Published On: Fri, Nov 15th, 2013

Is Democracy the Opium of the Masses?

Winston Churchill famously quipped that “Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”  With this statement he was expressing a view that many share: yes, democracy has its faults, but it is better than all of the alternatives.

Churchill’s opinions carry a lot of weight.  In a BBC survey of British attitudes in 2002 Churchill was voted by the British public as the greatest Briton to have ever lived.  Presumably for his rousing speeches and defiant stand against Hitler at the beginning of the Second World War.  With this level of support, verging on veneration, it is assumed by many that everything he said was equally great.

But was Churchill right?  Was he right about democracy?

Democracy today is in a terrible state in many of the most advanced democratic countries in the world.  Many people believe that the political system is broken, politicians are corrupt at best and incompetent at worst.  The system does not appear to work and this raises questions about the political legitimacy of democratically elected governments.

Don’t you think it curious that democracy – the concept of one person getting one, equal, vote – is rarely used in other aspects of human social organisation?  Is a general in an army democratically chosen by comrades in arms?  No.  Is a surgeon in a hospital democratically chosen by fellow doctors? No.  Is a head teacher in a school democratically chosen by fellow teachers? No. Is a company CEO democratically chosen by fellow employees? No.

Even in families, that most personal of social organisations, there is no democracy. Parents run their homes as paternalistic benevolent dictatorships. We literally grow up being told what to do by authority figures, at home, at kindergarten, at primary school, at secondary school and even at university. This continues throughout our working lives.

So why is a prime minster or president chosen democratically? Why are our congressmen, senators and members of parliament? What makes them so special that they use a form of selection that is not used anywhere else?

Democracy did not form spontaneously. It was created. It has evolved since it was created, do doubt. But it was created by people who had power. People who apparently gave up that power and voluntarily handed it to other people.

But one thing we know about human nature is that once you have power it is very hard to give it up.

Which raises an interesting question. Did they ever actually give up power?  Is the growing dissatisfaction with democracy merely the realisation by so many that democracy is merely the illusion of power? Are we like Dorothy pulling back the curtain to see that the great and wonderful Wizard of Oz is nothing more than a terrified old man pulling levers? We are disappointed and frustrated.

Is democracy the opium of the masses, to dull our senses so that we do not realise we have no power?

What do you think? Let me know in the comments section below.

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  • Caglayan

    Dear Mr. Fischer,

    As an anarchist and a tireless supporter of ‘direct-democracy’; please
    look at the term ‘Ochlocracy’.

    And there is an extensive discussion realized on a LinkedIn group called
    “Conflict transformation, peacebuilding and security”.

    The discussion started by Mr. Jay Anthony B., a consultant in Cambridge,
    the U.K., as “Democracy; Is it more important than Peace?”

    I highly recommend you to visit this page, you will see many eloquent
    and diversified ideas.




  • Gordon Fowkes

    As defined by Aristotle, democracy is a form of government in which the citizen votes directly on the issues. Athens and many other city states were democracies by that definition. As defined then, not all residents were citizens. In some, only those who bore arms could be citizens. Slaves could exist in the classical democracy.

    When only some of the citizens do the voting, this is either an aristocracy (rule of the best) or and oligarchy (rule of the rich) with other non-voting citizens.

    When only one rules, this is a monarchy or dictatorship. Since few governments were of one type or another, the political aggregate has been and still is described as a polity.

    The classical definitions did not include the concept of citizens rights, especially universal
    suffrage which is a Twentieth century event.

    IMHO, there are varying amounts of effective influence that all, some and/or one can apply to governance. In cruder terms, there is the Mob, the Good Old Boys+Hen Party and the Boss. All exist concurrently in varying degrees regardless of the official Aristotelian description or for that matter any other formal description.

    If a family operates as a dictatorship, it is not going to last very long. Some will secede. Few succeed.

    Twentieth Century Democracy as a political philosophy was made the replacement of the Divine Right of Kings after most of the kings became no longer divine and was invented by the Good Old Boys (Aristocrats by title) of the United Kingdom of Britain to convince a very anti-British American public that the unfortunate events of a century before weren’t all that big a deal.

    Today, no government is considered legitimate (divine) unless it has at least the facade of the trappings of a republican form of government with a broad base of people theoretically involved in saying yes to everything, such as the Democratic Republic of North Korea.

    Meanwhile, whatever group you happen to hang with will have in varying degrees, the mob, the guys and the boss. It’s as simple as a stack of marbles

  • Louise Taylor

    Personally l vote for the best out of a bad bunch without ever really knowing where the power truly lies. Regarding democracy, isn’t it on a continuum that constantly moves? The masses do have more awareness these days, although the choice seems more Hobson than democratic.

  • Andreas Appold

    Daemocracy: yes. Democracy: No!

  • Les Aker

    “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote. ”

    — Ben Franklin

  • Bright Harry

    “the concept of one person getting one, equal, vote” is called UNIVERSAL SUFFRAGE and not Democracy. Democracy neither means one person one vote, nor a Government. Democracy is also not a Religion touted as the Opium of the Masses.

    Democracy is the opposite of Dictatorship or Authoritarianism. Democracy actually gives equal power to all. Plutocracy gives power to the few. Feudalism or Monarchy gives power to one or a very tiny few.

    Democracy opens your eyes while Plutocracy and Feudalism, in both of which you are controlled politically, economically and culturally by the few, dull your mind and senses. Then you feel powerless.

    On the other hand, Democracy frees you to see and understand your individual and collective power — political power, economic power and cultural power..

  • Ronald Cooke

    “Is democracy the opium of the masses, to dull our senses so that we do not realise we have no power?” Actually, socialism does a better job of numbing the mind.

