“Anything you can do, I can do better. I can do anything Better than you.”— song from Annie Get Your Gun
The conventional wisdom is that democracy is the best form of government. As the imperialist demagogue Winston Churchill, put it, “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others that have been tried.” But such conventional wisdom comes by default. No one has ever offered any evidence in support of it. In fact, no one even knows what such evidence could be. No established criteria exist for the comparative adjectives worst, worse, bad, good, better, and best when they are applied to governments.
Furthermore, that democracy is the best form of government has not always even been the conventional wisdom. Plato, who founded his Academy in Athens around 400 BCE, where democracy is said to have originated, writes, “Dictatorship naturally arises out of democracy.” And at least some of those who wrote the American Constitution in the 1700s were well aware of democracy’s pitfalls and that no democracy had endured for any length of time. John Adams writes, “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself.” Despite their knowledge, the Constitution’s writers persisted, believing that they could build a nation that avoided the faults that had destroyed earlier democracies. But they were wrong!
In fact, no genuine democracy has ever existed. The citizens of no nation have ever governed themselves. Lincoln’s “of the people, by the people, and for the people” is pure bombast. What has passed for democracy has always been some form of representational oligarchy. But no one can represent two different ideologies at once. Even the word ‘democracy’ has never been adequately defined. If you read the Wikipedia article, you will find numerous different forms of government described, all of which are named democracies but differentiated by a qualifying word. There is representative democracy, constitutional democracy, people’s democracy, etc. As George Orwell says, “It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it; consequently, the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using the word if it were tied down to any one meaning.” Talk about an unqualified democracy is nonsense.
Democracy’s weaknesses are well known. Electorates are poorly educated and inadequately informed. Politicians are corrupt. People are diverse; diversity leads to factions; factions are combative; the combativeness requires a resolution; oppression resolves it. As Mahatma Gandhi understood, “The spirit of democracy is not a mechanical thing to be adjusted by abolition of forms. It requires a change of heart.” As present day India demonstrates, changes in heart seem to be impossible to achieve.
Between the two world wars, two Italians, Vilfredo Pareto and Gaetano Mosca, claimed that democracy was an illusion that served only to mask oligarchic rule. They claimed that oligarchy is the result of apathy and disagreements among common people as opposed to the drive, initiative, and unity of those who really control society. Pareto’s and Mosca’s error is that they defined the oligarchy as ‘elite,’ and instead of empirically discovering what characteristics these people share, ideal characteristics are attributed to them. Such thinkers seem always to believe that those they believe rule are a select group with a certain ancestry, higher intellect, and wealth whereas if the characters of those in the ruling class were identified empirically, it would have been discovered that they are in reality egomaniacal, shallow, greedy, unimaginative, uncaring, and grossly immoral. Such people never perform good deeds. They are not the best and the brightest, but the worst and the dullest. Original ideas are not a product of their status quo attitudes. See my piece, “The Psychopathic Criminal Enterprise Called America.” Pareto and Mosca are right, however, in attributing superior organizational skills to the ruling class, skills which are especially useful in gaining political power.
But even the oligarchic democracies described in the Wikipedia article once gave a better appearance of rule “by the people” than they do now. Elections were held, ballots were counted, and the winners took office. Well-organized minorities are now unwilling to accept elected governments. The results of elections are merely rejected by the losers. I have written about it in a previous piece: “Demented Democracy.”
When this tendency began is uncertain, but it was certainly given a boost when the United States and its Western allies rejected the results of the election held in Palestine on January 25, 2006. The election was encouraged by the United States and its allies. They admitted that it was not fraudulent. Yet they rejected the result when Hamas rather than Fatah prevailed. The rejection exposed the West’s claim that it promotes and protects democratic movements as a lie. The West was only interested in the outcome. When the result was not what it favored or expected, that the result was determined democratically was irrelevant. If the great defender of democracy could turn its back on a valid democratic election, so could anyone else. Now the rejection of election results is a common practice. Egypt, Thailand, Turkey, Syria, Ukraine are well known examples.
