I've Lost Faith In Democracy
“A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been 200 years. These nations have progressed through this sequence: From bondage to spiritual faith; From spiritual faith to great courage; From courage to liberty; From liberty to abundance; From abundance to selfishness; From selfishness to apathy; From apathy to dependence; From dependence back into bondage.” —Alexander Tytler
Here are ten reasons I've lost faith in democracy.
1. Winston Churchill
People lamenting the outcomes of democracy tend to pull out the old Churchill quote that says, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried from time to time...”
This allows people to capitulate to the status quo and resign themselves to the democratic reality. It stops people from seriously considering any alternatives, because if Winston Churchill himself said such a thing, then it must be fact. Right?
Churchill may have championed democracy, but who was he championing democracy for? The people of India? Kenya? South Africa? Jamaica? Hong Kong? The fact is that Churchill was a proponent of the British Empire and the British Empire was not a bulwark of democracy. The British Empire has had many criticisms hurled at it by a great many people and one can make equally assertive defenses in favour of the British Empire and the legacy left behind, but providing democracy to people around the world was not the point... providing civilization was.
“At the bottom of all the tributes paid to democracy is the little man, walking into the little booth, with a little pencil, making a little cross on a little bit of paper—no amount of rhetoric or voluminous discussion can possibly diminish the overwhelming importance of that point.” —Winston Churchill
That’s a nice sentiment... for Englishmen. The half a billion people around the world in the British Empire all required various systems of colonial administrations with appointed magistrates and governors. And Churchill was just fine with that.
He was right to be fine with it too. The British Empire brought about development and order in a manner that was foreign to the lands they colonized. The alternative to empire was barbarism. Democracy wasn’t a factor and it didn’t need to be. Peace, order and good government were the aims of the day.
Job well done.
Socrates (along with many ancient philosophers) didn’t believe in democracy. He compared society to a ship and suggested it was idiotic to run a ship in a democratic manner. He advocated meritocracy and at a bare minimum, educating the average voter so they wouldn’t vote ignorantly. (Good luck with that)
Socrates was then put on trial for not believing in the Greek religion of the day and 500 Athenians voted on whether or not to kill him with poison.
(Spoiler alert: They voted to kill him with poison. That’s democracy!)
3. Abraham Lincoln
“You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” — Abraham Lincoln
Does it really matter though?
If you fool enough people during a campaign to win an election, you attain power. You don’t need to fool all of them, just enough to win. You also don’t need to fool them all the time either, just long enough for them to vote. This is just another glib quote that purports to say more than it really does.
The bigger issue beyond this quote is the hypocrisy of Lincoln when judging his actions rather than his rhetoric. Abraham Lincoln was president during a time when the Confederate States decided to opt for secession from the union. The democratically elected state governments decided that it wasn’t in the interests of their states to remain a part of the U.S.A and issued their declaration accordingly. Lincoln wouldn’t allow it to happen. He had a variety of arbitrary reasons, but arguing in favour of democracy and then refusing to accept democratic outcomes that produce secession is obviously hypocritical. Does it matter though?
4. George W. Bush
In 2003, I marched in a street protest against the invasion of Iraq. I came at it from a libertarian isolationist point of view and had little in common with all the hippies walking around me. When I saw television footage of Iraqi soldiers walking on the highway heading home after the U.S. liberation, I felt ashamed of myself. When they showed the toppling of the Saddam Hussein statue in Firdos Square I further realized I had made a mistake and the mission to bring freedom and democracy to Iraq was a good and necessary thing to do. On May 1, 2003, when Bush appeared on the USS Abraham Lincoln and made his Mission Accomplished speech, I realized that overthrowing tyranny and establishing democracy was obviously the best course of action to take.
Then 2004 rolled around. Then 2005. Americans started dying by the hundreds. Then the thousands. Sunnis and Shi’a started fighting. Iraqi Christians began getting murdered wholesale. Then ISIS showed up. Then ISIS started killing everyone. Then ISIS got pushed back.
It’s been 15 years now and Iraq is arguably a bigger shithole today than it was before the war in 2003.