  • Douglas Buck

    This looks like a fun discussion. “Democracy” means rule by the people. Just voting for a candidate chosen by a party, and whose campaign is paid for by special moneyed interests, is not democracy. A true democracy requires that the people make public policy, i.e., they make the decisions themselves. True or pure democracies don’t work for large groups (of more than a few hundred). Large groups become a “mob”, easily swayed by a few cleaver and articulate members. Pure democracies don’t work for small groups either, because the majority trample on the rights of the minority.

  • Olivia DeMarco

    It’s interesting. I think democracy is a hope, and people can’t live without hope. I took a trip around the world and people were generally LIVID if I said anything negative about the US, democracy, it’s erosion, etc. I kept wondering why. And then I think I hit upon it (maybe not) but it’s like people NEED to believe there’s this place where people are free, the system works, it’s run by the people who people prosper easily. They seemed to really need that hope like kids need Disneyland. I can see it. it gives them hope sand without hope we die

  • Bradford Archer

    Democracy is a fallacy. It is nothing more than mob rule. America is a constitutional republic, based on democratic principles. Since elections are determined by a voter’s value system, and the value system of a society is spread out among its various localities within a given region, then change would come slow and methodically.
    We must teach those around us who do not understand the difference between a democracy and a representative republican.

  • Ali Mirza

    Democracy was designed to take over the power from LandLords and Kings by the Businessmen. Great deception to decieve the accountability and media is the tool to gather the mass reaction in favour of power hungery elites and institutes. Popularity became the idea of judgement then honesty and competence.

    • Bradford Archer

      This is why America was founded as a representative republic. Europe has always been ruled by Kings and other “Nobles”. Here, we don’t stand for a king and we reject the idea of a ruling class, yet through the trained ignorance of the youth, we have developed a political class that has proven to be self-serving and contradictory to American beliefs.

  • Asle Frydenlund

    Winston Churchill said; Democracy as we know it today might not be the best way of developing and organizing a country but out of all the systems we have tried over decades and all I have experiences from around the world democracy is far better that any other existing politically system.

  • Asle Frydenlund

    “It has been said that socialism collapsed because it did not allow the market to tell economic truth, and that capitalism may collapse because it doesn’t let the market tell ecological truth.”
    -Paul and Anne Ehrlich

  • Nadeem Khourshid

    People think they have power when actually they don’t – democracy has a hypnotization effect on people , so to think they can create their own destiny

  • Asle Frydenlund

    Democracy is also differently “translated” in the various official “democratic countries” and the execution of democratic politics is very different, for example where aggressive lobbying and corruption is a daily agenda. These I believe to be the two main threats to any political “direction” as it is to our democracy version of today, being it fragile or not, and is also a threat to a Conscious

  • Douglas Buck

    Many political leaders call Western nations “democracies.” I suppose one could say they are “democratic republics” in that the people democratically elect their representatives. Unfortunately, when representatives, senators and the president are all elected by popular vote, there are no safeguards. The people can be easily swayed by media hype and situational problems. At the founding, United States senators were elected by state legislatures, and the president by a “deliberating” electoral college.

  • Michael Zitterman (WC)

    We do not have a functional democracy.

    A functional democracy is unavailable when truth and honest education is skewed.

    We, the People, must awaken and discontinue perceiving lies as just “politics”.


  • Balázs Szabó

    The scale of governance, which has on one end the ideal democracy and on the other ideal dictatorship is a continuous one. Countries are located on different parts of this scale and their positions are changing over the course of history.
    Even the US, the oldest of the existing democracies has its faults (e.g.: the excessive lobbying and the information and educational asymmetry among different groups of the American society).
    Other forms of governance than democracy were tried and sooner or later failed.
    I think, linking voting rights to any characteristic – other than being citizen of a country and not committing major crimes – would result in the entrenchment of those having the given feature.
    Alternatives to universal voting rights were used, giving the privilege of vote for certain groups, based on gender, race, wealth or educational level.
    Even linking voting rights to educational level – which might seem the most benign of all features used – results in higher democratic deficit (and social cost over the long term) than the universal suffrage. In these cases education is not accessible for all, and the better educated elite will have no interest to extend the schooling and all the material benefits that result from a better education to other groups of the society. The system of limited voting rights then will be changed for internal or external pressure (international sanctions, uprisings etc.) resulting in disruptions, shocks, social costs.
    I think most of us agree, that the cure for the ills of the democratic system should be found within the scope of universal suffrage, by balancing the access to information and giving equal opportunities for all through the access to high quality education.

    • Aram Ausky

      Balazs, I think representative republics were supposed to take care of the problem you mentioned. We can’t expect the goat herder to be educated but he knows enough to judge which candidate represents his interest. The candidate is usually educated enough.

      • Douglas Buck

        Universal suffrage for all persons of majority age is important for one branch of government. The problem with having all citizens having all power is that they are easily swayed by the popular views of the moment and media hype. Much of the news is bought.

        A democracy in which the people elect their representatives, senators and the president, would end in confusion, especially when the people figure out out they can vote for themselves slop from the public trough.

        There must be checks on the whims of the popular vote. This is why a federal republic is the best form, with local governments taking care of local concerns and the national government taking care of national concerns, and senators, who are elected by local or state governments, to protect their sovereignty and the federal system.

        Question: What else would keep a national government from meddling in local affairs or telling individuals what they can or cannot do in their own homes, or taking so much of their money in the form of taxes that they become slaves, so to speak?

  • Scott M. Webb

    I thought Religion was an “opiate for the masses”…or was it the Lottery…

    • Aram Ausky

      Scott, Europe is getting the real thing shipped from poppy fields in Afghanistan. There’s an exchange market between AK’s, drugs, USD banknotes and surprisingly Food.

      • Scott M. Webb

        I was being facetious…I we get a fair amount of it here as well…well, ya’know smugglers have to diversify away from the Dollar as well, might as well barter with Food.

