Is democracy really the least worst option

“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” Winston Churchill, 1947

The belief outlined by Churchill is very commonly held in the western world – to the point of being held as an obvious truth that the middle east should just recognise as superior to their own.  But, I do wonder whether the basic ideal of ‘government by the people’ (equal access to power and equal liberties) really is being implemented, or indeed is really the best we can do.

What got me thinking (again) about this is the US presidential elections.  I was astonished at the outcome in 2000 when Al Gore lost to George Bush, even though he had more 500,000 more votes.  The astonishment wasn’t really the flip at the end, it was that from some distance away, George Bush didn’t look like the smartest kid one the block – I didn’t know much about Al Gore, but couldn’t believe that Bush was really the best that America could come up with.  But, I was only mildly watching, and even less interested in 2004.

This time I’ve got into it a little earlier in the race, and various parts have intrigued me (and not in a good way).  First up, it seems that it’s fine to spread mistruths and misleading positions by advert to huge sectors of the population.  Far too many people believe that there is no smoke without fire, and/or don’t follow any rebuttals and counter rebuttals through to see what the truth really was.  Some will, indeed many aided by the news media, but in a one person one vote environment, the majority who do not carry much more clout than those who do.  EDIT – see example of the McCain position here.  Makes it clear why I worry.

Secondly, the extent to which the candidates and policies need to pander to the hang-ups of the population seem huge.  So, apparently no Republican candidate is credible unless they are against abortion, and no candidate of any sort is credible unless they are religious – and preferably close to a fundamentalist Christian.    Some of the commentary I’ve seen notes that Sarah Palin was chosen not just because there was thought to be mileage in a women candidate, but that other much more credible and experienced politicians were not clearly anti-abortion.  I’ve nothing against her per-se, but it simply isn’t remotely credible to say that she looks like a world leader of any sizeable or powerful country, much less the most powerful.  As for all candidates who might get elected having to be clearly religious, that one makes me really nervous.  I’ve no issue with someone who is religious having power, but I have real issues with someone who lets their religion dominate their decisions having power.  The US have a seperation of church and state built into their constitution … but they allow it to be eroded by democracy, since only someone who is religious can be elected by their people.  It is not that far from a Theocracy in practice

And all have to espouse anti-outsourcing positions because thats what folks want to hear.  Imports are apparently bad, especially if it’s labour … even though exports are good.  It’s hard to have both!

If I look outside the US, I can’t see the evidence that the choices made by the people are that great.  The Italians clearly know they make mistakes routinely since they change their mind every year or two.  The UK processes don’t make me feel that great.  And the real issue in my mind – whilst supporting universal voting, I don’t actually think the majority of people are equipped to make sensible decisions …

… but I’ll have to continue this later since the day is looking nice, and there have been so few recently that I can’t afford not to go and sort the garden!

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3 Responses to Is democracy really the least worst option

  1. The most useful thing about democracy is not the part about voting in MPs or Presidents, though thats the part that is usually talked about.

    The point of democracy is the separation of powers (judiciary, executive, legislature, statutory bodies etc). This is the best known, though still incomplete, defence against tyranny. Especially, defending individual rights from the tyranny of a dominant majority.

    This is interprtation of democracy is not a new. But its simply not articulated often enough.

    The modern focus on voting as democracy gets tragic when serious people declare that democracy has been established in country XYZ because a government was voted in. They’re missing the point. The real value of deomcracy comes from institution building over generations, not from a voting process held in the midst of violent chaos.

  2. Greg says:

    A good point, and one I was thinking of expanding on .. but the day I wrote it was nice, so I stopped! to be clear, there is lots about democracy that does work, and independence of powers is a biggie. But, the one person one vote part seems ineffective where the electorate can be lead, and in turn their lack of knowledge is pandered to, even when wrong

  3. Pingback: Has democracy passed it’s sell-by date? « Greg Pyes blog

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