Is this exclusively the fault of “democracy”. No, of course not. However, one spin-off effect of Bush’s push for democracy was the Arab Spring. The countries most affected by Arab Spring uprisings in 2011? Tunisia, Syria, Bahrain, Libya, Egypt and Yemen. How are they faring today, seven years after the Arab Spring uprising for democracy?
Syria - WAR
Libya - CIVIL WAR
Yemen - WAR
Egypt - DICTATORSHIP
Bahrain - MONARCHY/DICTATORSHIP
Tunisia - DEMOCRACY (Good job!)
For the most part, the Arab Spring was a disaster that led to the suffering and chaos of the Arab Winter. Bush’s goal of democracy throughout the Middle East has failed horribly. His naive belief that people can rule themselves has lead to the death and destruction of countless lives and countries.
Today he paints portraits of military veterans who paid a high price for his wars and democratic fantasy and donates the proceeds to charity. You can buy the book at the link here.
5. Bryan Caplan and his book, The Myth of the Rational Voter
Bryan Caplan’s book is dense with economic data. His general thesis is that democracy is responsive to public whims, but that the public can have collective ignorance resulting in bad outcomes. Since the value of an individual vote is statistically negligible, people vote superficially. He backs up the rest of the book with data supporting his claim.
I won’t deep dive too intensely on this subject. If you’re still with me on this article you can summarize my 5th point as simply being, “literature”. There is a lot of literature out there critical of democracy and it’s not all classical. Hans-Hermann Hoppe has written, Democracy: The God That Failed, and Jason Brennan has written, Against Democracy. There are well reasoned arguments regarding democratic pitfalls that are worth wrestling with.
6. Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler lost his faith in democracy during his time spent in Vienna as a young man. His impressions when visiting Parliament were thus:
I used to ask myself whether there could be any nobler form of government than self-government by the people. Such was my general attitude at the time when I first entered those sacred and contentious halls. For me they were sacred only because of the radiant beauty of that majestic edifice. A Greek wonder on German soil. But I soon became enraged by the hideous spectacle that met my eyes. Several hundred representatives were there to discuss a problem of great economical importance and each representative had the right to have his say. The intellectual level of the debate was quite low. Sometimes the debaters did not make themselves intelligible at all. Several of those present did not speak German but only their Slav vernaculars or dialects. Thus I had the opportunity of hearing with my own ears what I had been hitherto acquainted with only through reading the newspapers. A turbulent mass of people, all gesticulating and bawling against one another, with a pathetic old man shaking his bell and making frantic efforts to call the House to a sense of its dignity by friendly appeals, exhortations, and grave warnings. I could not refrain from laughing. — Adolf Hitler
Hitler’s contempt was put into practice when the Nazis began competing in elections. Hitler used all the weaknesses of democracy in order to bring about its own ruin. It’s for this reason alone that we should be suspicious of democracy.
Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to releasing to the multitude one prisoner whom they wished. And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. Therefore, when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that they had handed Him over because of envy.
While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to him, saying, “Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him.”
But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor answered and said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?”
They said, “Barabbas!”
Pilate said to them, “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?”
They all said to him, “Let Him be crucified!”
Then the governor said, “Why, what evil has He done?”
But they cried out all the more, saying, “Let Him be crucified!”
When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.”
And all the people answered and said, “His blood be on us and on our children.”
Then he released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified.
8. My time working in media
I used to be a cameraman for local broadcast television news. Whenever an election rolled around, our news directors would inevitably send us out on the street to interview randoms in order to “hear what people are thinking” about the election at hand. This was an easy way to fill some time on a newscast that may be running short of content.
So I would head out to some high foot traffic area, either with a reporter or by myself, and we’d stop people walking by and ask them, ”What issues matter to you in this upcoming election?”
A seemingly simple assignment could sometimes take over an hour just to get one or two minutes of usable television footage. It was truly painful. People had no idea what issues mattered to them. They would usually rack their brains and then blurt out something like, “Health Care!” or “The Environment!”
Since you can’t use one word answers when airing a bunch of random’s opinions on television you try to get them to elaborate or offer a few sentences about their opinion. This would usually require a follow up question like, “What is it about health care or the environment that you’re concerned about?”