        • Aram Ausky

          I’ve been told that what’s interesting about Afghan to Rotterdam drug market is that each of those four elements I have listed are both a commodity and a currency.

          I think there’s a market niche for you, Scott. Haha!

  • Greville Warwick

    Of all systems of politics and governance, democracy is least likely to satisfy those who rely on it or have it imposed by a simple majority representing something that no-one wants. It is now seen in its truer colours and is no panacea for any obvious ills or failures.

    It is a difficult argument to sustain because democracy has superseded other representative and culturally refined systems of direct and responsible alternatives.

    Failures of the democratic ideal are seen to have failed most spectacularly and dangerously in the Middle East. Democracy is proving unstable in European countries and especially the recent EU experiment in quasi-democracy where even the one-person-one-vote principle is being denied.

    The UK is at fault for supporting the idea that democracy is a mad free-for-all paid for by captive taxpayers and massive borrowing based on taxpayer returns that so far have been assured. If it is the opium of the masses, it is due to the irresponsibility of “democratic” politicians using it for the short term gains that lie at the basis of their deception of themselves and the passive voters who contribute to their own impoverishment.

    Dependency in this generation, will lead to total debasement and impoverishment in the next and succeeding generations of our children, their children and yours.

  • David Marshall

    “True Democracy” in which everyone’s vote counts in equal measure is virtually unattainable really – Because if you have the rule that 50% + 1 of the votes cast is what is needed to “respect the will” of the majority, then you have one hell of a big “minority” who won’t be happy about that – In my role as President of the Management Board, my way of making decisions is to have the discussions continue until a consensus is reached that everyone can be happy with – This has two positive results – The first being that other interesting ideas often emerge from the discussions that won’t do if we just take a 50% + 1 vote to get our “majority” – The second being that it is a way of avoiding discontented “minority” cabals from forming, who can then start to actively work against you – But running a country is not done by a Management Board, so this is impossible to do when managing the complexities of a State – Referendums are often an excuse for demagogy and very undesirable results that scan capegoat minorities – Witness the nastiness against the Roms that is going on in some European Countries at the present time – And then it shouldn’t be forgotten, either, that Hitler was actually elected !! – The rest we know…

    • Douglas Buck

      Yes, David. What you are proposing is called “leadership.”

      • David Marshall

        Exactly Douglas – Thanks…

  • Greville Warwick

    The more diverse the population you wish to rule by observance of the democratic will, the less likely it is to be successful. Democracy in its present form is for settled people of similar cultural, educational and historic association. Tribal societies work well if left to exist within traditional tribal, family, cultural bounds rather than being expected to trust others who, until recently were either enemies or historically and culturally very different. There are no short cuts to total trust about who or what governs you.

    In the UK we see clearly what happens when you vote for complete strangers touting ideology and an agenda saying anything you wish to hear or believe. You must rely on their honesty, goodwill, decency, integrity of purpose and character. In fact, the moment they have control of the nations treasury, finances, assets and the means to pass laws to suit themselves and their mad ideological obsessions, they find every way to ignore their responsibilities and to cover this up with lies, fraud, deceit, war, exploitation, denial and cover-up of any kind that will ensure they remain elected once every four years.

    Companies and institutions can exist because they are invariably self-selecting and self-sustaining for a single agreed and well defined purpose. In this case the first among equals is allowed to be in charge without undue challenge. This is not so much on the democratic model, rather it is a form of tribalism.

    • Douglas Buck

      This is why, for large multicultural communities, we need a separation of powers, both vertically and horizontally, with different modes of electing those who govern. The “people” definitely need representation, but they are fickle and easily swayed by the hot issues of the day and by appearances. Take the last presidential election for example; after the second presidential debate, Romney would have won; after the third, Obama won.

      If the people directly elect representatives to their legislature, there must be another, more stable branch of the legislature, elected by a different mode, to moderate their impulsiveness and tendency to write too many laws. In England, it is the House of Lords; in the United States, it was supposed to be the Senate.

      A pure democracy, or one where the wheels of government operate from one large assembly, will degenerate into tyranny by the majority, or worship of one particularly brilliant, articulate, and domineering tyrant, such as Oliver Cromwell during the British Interregnum, or Robespierre of the Jacobin “reign of terror.”

  • Jitesh Naidoo

    Some really wonderful and insightful comments, but Balazs probably made the most realistic assessment of democracy. The very notion of democracy is noble, but problems arise predominantly as a result of human nature. Perhaps I can give the forum a run down on “African Democracy.” African democracy is run on the following maxim, “You can vote for anyone, as long as it is me.” Very rarely is dissenting views ever tolerated by the majority parties and generally majority parties consist of the most populous tribe or strictly along racial or ethnic lines. Very rarely also are issues of national interest ever considered in voting patterns. Many vote on the basis of getting a foothold into power, and once in, it is very difficult to let go off. So what may seem to Americans as constitutional democracies on paper, are actually strong dictatorships as the party in power does not entertain any view which will tend to question the leadership of the party in power. When a party is in power they work tirelessly not to improve the country as a whole, but only that of the ruling elite, and in the same breath throw all the resources they have at their disposal to undermine any opposition that may exist. The biggest perceived enemy in Africa is “colonialism” and the colonial card is constantly touted during elections. Anyone who has progressive or workable ideas is shot down as agents of colonialism. So to answer the question, yes, indeed in Africa, democracy is most certainly the opium of the masses.

  • Les Aker

    Many good comments. Most of which point out why the US Constitutional form of government is a Republic and not a democracy. The will of the majority does not negate the rights of the minority.

  • Asle Frydenlund

    Democracy and governance might be a bit more complex if not complicated as the definitions of democracy seems to be retained but the governance, if any, seems to be tailor made to the need and the situation often being politically correct rather than social, environmental or economically viable.

