In light of the upcoming elections in the U.S, I figured this analysis on democracy as a form of government itself from Beaver would be relevant. As an added bonus, further analysis was provided by a mysterious stranger using a picture of a chicken as their avatar. I think the most interesting point made by this essay is the idea that democracy is simply a form a governance, one which we may one day move away from when better options arise. It is not some sort of untouchable sacred cow, or the best/final form of government as it’s sometimes depicted in the media today.
Why do we have democracy? Winston Churchill once said that democracy is the worst government system except every other that’s been tried. The truth of his words will resonate once I’m done explaining how we wound up with democracy.
First of all, as democracy is a type of republic, we have to understand why we have a republican government. There are really only three kinds of governments, all based on how the leaders are picked, with every other type simply being variants of these. Political scholars would no doubt claim that this is wrong, yet once you’ve read what I’m about to explain, you’ll realize the truth of it.
The first type is simply force. In such a government, the leaders are simply those who have enough military power to take control of the nation. Some would claim this is a good form of government as they believe that power should go to whoever is capable of acquiring it, yet being a good military strategist and having a large army does not necessarily make you a good leader. It likely makes you a good military leader, but ruling a nation is more than leading a military. Furthermore, such governments are unstable, their nations prone to civil wars as people fight over control of the nation.
The second type is hereditary. A hereditary government is usually descended from another, yet that’s not really important. What is important is that in this government, leaders are chosen by other leaders. More precisely, a leader will choose his successor or there will be a set of laws determining who will succeed him, usually one of his children. The advantages of such a system are obvious; as we know who will succeed the current leaders as soon as they are born, it is possible to raise them for that purpose, therefore forming leaders from infancy. The pitfalls are obvious however: You’re never guaranteed that those chosen will have any competence, or that they’ll have the will to act for the good of the nation. In fact, as their power is secure no matter what, they often care little for the nation, only for themselves.
The third type is the republic. In a republic, the leaders are chosen from a pool of eligible candidates by voters and must rule the nation according to a set of laws. The republic naturally appears to be superior to the previous two, and it is. Being able to choose the leader in such a way not only allows the nation to have the most competent leader possible, but also allows it to replace the leader without the use of violence if need be.
The main issue with the republic is deciding who can vote. There are many forms of republic, their definitions depending on who can vote and thus who ultimately has power over the government. However, how can we be sure that those who vote won’t simply vote for their own benefits to the detriment of the nation? Thus democracy appears: By allowing nearly everyone (minors and extremely mentally ill people being the exceptions) to vote, you bypass the issue entirely. You remove the problem of deciding who can or can’t vote. Simply put, in a democracy, since everyone can vote, then the government chosen will have been voted on by the whole population and this will be the one benefiting the greatest amount of people in the nation, and thus (ideally) the nation itself.
Though this is a fairly quick and crude explanation, it remains true. However, democracy is far from flawless.
Democracy is definitely not without its pitfalls. I’ll examine the main three ones, namely: Incompetent voters, incompetent leaders and the tyranny of the masses.
First of all, understand that allowing everyone to vote was never considered an ideal solution by anyone but the most obtuse and idealistic moron. It was merely a band-aid solution: We can’t determine who’s competent without risking corruption, thus we allow everyone to vote. This in turn gives voting power to the incompetent. Anyone with any degree of political knowledge knows the average voter is barely aware of how his own government even functions, let alone the issues faced by his nation at the moment. Furthermore, to say that these people know who is best fit to lead them is laughable; these people vote not for the most fit, but for who they like the most. And as the incompetent outnumber the competent by a large margin, it is safe to say that the voters in a democracy are not capable of making a constructive choice.
This in turn brings us to incompetent leaders. As leaders are chosen not by how competent they are, but how popular, the odds of getting a competent leader are dramatically diminished. In fact, in a democracy, the leader’s job is not to rule, but to obtain and maintain his rule. Thus, a leader in a democracy will take decisions based not on how beneficial they are to the nation, but on how popular they are so as to secure his rule.
Finally, there is the tyranny of the majority. In a democracy, the majority always wins. However, the majority is not always right. In fact, history shows that the majority is alarmingly often wrong. As competent citizens represent only a minority of the voters, they are incapable of effecting any significant change and thus are forced to live under the rule of the incompetent.