At which point they would again rack their brains for some kind of rationalization since they’d never actually considered a question like this before. They are on camera, in real time, thinking of and then verbalizing an answer. It usually didn’t work.
If we didn’t get that scenario, then we’d get people with strong articulated opinions that were amazingly off base. People worrying about street maintenance and citing that as a concern when we were asking about a federal election. Some people don’t know an election campaign is happening, which really blows media people’s minds since a campaign was all consuming for us in a newsroom leading up to a vote. The vast majority of people are just oblivious and totally disengaged.
I always lamented democracy after doing those assignments, but the lamentation would pass and I’d brush off the experience. Perhaps people were intimidated by having a professional video camera and microphone thrust in their face. Maybe they were just nervous. Yeah... that must be it.
Then I ran for mayor...
9. My experience running for mayor
Last year I decided to run for mayor of the small town that I live in. Long story short, I lost, but had a lot of good experiences and met a lot of good people along the way. I wish that was the end of my story, but like so many things in life, reality has a way of disillusioning everything upon first hand experience. Here’s a handful of anecdotes that has left a bitterness about democracy that I haven’t been able to shake.
The guy who beat me in the election was a carpetbagger candidate of dubious intentions. There were shady characters attached to his campaign that I was warned about and I had a lot of behind-the-scenes help from supporters that rallied to me as a decent, good-hearted alternative.
I felt like the story that was unfolding was a Frank Capra-styled, “little guy with good intentions takes on shady interests” underdog tale with a happy ending on the horizon. Instead, him and his team essentially purchased the election with an avalanche of shitty lawn signs and thousand dollar newspaper advertisements. To be fair, he was an old man with far more experience related to “being a mayor” than myself, so I don’t want it to sound like sour grapes, but most voters weren’t engaged enough to think beyond the lawn signs and newspaper ads. Old people griping about water bills voted for the old guy saying, “Trust me.”
The election itself was horribly run. A staff of a handful of little old ladies shuffling around a rec centre is no way to run a professional election. The line was so long that people were waiting for upwards of an hour to two hours just to cast their ballot. This put me at a huge disadvantage, because the only people willing to stand in line that long are old people pissed off about their water bills. My target demographic was young families, and people with young families aren’t going to waste that much time standing in line. I heard reports of people showing up to vote and taking one look and turning around and getting back in their car.
I know the old canard about, “People died so you have the right to vote! So quit complaining!”, but realistically, running an election horribly is a barrier to participation and the results speak for themselves.
My town had a 35% voter turnout rate.
Now regardless of how horribly run the election was, this is also a testament to just how ferociously disengaged people are regarding local politics. I knocked on thousands of doors and talked to people about “the issues” and it was painful. Most people had no issues that concerned them and could not care less about an election. If they did have a gripe they simply stated, “Taxes are too high and water bills are too high.” It was just knee-jerk rhetoric. Occasionally you’d get someone who actually had an issue they cared about, but it was extremely infrequent and often those same people were... odd.
I’ve heard that local politicians spend 75-90% of their time dealing with weirdo citizens who have axes to grind. It doesn’t surprise me.
Anyway, a 35% turnout indicates a disinterested electorate. People don’t know and they don’t care. What’s more... they don’t know they don’t care and don’t care they don’t know. If you’re a political junkie with enough heart and mind to run for office, it kills you to have to recognize this fact, but it’s true.
Another interesting thing I learned is that to a large degree, things are the way they are because that’s the way they need to be, regardless of politics. Upon deep diving into research I would often learn that my gripes about a civic issue simply had more going on with it than meets the eye. For example, as mentioned above, the water bills in my town are higher than the surrounding communities by comparison. This has fuelled all sorts of conspiracies and gossip and outrage as a result. I decided to look into it by meeting with the CEO of the water and sewer utilities. After an hour long coffee session at her office I learned the truth about why we pay higher water bills than surrounding communities. You want to know why?