    That said, I still find the “old and well proven” (Churchill) western European “democracy model” of choice until e better and maybe even improved “democratically model” is introduced. I find the US model interesting and maybe a United States of Europe will one day become a reality, but until then I believe in sticking to what we have and work towards improving it by creating “a better world for all” model.

    In my professional life I have always followed my own saying; “Never let the best become the enemy of the second best as the second best might be good enough”. Maybe democracy is second best and maybe it is good enough, as every living “organism” on this planet it needs to adapt and develop in consensus with the environment.

    • Douglas Buck

      Yes! The purpose of a good Constitution is to protect the minority on the one hand, and to prevent the over accumulation of power in one person or junta on the other.

  • William Bila

    When public education is based on the principle of teaching people to think for themselves, rather than telling them what they should know, then people who think for themselves and who respect the freedom of others( to think for themselves and make their own choices) can only choose democracy. Why does someone want to not respect someone else’s ability to think for themselves or to make their own choices? When other peoples choices affect us negatively, then we want to restrict those freedoms. Polluting our water for the sake of selling fracked gas for profit is an example where democracy is failing, while many people suffer, rich corporations enjoy privileges. Democracy is not the opiate. The abuse of power is.

    • Les Aker

      “Democracy is not the opiate. The abuse of power is. ”

      Left unchecked where 50% + 1 is all that is needed to do anything easily leads to abuse of power where short term emotional decisions out weigh good sense and the protection of the rights of people who do not agree or are injured by the short term emotional decision.

  • William Bila

    Municipal elections in the US have registered voters turn out in numbers closer to 10% (like in Detroit). The abuse is having 6% of the population decide, and not letting the rest know that it was only 6% who voted for a particular issue. Letting 90% of registered voters know in an open, transparent and regular fashion about how many people actually voted could be a motivating factor to get people to participate. Not doing it is encouraging apathy and the abuse of power. Encouraging people to vote, as for example in Australia through the payment of fines for not voting, is a way to encourage more people to think for themselves and act for themselves.

    Not having 50% * 1 people present is worse. It takes a lot of effort to mobilize hate, and it cannot be done overnight in a democracy of informed and educated people.

  • Scott M. Webb

    That is very interesting that Australians are fined for not voting (a quick Google search confirmed it). I didn’t know that. A great way to raise revenue…can you imagine the possibilities here in the U.S.?

    Les, I don’t agree that abuse of power is an opiate. I think abuse of power is a symptom of all Ideologies…Democracy, Socialism, Communism, and Fascism. Abuse of power is human nature, it can only be stopped through education and a strong and united populace.

    Which to William’s point about Voter apathy, we can certainly see through our Elected Officials here in the U.S., can you imagine the amount of the abuse we don’t see?

  • Jack Durish

    I don’t want any parts of “democracy”. It has been encroaching on our Republic for several decades now coinciding with the ruination of our Republic’s economy, defense, and moral compass. Our recent military adventures, especially in the Middle East have been inspired by the desire to “democratize” that region and the results have been disastrous for them as well as us.

    The problem, at least in the US, is that We The People are surrendering the greatest form of self-governance ever contrived, one that succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest imaginings, through ignorance. Almost anyone you ask today will say that we have “democracy” and yet none have a clue as to what that means.

    So, here is my answer to your question: Is Democracy the Opium of the Masses? No. Ignorance is its drug of choice.

  • John Maleski

    OK well for starters i like that Tristan used my quote from last month to head this topic. However Mr Churchill’s (my favorite non american leader of all time) comments 4 score ago were right on. Democracy is now and until someone comes up with something better is the best form of government. I respectfully disagree with Tristans analogy of using the family as and parents as strict dictatorships. Family sturcture, and governing the masses quite different . Finding comprimise, give and take with rules and regulations for the masses is apples and oranges. If parents were not dictators the family would not exist. More importantlly when one is of age he/she can leave the family nest. Where as governing the masses never goes away. Jack is all in on his democracy degrading. Blaming democracy for the failing in the middle east is just shooting from the hip. The middle East has been a worldly desaster since the time of the Greeks. Religion rules there, not democracy .

  • Laurence Wyche

    It’s happening again. In this time of economic downturn some people will conclude that democracy is not working and others that capitalism is collapsing.

    Jack, I find your post confusing. How can democracy encroach on the the USA. Is it not a democracy? The desire to ‘democratise’ parts of the Middle East was simply an excuse to gain control of oil reserves.

    Tristan, I know that many in the US would agree with you, but what sort of government would the NRA run?

  • Jack Durish

    Lawrence: Thank you for making my point. You obviously didn’t bother to read my post beyond the first sentence or you read it and lacked the curiosity to check out my assertion that the United States is not a democracy. In either event, you contribute to the problem.

    Now, I can tell you that the US is not a democracy, but what will that accomplish? You will merely dismiss me using whatever label you trust to dismiss my comments. However, if you wish to be enlightened, simply study the Constitution. Nowhere can you find any mention of democracy within it. Study the definition of democracy and decide how that applies to the Republic described in the Constitution.

    Oh yes, I’m one of those “nuts” who clings to the Constitution. I have the temerity to attempt to defend it. Why shouldn’t I? Indeed, I swore an oath to preserve, protect, and defend it. I may be too old to pick up a gun and fight for it, but I can still wield knowledge and hopefully educate the ignorant masses who don’t understand anything about our nation, its government, and the rule of law.

    Oh, an as to your assertion that “The desire to democratise” parts of the Middle East was simply an excuse to gain control of oil reserves”, prove it. Show us how many barrels of oil we took. This assertion is bred of the same ignorance that leads one to believe that we are a democracy.

