Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The 2nd Problem with Democracy: Corrupting Influences on Government and People

In past posts I have not adequately distinguished between democratic principle--the theory of popular sovereignty--and government with popular consent, where the majority's interests are represented somehow. Popular sovereignty, according to Webster is "the doctrine that sovereign power is vested in the people and that those chosen to govern, as trustees of such power, must exercise it in accordance with the general will." Note well, this ideology requires that all individual wills somehow be fused into a general cohesive will. History shows this has only been achieved in a society already diverse through systematic purges perpetuated by revolutionary dictatorships.

The main burden of my criticism of "democracy" is that the "general will" cannot without calamity be made the utimate principle of government. Most of my arguments attempt to show that such government inevitably gives rise to irrational policies, entrenched bureaucracies, and tyranny. The doctrine that the voice of the people is the voice of God (vox populi vox Dei) is the root heresy that will spawn these evils if unchecked by another authority principle.

The doctrine that authority comes from God and is given to the people alone (which they then endow upon public figures or withdraw at whim) is a kind of absolutism. On this theory, God is the primary authority, the people secondary, all others tertiary. This political theory does not commit the blatant heresy of denying the divine source of authority, but it effectively concentrates earthly authority in one power: the body of eligible voters.

There are three ways the democratic principle works to corrupt the governing process:

1. Political Pressure

The frequent subjection of political leaders to public pressure augmented (and instigated) by popular media ensures that leaders will continuously be replaced. Unstable government is thus a hallmark of democracy. By its very nature, democratic government ensures that vast amounts of government money, time, and resources will be spent on elections. (This is a criticism of election processes per se)

2. Election by Achieving a Plurality of Votes

Most elections do not require a 51% majority of total votes cast to determine a victory. In both general elections and legislative votes, all that is required is that the winner garner the greatest plurality of votes. Whole governments may enter into or be expelled from power. Important matters will be decided by the largest voting coalitions assembled for ad hoc purposes.

The plurality taken from the vote of even a *wise* populace can never be automatically equated with principled judgment simply by virtue of being the largest representation of opinion in a given area. This criticism applies equally to the workings of legislative assemblies.

To rely on this method for formulating public policy will inevitably yield unwise and inconsistent results. This is because a process has been substituted for wise and prudential judgment. The problem is exasperated when the average citizen thinks the results of these elections represent the majority view of all people currently voting, possibly being reinforced in holding a false notion (thinking an opinion good because so many people hold it). What he has faith in is not majority opinion at all, but a process that attempts to arrive at a decision for which no one is to blame.

3. Rule by Greatest Plurality

Because of constant subjection to the vicissitudes of popular opinion, leaders must necessarily be guided by other considerations and agendas than they were originally elected for. The primary example being the need to get either themselves or fellow party members re-elected. As a consequence, leaders generally have less freedom to initiate and direct policy. The situation is made worse when politicans govern through continual consultation of the polls. Then politicians do not make decisions based on moral considerations or what they think best for the country, but what will ensure re-election so they can continue to "make a difference."

Under the plurality voting system, small but influential minorities are regularly able to divert the government's attention toward peripheral issues they are chiefly concerned with. This has a distorting effect on government policy with bad effects for the long term.

Rule by plurality also occurs when the methods of direct democracy (e.g., initiatives, referendums, and recalls) are brought into play to bring issues directly before the voting public. In this way representative government is subverted and the people are forced to vote on matters they know (or care!) little about. Through these processes, important matters are decided by a naked majority of votes, which supposedly sanctifies the results. The average unreflective citizen will think the results of these reflect majority opinion. Flattering themselves by thinking that most everyone has "common sense," the public falls under the delusion that these decisions reflect the opinion of the average man on the street. However, the candidates and laws approved by such "majorities" were chosen by the greatest plurality, which is something very different.

The egalitiarian assumption that the average person is competent to make decent political decisions has been associated with democratic government in most people's minds. The laws produced through democratic process thus acquire a status of semi-divine authority in the public's eyes. But this is the same means that produces our politicians, who are viewed with much less regard. The contradiction is palpable but goes unnoticed.

Beyond the malignity of egalitarianism, I will be arguing further that the democratic principle in practice assures the triumph of the lowest common denominator in all things determined by vote. While recognizing the distinction between democratic ideology and democratic government, my thesis is that democratic government itself initiates and superintends a process of social degeneration: religiously, morally, intellectually, and patriotically. In short, democracy engenders a weak willed and inferior people.


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