to be murdered, so I won't murder others.

I don't want to be a slave, so I won't enslave others ...


Prodicus said...

Aristotle, who invented the term, disapproved of it. And before any one tells me that Athenian democracy was not like ours, I know.

RayD said...


"...and more importantly it means that the Government we get is always the one we deserve."

This phase always makes me froth at the mouth. It's not the fault of the thieving, lying politicians, oh, no. It's all my bloody fault. Why, because voting just encourages them?

There are two basic flaws with democracy. Number one, you can't make an informed decision if you're not informed, e.g. the politicians and the media are conspiring together to feed you lies. Ring any bells? And number two, just because they said they'd do it, doesn't mean they actually will.

In 1979 the people voted to "roll back the state" in Thatcher's words. Did you noticed the state being rolled back? Nope, me neither.

in 1997 the people, presumably having figured out a vote for lowered taxes was as likely to yield a result as a letter to Santa, voted for a greater emphasis on "Education, education, education." So, twelve years later our children are the envy of the world? No?

So, Stu, explain to me how I am getting the government I deserve? Better still, explain to me how I can get the government that I want. Because quite honestly I can see no way of making politicians behave that doesn't involve public disorder and the decoration of lampposts.

Competition between political ideas - utter bollocks.

(sorry if this is repeated, having connection problems)

The Filthy Smoker said...

Democracy: Oppression of the majority by the largest minorityJohn Brignell

Think This said...

Funnily enough this is not dissimilar to the argument Karl Popper makes in response to Plato. The fundamental question of politics is not "who should rule" (as Plato says it is in "rule of the wise") but rather "what checks and balances are there on those who rule". The important thing is not to assume "who should dictate" but rather the extent to which political power is limited. I would agree that freedom is far more important than democracy, but this said democracy is important because for their to be true freedom the people and not the state must be sovereign. In this sense their is not such a clear division between the two ideas of democracy and freedom, although this brings about the paradox Rousseau mentions of people voting themselves into slavery etc. The important thing is people should be free, and democracy is a part of this.

cartermagna said...

Terry Pratchett also came out with "Theft was the only crime, whether the loot was gold, innocence, land or life." in Jingo.

I'm searching really hard for the link to a post that also said something like: Hitler was elected with a democratic mandate, unlike Gordon Brown. He also had a moustache. but I'm buggered if I can find it.

Quoting is fun.

Anonymous said...

@ Sconzey. In South Africa, the Nationalist Party government that introduced Apartheid was elected in 1948 by rather less than the entire population of country.

“From 1910 until 1948 the franchise to vote was given to whites and to Cape Coloureds (people of mixed race) only. After the ascent of the Nationalist Party in 1948, the Cape Coloreds were taken off the voters' role. Only eligible whites were permitted to vote from 1948 until 1994 when the vote was granted to South Africans of every racial group. The 1994 general election was the first post-apartheid vote based on universal suffrage.” SourceOn the other hand, in 1932, the German Communist Party and the National Socialist German Workers Party (or Nazi Party) were elected and controlled the majority of German parliament, leading in January 1933 to von Hindenburg appointing Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany. Any semblance of democracy was of course suspended very soon after Reichstag fire on 27 February 1933.

In many ostensibly undemocratic one-party states, such as say China, there are vigorous elections within the Party. Democracy is not always what it seems.

Anonymous said...

The only way people will be able to think for themselves, honestly, is if there is a complete deregulation of the media.

ScotsToryB said...

'A republic, ma'am, if you can keep it'.


Gareth said...

But we have never been so democratic. More elected representatives from the European level down to local and parish councillors than ever before! A sop to distract from how petty and pathetic poltics has become.

The more democracy we have got the less choice, the less freedom, the less liberty we have had. The will of the 'majority' has been used to batter people into obedience. That is because we have yet to elect politicians in sufficient number whose cause is not to tell people what to do, where to go and how to live their lives but to simply get out of our way.

Power has become too centralised and Parliament has ceased to do it's job of keeping the Government in line. It is filled with party politicians whose allegience is no longer to their constituencies or to their conscience and certainly not to this nation.

johnny nunsuch said...

Mob rule by enfranchisement

Universal suffrage leads to "Bread and Circus's"

to vote you should need to pass an exam and show a commitment to society - see Starship Troopers by Heinlein

Hugh said...

Socialists are only really into Millibands style of Representative Democracy (vote for me and I will do what I want and if you don't like that fuck you).