    Yes, I’m getting insulting. It’s tiring constantly battling the forces of ignorance…

  • Laurence Wyche

    As to the oil question, Iraq was selling oil in Euros and awarding contracts to European companies, behaviour that the US could not tolerate. The Persian Gulf oil field spreads over four countries, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq and Iran. The point is not to steal oil, but to make sure that the oil is in US friendly hands. Two Gulf Wars leave only Iran as an enemy. This may be a coincidence, but an extremely fortuitous one if so.

    Jack, If the US is not a democracy, then what is it? What does ‘government by the people’ mean? It seems that the US has always been run in the interest of competing vested interests, with ‘government for the people’, or democracy, an opiate dream to quieten the masses.
    I refuse to be counted as one of your ‘ignorant’.

  • Jack Durish

    Sorry Lawrence, you are firmly embedded in their ranks. You have yet to demonstrate any understanding of what a “democracy” is. There are plenty of resources available to explain it to you. There are also resources available to explain the difference between a Constitutional Republic and a democracy. You should try them. It is not my place to explain it to you. Indeed, I’m certain that you would never accept my explanation. It’s up to you to educate yourself. After all, ignorance is a choice.

    Now, as to the basis of the US involvement in the Middle East. I’m not going any further there. If you are unwilling to educate yourself about affairs at home, how can you possibly expect to make sense of an intricate pattern of tribal disputes overlaid by a history of colonial imperialism and stirred by the muddled foreign policy of the United States. Jumping into that fray with a singular vision of some conspiracy theory of an all powerful oil conglomerate is too funny. I’ll let you enjoy that one on your own.

  • Donald Peacock

    Jack, what is this democracy to which you allude? With all the jerrymandering, vote rigging and suppression, minority shut down of government, I am more than a little confused.

  • Jack Durish

    Donald: I agree, you are a little more than confused. I’m not arguing for democracy. I believe that it has been replacing the rule of law in the United States, all for the worse. Jerrymandering, vote rigging, and suppression are its byproducts. “Shut down of government by a minority?” That was merely a valiant attempt by the few to reintroduce the rule of law. If you object, then I must surmise that you must agree that the majority (the mob) should rule as in democracy.

  • Donald Peacock

    Your surmise seems to me an unwarranted assumption, your ‘talking points’ are reminiscent of a satire on twitter on how to talk/tweet to a liberal. I expect intelligent response on this site.

  • Jack Durish

    Great response! You dismissed everything I wrote as “talking points” and your expectation of an “intelligent response” is equally dismissive. A classic ad hominem attack.

  • Laurence Wyche

    I am beginning to see how Jack sees democracy. “The majority (the mob) should rule as in democracy.” I suppose it depends if you agree or not with the views of the majority. There are those who think that the party Representing the majority in Congress and the the majority who elected the President twice have no right to do so – hence the rule of the ‘Mob’.

    Jack, who should rule?

  • Jack Durish

    I love how people can ignore facts. Scan what I write, find a few words with which to disagree, and launch into a rant. What have I done? Inspiring thinking? No, inspired knee-jerk reactions. No thought required.

    Alright, everyone pay attention. I grow tired of this game.

    If you are confused by my objections to democracy, you either value it above the rule of law or you are ignorant of its true nature. Don’t be afraid. Many of our politicians are similarly ignorant or choose to use the word “democracy” in their own way and to their own ends.

    Now, let’s use Lawrence’s last question as the inspiration for my last comment in this discussion thread. “Who should rule?” Not who, what: the law.

    If the mob wants to reestablish slavery, democracy allows them to do it. After all, the majority rules, doesn’t it? That is exactly what democracy is. Under the rule of law, the law prevails. The Constitution forbids slavery. Thus, the mob can’t have its way.

    I have sworn on numerous occasions to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. That defense is not limited to the point of a bayonet or the force of a bullet. The Constitution has been under assault for more than 100 years. Prior to that, America flourished. During the past five decades, as democracy has replaced the rule of law, it has suffered.

    We now have a President who reflects mob rule. He was elected by the mob and he is acting extra-legally. For example, he (and his minions) decide which laws they will enforce and which they won’t, and the mob goes along. Why? For free stuff, of course. Their votes have been bought and paid for with entitlements. That is democracy at work.

    Now, if you have any objections to what I have said, knock yourselves out posting them here. Don’t expect anymore responses. I have better things to do. Of course, you will suppose that your clever retorts have cowed me and you have won. So be it. However, for anyone with curiosity and the courage to consider contrary ideas, I hope that you will find my comments helpful.

  • Dore’ Patlian

    Jack, I think our current President does not have the leadership skills to guide a troop of Boy Scouts to the restroom. He is an amatuer playing at governance. Having said that, I cannot see where he hias acted extra-legally, only idiotically. It is said that we get the government we deserve and given the rank ignorance of the average American, we can see the result in the White House. We have an Orator-in-Chief, not a head of the Executive Branch. Democracy is NOT a form of government, it is a form of suffrage. We are a Representative Democracy with a Republican form of government. What is your solution, an oligarchy or just a good old fashioned authoritarian dictatorship?

  • yefim pargamanik

    The law and the constitution should rule, not the mob, says Jack. Who establishes and amends later them both if not the mob through the representatives it elects? Is not the conctitutional republic just one of the forms of mob rule then?

  • Rivka Kugelman

    Jack, it sounds like you agree with the first half of Churchill’s quote.

    I’m with Yefim. Of course the law should rule; but if we agree we need a living human leadership, what form should that leadership take?

  • Adrian Godfrey

    Voting is also mandatory in several (but not all) European countries.

    Maybe a true democracy can only work if the votes are for policies rather than parties. For simplicity assume only two parties. The voter likes some policies from party A and some other policies from party B, but not unusual that both A and B have policies (sometimes even the _same_ ones) the voter does NOT want at all, yet still get implemented with an implied “mandate” by the party that actually won the election.

    >>very interesting that Australians are fined for not voting

  • Aram Ausky

    That is a good idea, Adrian. I hope everyone will be using VPNs and we’ll be able to vote for issues instead of lying politicians.