There are quite a few other issues with democracy, such as the massive bureaucracy accompanying it or the risk of being turned into an oligarchy as good examples, but I believe I’ve made my point, which is that democracy is far from an ideal system. However, Churchill’s words ring true now: We haven’t tried anything better yet. So the question is, can we think of anything better?
It is my sincere belief that it could be possible to replace democracy with something better. The fact that, after centuries, we still haven’t figured out anything to replace it is not proof that democracy is the best there is, but rather that people have given up and simply accepted it as their system. After all, democracy favors the greatest number of people, so the greatest number of people like it, so it is good, right?
Anyway, what could replace democracy? It obviously should be a form of republic; the issues here are determining who can vote and who is eligible for a leadership position. The latter is rather simple; we already have a fairly good definition in most democracies and even in a worst case scenario, it can simply be defined as “anyone with the right to vote”. The difficult question, as always, is “Who should be able to vote?”
Can there be an objective measure of an individual’s competence to take decisions regarding the direction of a nation? The classical answer is no, but I challenge that perception. The criteria used to determine this are many, of course, but can be boiled down to intelligence, knowledge, experience and integrity. This seems contradictory to my earlier statement, as there is no objective measure of any of these except knowledge. Yet this is the question: How can we objectively measure intelligence, knowledge, experience and integrity?
The answer will surprise you: There isn’t. Some will claim intelligence can be measured through IQ, yet anyone with any knowledge of the topic knows why that’s wrong. Though knowledge can be determined by tests, you can never know if whoever designed the tests is asking for the right type of knowledge. Experience can be measured in years, but the important part isn’t how much experience you have but rather what kind of experience you have. Finally, integrity cannot be measured at all. At best you can look at an individual’s past history, yet you never know what he might be hiding and it does not guarantee future integrity.
Does this mean it is impossible to test these factors? Absolutely not. They can’t be measured, yet it is possible, through pressure, to test them. As an example, you cannot measure military prowess, yet it is undeniable that the winner of a war is superior in that regard. Thus, we can assume that certain conditions, certain experiences, can force an individual to display his leadership qualities for all to see in an objective manner. If we could determine what kind of experiences are favorable to this, then we could use them to determine who is competent enough to vote.
Until we can do this, democracy is inevitably what we must rely on. However, that is no excuse not to try and figure out something better to replace it. And if we decide to do it, expect a lot of resistance; those who rule through democracy will do everything to prevent success in that regard and they will have the support of the majority.
Replacing democracy will depend on convincing the majority that it is not right.
Response from a different person (chicken?)
I agree, democracy is far from the idealized form of government. Ideally an Anarchy, or lack of government would be the best, however human nature keeps that from being possible. I agree with the sentiment that “if humanity could live without laws, then there are no more humans”. For an idealized form of government to exist (an Anarchy) it would require some sort of Nietzchean Ubermensch.
Since ideal government is not a possibility, what should we do?
Your criticisms of Democracy mostly stand, however I would like to add something in, counter to your idea of the voter having the power. In the United States, for example, while in theory the voter has the power, or “the majority”, in practice votes can be bought through various marketing manipulation techniques. Repeating a phrase over and over does not make it true, but gives what the phrase is trying to say some form of reality. The “mob” or the general masses do not care for the ins and outs of policy decisions. They will always go with the fashionable, good-looking, and similar to them. They are easy to manipulate into voting a certain way, or for certain groomed candidates. What has always struck me about democracy is the corruption that seems to be rampant among all forms. There are countless examples throughout the world and throughout history of this corruption.
Knowing that voters cannot be trusted, and that votes can be bought or manipulated, I think we should generally through the entire system of voting for a leader out entirely. Instead, a Meritocracy should be striven for, or a government based on human virtue and the best of our kind. Our leaders should be tested intensely, physically, mentally, and harshly, to determine their worth. The Chinese used to have tests that would sometimes kill the people taking them, as they would last for days and be very stressful.
Some system of voting should stay in place, as for lawmakers or for the people who create the testing for the leaders, whatever agency or system would do that. However when it comes down to the choice of a leader, only the best of the best should even be allowed in the conversation.
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