If they were that interested in democracy as anything other than a convenient vehicle for their personal moral crusades and high grounds there'd be hangings in every town square every Saturday.


Submariner said...

Well said, DK: freedom is the bottom line, and democracy merely better than dictatorship.

james Higham makes a fair enough point that there are evil charlatans who would sail under this argument as a false flag. However, it is equally fair to say that democracy is frequently used as an excuse to deny people their freedoms.

Incidentally, one of the most blatant attempts in recent years to pervert the concept and even the definition of democracy has been evident in the rows about party funding, and the wish of decrepit clapped-out political parties to pick our pockets in lieu of having any actual grass-roots support. 'Democracy has to be paid for' they say, redefining democracy as 'the entrenched, corrupt interests of a self-perpetuating political oligarchy'.

Trooper Thompson said...

"People who cite democracy as an absolute good..."

What people are these? Ones made of straw, presumably.

There are very few absolute goods in politics or life. Even if the best system were put in place, we'd still have to maintain it and watch over it. 'the price of liberty' etc.

Democracy is one leg of a stool. wholly necessary but not enough in itself. Limited government is also key, as is national popular sovereignty.

However minimal the state should be, it should be controlled democratically, i.e. by the people, or else it has no legitimacy.

Anonymous said...

Democracy has one really positive good thing going for it.

Most people always look at the front elective end; first past the post, PR etc. which usually revolves around the same old argument about least worst system we have.

But democracy's true strength lays in its power to remove.

Dick Puddlecote said...

Short, sweet, and concentrated common sense DK.

Unfortunately, sense is a lost concept, as John East said:

So fucking obvious, and yet I would guess that less than 5% of the population even have a glimmer of understanding concerning your point.

RobW said...

DK -- as usual you are quite right. The left and many statists use democracy as a catch all policy backup.

It was used in Iraq to good effect and as you say it is used to good effect for state backed theft.

People need to realise that democracy is a tool to help create a free society. But it is NOT the basis of a free society.

wh00ps said...

I'm with trooper thompson. It is neccesary, and it is not enough of itself. That is why I like the way the american system was intended to be... it is democratic, but it is intended to be small, and sovereignty is intended to be spread out between the three branches of the federal government and the state, in an attempt to provide a sort of governmental smoothing capacitor. Of course, this system is also open to abuse, and the Americans now have basically the same system as the Iranians except in Iran all candidates have to be approved by a small group of scholars, and in the USA all candidates have to be approved by AIPAC. No system is perfect, and the responsibility for the maintainance of the system rests with the populous. So in effect, I agree with Stu. We do always get the government we deserve, it's just that the 'we' is the nation, collecively, not 'we' as individuals. I certainly do not deserve this government and I would wager that most people reading this do not either, but the majority in this country certainly do. Our only options are revolution (the will of the minority, in this case 'us' being enforced upon the majority, in this case the apathetic) or to move and set up our own state elsewhere, and waiting for the same situation to arise in a hundred years or so.

The theft thing is spot on, by the way. I read somewhere that all the ten commandments boil down to "thou shalt not steal" years ago, but I can't remember where.

wh00ps said...

"...between the three branches of the federal government and the stateS..." that should have read

Anonymous said...

whoops indeed.

Richard said...

You said "our current government: it has imposed massive taxation (through oppression) and destroyed civil liberties (a means of oppression)"

Surely taxation is also a means of oppression as well as an aim of oppression. High taxation leaves us less able to fend for ourselves, and so more dependent on the State.

Anonymous said...

Isn't the problem simply that as whoops said, the government can only represent some of a population? Say we had a referendum on Europe and 40% wanted to stay. Then those 40% would be forced to leave against their will, yet it isn't practical to split the country into two for every issue.

Very rarely can even 10 people come to a consensus much less 60 million. And out of 60 million there will definitely be a large proportion who would benefit from being in the EU, having the government micromanage their lives, being protected from themselves etc. Under a libertarian regime they might be free, but they might not enjoy being free. Even if you indoctrinated them from kindergarten. But these people are necessary for the rest of the country to work.

For example, Aldous Huxley in Brave New World wrote about an experiment with all the alphas who ended up killing each other. That might be a real possibility in a libertarian state, which would only take a single maniac to trigger.

Anonymous said...

As I have aged I have decided that in general people are too stupid , too gullible and too herd minded to be ruled by anything reasonable.