In the countries where this is happening, those who lose elections are easily provoked into public demonstrations in attempts to foster regime change. Sometimes they succeeds; sometimes they don’t! But they always cause conflict. And even if regime changes occur, the regimes that come into power are not always the ones sought by the demonstrators. Just look at what happened in Egypt.
Egyptians began demonstrating in Tahrir Square and elsewhere on January 25, 2011, demanding that President Mubarak be removed from office. The demonstrations brought about the government’s fall. Mubarak was imprisoned. Elections were held, a Constitution was written by the winning followers of the Muslim Brotherhood. Mohammed Morsi prevailed. But the unwillingness of many urban Egyptians as well as many of the Mubarak government’s elite to accept the results of the election brought the anti-democratic, repressive military back in full force, likely destroying the prospect of democracy in Egypt for some time. President Morsi and other leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood were rounded up and arrested. Egypt’s Monopoly gameboard has a square on it that says, “Win an election. Go straight to jail.” Not only was the revolution undone, tyranny follows. The consequence of this tendency of peoples to reject the outcomes of elections is bizarre. This attempt to bring about better government produces government which is worse! Of course, similar events can occur in Ukraine and elsewhere.
You see, a fundamental function of government everywhere is conflict resolution. But the oligarchic democracies the world has become accustomed to, those governments comprised of factions, cannot resolve conflicts. When an election is a contest between people representing contrary factions, unless one faction prevails in all contests, conflict in government is inevitable. The elections exacerbate the conflicts. Fundamental factional views cannot be compromised. Even when possible, compromises between those who want to do something and those who want to do nothing always result in ineffective policies which the factions can then use against one another. “Inadequate spending” becomes “wasteful spending,” for instance. Thanks to institutions like the Kochacola Court, these fundamental conflicts persist decade after decade. When Lincoln emancipated the slaves, he merely transformed the concept of slavery into the concept of racism. The people who were once enslaved were evermore to be considered as second class human beings. Separation of the parties or the oppression of one of them becomes the only solution to such fundamental conflicts. Government allowed people to oppress the blacks Lincoln freed to create a semblance of unity. Egypt’s military rulers are oppressing the Muslim Brotherhood for the same purpose. When governments can’t resolve conflicts, the conflicts are hidden by oppression.
The practices that nation’s use to stir the witches’ cauldron to bring about regime change are childish tit for tat games. Anything one government can do, another can do too. The practices do nothing more that generate conflict. When the tit for tat becomes the rat a tat tat of machine guns, we will all pay the price in pounds of flesh and gallons of blood. And absolutely nothing will ever be better for it. Generating conflict is dumb! Those who start wars often lose them.
The advocates of democracy who believe they can make things better by rejecting the results of elections make even our oligarchic democracies dumber than they already are. They are then undone by the emergence of tyranny. The well known history of democracy, which our ruling oligarchies have ignored, then repeats itself. Time marches on a treadmill.
Thanks to the proliferation of communications devices, disillusion with political leaders is spreading. In the United States, the approval ratings of government are dismal. There is a general dissatisfaction with the ruling class across much of Europe. The so-called “Spring” exhibits the disillusion in the Arab world. Disillusion is growing in India, Japan, and Turkey. Never has the world seen such disillusionment. No institutions have emerged to dissipate it. The ruling class is under fire almost everywhere; yet it is completely effete. The danger is that it will everywhere revert to tyrannical policies as it has throughout history. If the “change of heart” that Gandhi mentions was ever needed, it is needed now.
John Kozy is a retired professor of philosophy and logic who writes on social, political, and economic issues. After serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, he spent 20 years as a university professor and another 20 years working as a writer. He has published a textbook in formal logic commercially, in academic journals and a small number of commercial magazines, and has written a number of guest editorials for newspapers. His on-line pieces can be found on http://www.jkozy.com/ and he can be emailed from that site’s homepage.