  • Les Aker

    “Maybe a true democracy can only work if the votes are for policies rather than parties.”

    If the range of policy topics is unlimited, then people’s rights would not be protected under that implementation of true democracy. That is why the Continental Congress rejected it in favor of a Republic.

  • Douglas Buck

    In a true democracy, what will protect the rights of the minority? Say, for example, the majority legislate that any conception to a mother of more two children must be aborted, even late term or at the point of birth if necessary, what protection is afforded to others who desire more children?

    A strong constitution is needed for a starter, limiting the power of government.

    Then, even with a strong constitution, what prevents abuse of power such as Mr. Naidoo illustrates? As a State employee I once asked our counsel for direction on how to proceed in a sensitive matter involving interpretation of the law.

  • Douglas Buck

    I shutter when I think of the Legislative tyranny of the British Cromwellian Parliament or the “Reign of Terror” following the fall of the French monarchy in the 18th Century or, as has been described, civil abuses perpetrated by some of the modern African “democracies.”

  • Douglas Buck

    n a true democracy, what will protect the rights of the minority? Say, for example, the majority legislate that any conception to a mother of more two children must be aborted, even late term or at the point of birth if necessary, what protection is afforded to others who desire more children?

    A strong constitution is needed for a starter, limiting the power of government.

    Then, even with a strong constitution, what prevents abuse of power such as Mr. Naidoo illustrates? As a State employee I once asked our counsel for direction on how to proceed in a sensitive matter involving interpretation of the law. His response: “What outcome do you want?” His response was based on expediency, not propriety. We could do just as we wanted as long as we presented an effective properly worded case.

    A democracy will not protect rights. It will not promote freedom. I will not curb an over-reaching ever-expanding bureaucracy.

  • Aram Ausky

    Les and Douglas, I appreciate the republic form of government. But I think it’s been hijacked and your defense of a pure form republic is a bit academic.

  • Les Aker

    How does having 50% + 1 of the people take away all of your rights rather than a single dictator end up as a better thing with less undermining of your rights, John?

  • Nadeem Khourshid

    i echo your words Les. In democracy we assume that the majority of voters are above average in rationality to choose. Hence, the only skill for anyone running in a democratic process is to convince the likely majority of below average intellectual capacity in order to win, this is the pearl of democracy- Just Ignore the Genius!

  • Aram Ausky

    Les, don’t you think that a structural change policy like TPP should at least have a democratic straw poll?

  • Tristanfischer

    As usual, this forum is providing some really fascinating thoughts and debate. Great stuff – well done to all of you for keeping the debate alive.

    If I may, as the author of the original article and initiator of this discussion, slightly refocus everybody’s attention.

    I think that everybody agrees that democracy is not working particularly well at the moment.

    Instead of rehashing WHY it is not working can we switch to how we would build a new form of government using the best of what we like about democracy and other forms of social governance – ranging from how schools, hospitals and companies etc work.

    This is what the US founding fathers did – they picked stuff that they liked from history and then adapted it for their current circumstances.

    I would like to create two restrictions, if I may:

    1) The form of government should be ACCESSIBLE and OPEN to all citizens. This DOES NOT have to mean voting. It could be based on luck, merit or whatever. As long as people get a reasonable shot.

    2) The government needs to be able to manage medium to long term problems without being a permanent monopoly on power. Our current problems cannot be fixed by short term thinking. Equally we do not want to create a permanent ruling elite – which is what you get with indefinite terms.

  • John Braungart

    I detest getting into these political spitting contests, but I feel the need to state the painfully obvious. Jack, you started out being rude and condescending and managed to sink to a level downright ignorance because someone didn’t bother to state the difference between a Democracy and a Constitutional Republic. A Democracy is one man on vote (fulfilled every Election Day, more or less [see the complaints about gerrymandering above]) while a Republic is a government run by people selected to attend to the people’s business. A Democracy in a Country our size is unworkable because NOTHING would get done.
    The trouble is that too many of the people elected to attend the people’s business have come to either think that this makes them some kind of aristocracy or at least entitled to some kind of special privileges.
    How would YOU make things better? Can you respond without being rude?

  • Dore’ Patlian

    What is this mob I keep reading about in Jack and Yeffim’s posts? Who is this mob, are we calling the American people a “mob”? Or is it just those with whom we disagree?
    I am a fairly conservative guy but a true conservative is a fierce defender of liberty and the rule of law. I would defend to the death a Socialist’s right to speak or write as he or she sees fit, even though I believe Socialism to be a recipe for disaster. I would defend to the death an atheist’s rights in the same way, even though I am an ordained minister. If one person in this nation is denied his or her right to freely speak or write or publish their ideas or opinions; if one person is denied the right to associate with like minded people and peacefully work toward advancing their ideas or programs, then every man and woman in America has accepted the chains of tyranny under the guise of political correctness or expediency. I may hate what you say or write but I will defend your right to do it because in so doing I am defending my own liberty. We used to get this, what happened?
    The American people twice elected this empty suit in the White House and thus we must respect the Office, if not the man. He is the President until the last day of his last term. I pray daily that he may finally understand that his job is to LEAD, not to posture, orate or transform America in to some statist dream of equality (which does not exist and never has) May we have more discernment and wisdom in our next choice, please God.

  • Donald Peacock

    Hardly anything gets done now. The ‘Rule of Law’ is not applied equally, war criminals are given immunity, financial crooks wreck the worlds economy and are given ‘slap on the wrist’ fines,…etc… What to do ? Get money out of Politics, allow more parties to have meaningfull participation, make lobbying transparent, close the revolving door. Our ‘Ruling Elite’ control our markets, our representatives, laws, our very life choices in an unsustainable manner. Humanity is threatened with extinction….What will our grandchildren have to Eat, Drink, or Breathe ? Mere money? What can “WE” do ? and hey, I’m not preaching, I’m asking

  • Laurence Wyche

    Well said, Donald. What to do? If I knew I would be in jail.