Tom Pinch said...

Given that the average IQ is 100, that means most people are fucking stupid.

So democracy is about allowing stupid people the right to give a retarded Texan chimp access to and control over the world's largest nuclear arsenal.

A horse has a small brain and a huge arse. Democracy is the idea that the horse's arse should tell the horse which direction to go in ...because it's bigger. Marvellous.

Anonymous said...

What people are these? Ones made of straw, presumably.

I was thinking on the ones as PNAC who spent most of the period from 2001 until 2004 assuring us that democracy was an absolute good and an end in itself that would guarantee the Arab world's embrace of Israel.

I am sorry, "trooper thompson", that you are uninformed and do not understand what you're talking about. Nevertheless, being as you *are* ignorant and uninformed, maybe you should do a bit more research before you talk. Either that or shut the fuck up.

Trooper Thompson said...

"Isn't the problem simply that as whoops said, the government can only represent some of a population?"

The difficulty in establishing and/or maintaining a government which truly represents the best interests of the people and their liberty is indeed considerable.

This is why it makes sense that the power of the state must be limited, to prevent it from doing inordinate harm to our right to freedom.

The importance of (the concept of) democracy is not that the people must be powerful, moreover it is to prevent anyone (else) gaining too much power over the rest of us, specifically through the instruments of the state.

(Other forms of tyranny or oppression - acts which violate our consent - may be punishable under the criminal law.)

If we have rights that precede the state, it follows that the state's legitimacy (accepted by all but an anarchist) will be derived from us. If the people are sovereign, democracy can but follow, because this is the exercise of our individual sovereignty.

The problems of England include an ever-growing state with barely a limitation on its power, a defunctive political process, a woeful, garbled Law with no clear constitution nor criminal code, an ineffective justice system etc.

Sovereignty doesn't rest with the people, but with Parliament and the Queen under some stitched-up deal of theirs. It's not democratic at its foundation.

Blaming democracy for the state of our nation is like blaming the jury system for the state of our justice system. I would say the fault lies elsewhere in both cases.

Trooper Thompson said...

Dear Anon,

"Nevertheless, being as you *are* ignorant and uninformed, maybe you should do a bit more research before you talk. Either that or shut the fuck up."

What do you suggest I research?

Dick the Prick said...

I reckon there's a numerical limit too - this India thing is a fucking farce. It just creates a caste of useless cunts dependant on useless cunts - the rise of the mediocre.

Seriously, the way this is going Robbie fucking Williams is gonna be PM (which may not be a bad thing).

Jonny Newton said...

The protagonist's father in the Kite Runner is the only decent character. Even then he comes in for a beating from the author (via the protagonist) for daring to vote for Reagan (the book lists the usual inaccurate lefty talking points about Reagan).

Stan said...

Good post. All too often people forget what democracy really is - they just think it's about having the right to vote. If that were the case then the USSR would have been a prime example of a democracy.

Lord T said...

Democracy is the best of the bunch so far but Democracy of the type we have in the UK is only good when the people in power are honourable.

We haven't had that for a while.

Although I can't actually think of anything that can really replace it at this point.

Nick said...

There are two options.

1. Direct democracy where citizens can propose legistlation, get a petition together with sufficient signatures such that it gets put to a referendum. Then if passed, it is the legal responsibility of representatives to implement.

The Swiss model.

2. Power of veto. Here the representatives put the bills together, and they get put to the electorate in a referenda. If they don't get 50% or more, they are rejected.


Seneca III said...

The ‘General Theory of Democracy’ is founded on the premise that all men are born equal.

As the slightest observation of the human condition demonstrates this is patently false we need a ‘Special Theory of Democracy’, specifically:

“When the demography of a democratic State changes - or is deliberately changed for political gain - such that the predators and parasites outnumber the net contributors, then any government elected through a universal franchise has no option but to bleed the latter dry. By such means does the wealth of nations – fiscal, moral and cultural - haemorrhage away and the descent into anarchy begin.”

We must revert to a selective franchise if we are to survive in anything resembling a democratic form.

Nick said...

We must revert to a selective franchise if we are to survive in anything resembling a democratic form.


Let me guess, you are one of the choosen few.


Centaur said...

Spot on DK. Very few people understand this, and the government and media only make things worse.

A truely benign dictator might allow more personal freedoms than a democratically elected government; it's just that democracy supposedly provides more checks and balances against abuse.