She walked me through the geography of the town. The need to use pumps rather than gravity assist in the transfer of sewage back to the nearest city. She explained the types of soil and how it affects the pipe lifespan. The water table is different since our town surrounds a lake. The conversation was lengthy and educated, precisely why the average voter doesn’t have a clue.
A lot of government processes function like the above example. The reality is that the day to day functions of a government are handled by the bureaucrats and professionals in the public sector and thank God for that! It’s patronizing watching these city professionals get courtroom-style grilled by a random collection of elected councillors at city hall meetings. Democratically elected representatives are often just inconveniences to the people trying to simply get stuff done. Protocol and process mostly covers the interests of citizens these days. The act of also throwing random citizens onto a council in order to “govern” is almost pointless.
Luckily in my town four out of the seven elected officials on council were pretty good choices by the voters. This constitutes a slim majority that will hopefully allow the avoidance of anything too horrible happening and “too horrible” was a real possibility. For example…
There was one candidate who basically ran a joke campaign. At an all-candidate meeting for senior citizens he gave a speech about doing drugs with a shaman. At a public forum his speech consisted of reading a poem about his pet pig. His pet pig also featured prominently on his campaign signs. His campaign signs were homemade. He stretched burlap over a frame and hand drew pictures of pigs on them. Except for one lawn sign near the water utility which was an actual toilet. An actual toilet for an election sign!
All fun and games until election night when he brought in over a thousand votes! This translates to about 20% of people casting votes for this guy to become a councillor. I’ll spare you some other egregious examples but suffice it to say, I won’t be running again.
10. Nothing that matters is democratic
The egalitarianism of democracy doesn’t apply to anything else that matters in real life. Families don’t function democratically. Businesses don’t function democratically. Hospitals don’t function democratically. The military is not a democracy. Nature is not a democracy. The biology of the human body doesn’t function democratically. Let’s face it, even our democratic governments don’t truly function very democratically.
The illusion of democracy is necessary to instill a sense of legitimacy in the minds of the public, but some of the best performing countries in the world have highly compromised “democracy” or no democracy at all.
The United States usually evokes democracy in order to justify and champion itself, despite pedants claiming it’s a “Republic!” and not a democracy. In terms of real direct egalitarian democracy, however, the U.S. is by design... flawed. The three-tiered levels of competing government is a feature, not a bug. The gridlock, the negotiating, the inertia... that was what the people who designed the system wanted in order to prevent the pitfalls of democracy. Has it worked? It’s debatable.
Systems have hierarchy and order. Safety, security, human rights, prosperity, planning, competency, civilization, none of these require the highly compromised, pandering, gong show nature of democratic elections.
“[The American President] has to take all sorts of abuse from liars and demagogues.… The people can never understand why the President does not use his supposedly great power to make ’em behave. Well, all the President is, is a glorified public relations man who spends his time flattering, kissing and kicking people to get them to do what they are supposed to do anyway.”
— Harry Truman - 33rd President of the United States
There were more points I would like to add regarding the anti-democratic philosophy I’ve cultivated over time. The South Park episode "Douche & Turd" is a good example. Another example is politicians making promises that people vote for and then watching them break those promises, but having no recourse other than to wait four years until the next election to hold them to account. There’s loads of anti-democracy podcasts and articles on the internet for further reading if you’re interested.
These types of articles always resign themselves to the pitfalls of democracy, but suggest that it’s the best system we can ask for and we should work to try to improve it.
I’m not going to bother with that.
Democracy isn’t the solution, it’s the problem. If you want to thrive in Current Year, the best thing to do is to guard against the tyranny of democracy. This means cultivating connections with friends and family. It means extreme self-care and self-defense. It means trying to inoculate yourself from the downsides of the system while maximizing and exploiting the returns. Ask not what you can do for your country, ask what your country can do for you!
Selfish? You bet! Conservative-minded folks need to get with the program. A fully enfranchised, multicultural and disparate people are not going to create the type of society that conservatives of a certain vintage remember and desire. The takers are outnumbering the makers and the modern Santa Claus approach to democracy is going to leave principled and decent folks standing in front of a bare cupboard.
Get smart. Get cynical. Get what you can before it’s gone.