  • Dore’ Patlian

    good we can have 37 parties like Israel or Italy and have revolving door governments and constantly shifting coalitions. A lot gets done in the US, every minute of every day. Our governments, State, local and even Federal are among the most honest and efficient in the world. if you have ever lived in countries where you grease a palm to get anything done you would be thrilled at our governments and how they operate.
    Get the money out of politics? The only way is for you and I to pay for elections with our tax dollars, we can do that if we are willing.
    you can focus on what’s wrong or work on solutions.
    3 simple fixes would take care of it.

  • Rivka Kugelman

    What three fixes do you mean?

  • Elizabeth Rocke

    Guys, guys. This is a discussion by people interested in history? Firstly, I agree with John. America has never, as a national sense, been a democracy. It is a republic. The electoral college is an example of this. For most, some of our history, the majority didn’t elect the president because the person with the most votes in a state won that state. For a while, and I’m not sure when this stopped, the member of the Electoral college could make their own choices, more or less. It was set up that way because at least part of the Founding fathers wanted the president to be elected by the ‘best people,’ and feared the mob.

    A couple of thoughts. I would, as a student of history, agree with Churchhill, that Democracy is the worst form of government, except all other.” I would, with some reservations, agree with Acton’s quote about power corrupting. Democracy may not be the best form but when citizens can exert control over their leaders it at least cuts down on the abuse of power. I’m not sure though that the U.S would not benefit from the “President/prime minister” concept that some countries use. We have been fortunate, maybe that the system has worked.

    One other thought. I track the progression of rulers. One ruler is competent, wise and fair and contributes to his people’s and nations prosperity. His successor is mediocre but manages to maintain most of his predecessor’s gains. The grandson is incompetent, and stands a fair chance of someone either taking over or else just running the country. Sometimes this goes to four or five rulers. I did a mental count of the kings of England and the Presidents as to the ‘competent’ and the placeholders. I think it came out about the same number. No sure what this means, but someone said that we get the kind of president we want.

  • Rivka Kugelman

    Very interesting viewpoint, Elizabeth, thanks. I wonder where you started in the English monarchy survey?

  • yefim pargamanik

    I fail to understand why a republic in which the Chief Executive is elected by popular vote or by the electors chosen by the popular vote is not a democracy. In both cases the people (electorate, mob) decide who is going to rule and have the legal right to reelect him or not or even remove him from power either by direct vote or by the vote of its elected representatives if the people is dissatisfied. That’s representive democracy as against direct democracy of Switzerland where the people make important decisions by voting it the referendum, but democracy (rule of the people) nonetheless. The republics that were not democracies like in medieval Poland, Genova or Venice where the ruling classes made all the decisions and the majority couldn’t vote are world apart from the USA that is IMHO both republic and democracy.

  • Steven Miller

    All this “Democratic-Republic” discussion would not even be possible in any type of Autocracy/Military, as shown throughout Human History. My Father was “King” in our household for my first 18 years, plus I was in the military another 2, if he or the Military did not like any subject he/they just forbade it or made regulations against or even speaking about it. I had a Captain who forbade “whistling” on “his” ship since it (sailor’s superstition) was “unlucky”, and you would be punished by him/King/Capitan if reported. I left home 2 days after I graduated high school, and my only option was: “love it or leave it”. I went directly into the military, unfortunately that was like “jumping out of the frying pan into the fire”. In any “Democracy” you do have an option to vote out those in power, as in our Democratic-Republic, and not forced to “leave it” to change your life. I did not have that “democratic” option at home, or while in the military.
    Like Winston Churchill I much prefer “this imperfect Democratic-Republic system” we now have in the United States, or until something proves to be a LOT better. Dictatorships/Military central control historically have their problems just like “Democracy” but that I consider much worse, including: corruption (kissing-ass), pay offs, buying favors, nepotism, constant warfare, over-spending, over-taxation, unfair imprisonment, etc. Just a few examples of “Autocracy/Military Rule” are present day North Korea which seems “very nice and orderly”, or 1933-1945 Nazi Germany as Hitler promised to: “returned glory/order”, or “Caesar’s Roman Empire” when Julius abolished the “olde” Roman Republic promising to: “returned glory/order”.
    Anyone promising a return to lost “GLORY and ORDER”, is a common thread toward any Dictatorship/Autocracy as proven many times, over thousands of years of written human history and to be greatly feared. I like our present “imperfect Democratic-Republic” in the United States.
    The “good olde days” are all just four letter words!

  • Lori Gonzales

    Yefim—I’m going to put my two-cents worth in here. A pure democratic form of rule would mean that each person has a vote and that vote is counted. We do not elect with the popular vote. For example, the votes cast in a state will be tallied and that is representative of the popular vote; however, it is the electoral college that has the final vote. Their votes are supposed to represent the popular vote, but they are permitted to go against it, if their conscience dictates they do so. This means our heads of state are elected through representation, not direct popular vote or by consensus.

    We are republic first and foremost, but it does embody some forms of democratic representation; not democratic rule. However, most in the U.S. will incorrectly use the term “democracy” because they do not understand the difference between the terms. In some ways, we have redefined or reconstructed the term “democracy” to the point where we “think” our system of rule is democratic instead of republican. If each person had an equal say in everything, nothing would get done. Our government moves slow enough already.

  • Dore’ Patlian

    Yes, Lori, good post. Direct democracy is what destroyed Athens. It is very susceptible to mob rule, as Jack put it and is easily swayed by passion, the latest rant on the internet, etc. We have too much of this now. If you want to see what too much democracy produces take a look at my home state of California. In 1915, Hiram Johnson, the Progressive (meant Republican then) Governor got the legislature to write a new Constitution. That is where California got the referendum, the Initiative and the recall. Between these 3 “democratic” ideas the State is plagued by endless ballot measures of often dubious content and some very dangerous ones actually pass, like the 2/3 majority in both Houses needed to pass any budget bill. That is why no one can control the California budget, it isn’t stupidity or incompetence, the state’s condition is due to rampant political correctness and the turning too much control over to the direct vote of the people thereby nutering the legislature with popular but stupid direct initiative lawmaking.

  • Lori Gonzales

    Dore’–Yes! As a native Californian, I agree. You brought up something very important. In addition to the national level, our system is comprised of many levels or layers. Apart from the federal government, states have a certain amount of autonomy. Each has their own constitution, laws and mandates. So, a system in one state may not be the same in another. We are not as homogeneous as some would like to believe.

  • Dore’ Patlian

    Yes, Lori you are right on. Actually, the individual state has the majority of power and influence over the life of the citizenry with the power of the Federal Government tightly constrained by the 10th Amendment. 37 states have filed suit against the Federal Government charging egregious violation of the 10th Amendment over the last 60 years and when it reaches the Supreme Court, there is a very good chance that they will win. The individual mandate in Obanacare should have been declared unconstitutional because the Feds have no power to mandate anything but income tax and military service from the individual. A state may mandate many things and does.

  • Jack Durish

    Yes, I’ve been lurking, waiting to see how this discussion thread would go… Better, actually.

    Dore’: You brought me back. Yes, in theory, the 10th Amendment was the key to constraining federal power to only those things enumerated in the Constitution. Unfortunately, they have twisted the plain language of the commerce clause to gain access to powers that many scholars reasonably argue, should never have fallen under the purview of Washington.

    However, something even more important has happened. States now receive the majority of their funding from the feds. That’s right, federal grants, etc exceed the total of state taxes collected. Thus, it is easy to surmise that state governments will be more responsive to federal wishes than the wishes of their own citizens.

  • Dore’ Patlian

    Jack, the funding you speak of is for mandates from the Federal Government. The states could survive quite nicely if the Feds would quit putting huge burdens of regulatory foolishness on the states. The Feds fund a small percentage of the “mandates”. The biggest problem of the states is the plethora of “unfunded mandates” which demand expensive programs without funding them. This is the crux of the 37 state suit, with more joining each year. The contention of the suit is that the Federal Government has no power over education, medicine, intrastate commerce or much of anything which is confined primarily to one state. In the event that the suit fails, the states plan to call a Constitutional Convention to curtail the overweening power of the Feds. They already have enough states do do just that in this suit. (3/4 of the states are needed) Florida is a lead state in this fight, which is why I am so conversant about it.

  • Barbara McLennan

    But one man-one vote isn’t necessarily the definition of democracy. A democratic system is one where the executive power is responsible to some institution that it can’t control completely. It happens that the U. S. constitution builds in controls on top of controls, and that reflects the anxieties of the founding fathers. They didn’t want another monarchy and all the idiocy that goes along with that. the essence is that power shouldn’t be inherited. We could have families, or estates, or parts of legislatures vote: all these systems are democratic-and don’t use one man one vote. The early American colonies were all democratic; some gave up women’s suffrage to join the union. Some were efficient and progressive; others pretty sleepy about all things political.

  • yefim pargamanik

    Republic, monarchy, theocracy or dictatorship are forms of government of the state. Democracy (direct or representative), aristocracy or autocracy are descriptions of the ruling class (the legal nation): the people (except those under age or prevented from voting by the court order or their medical condition, the nobility, the council of elders or one man. Therefore republic may be aristocratic and monarchy democratic. The fact that not all the votes are equal as e.g. with majoritary system in the USA or GB doesn’t mean that these countries are not democratic.

  • John Maleski

    Boy Tris, This topic sure has taken a life of its own, not sure if this is going anywhere fast though. Jack seems to be a bit to the right on most political issues. And to his credit he never waviers, wonder if he ever went to debate school somewhere. Again his middle east comments are a bit off i feel, the middle east will settle its problems when religion becomes 2nd to government. Thanking Dore, Jen, and Yfirm for there like on my comments..

  • Lori Gonzales

    Yefim–Article IV Section 4, of the Constitution “guarantees to every state in this union a Republican form of government”…. Hence, the U.S. is a republic, not a democracy. Nowhere in our constitution does it mention democracy.

  • Dore’ Patlian

    Barbara, which early American Colony had women’s suffrage? Democracy means “rule by the people”, period! It can be one person- one vote or by region, direct or representative, a monarchy or republic, a socialist economy or capitalist or mixed.
    The US is a democratic republic. The UK and several other European nations are democratic monarchies.

  • yefim pargamanik

    Lori, Republican form of government doesn’t mean that the republic is democratic or not. Universal suffrage means that it is democratic even if the constitution doesn’t mention the word.

  • Gabrielle Sutherland

    I think the point is that democracy does not have to be about voting. Voting is something separate. Democracy is also not about ultimate rule. It’s about who is entitle to have a voice, which ends in rule. There are many forms of Democracy in the world, and they are all referred to as “democracy” because the people’s voices are a part of the rule.
    Good Forms: Monarchy, Aristocracy, Democracy (1, Some, All)
    Bad Forms: Tyranny, Oligarchy, Anarchy (1, Some, All)

    These are the choices, IF we are talking forms of Rule
    in this case, we can nitpick whether and how our country fits into which, but we absolutely, as Barbara points out, look at the records of the first Contintental Congress and other debates. The letters between those who were involved, and it is there that we can discover how and why our country was set up the way it was. We can find there, why and how the popular vote vs. the electoral college (or what became the electoral college) was chosen, and to argue sensibly, we ought to have a basic knowledge of why this is so important. The guiding, overall principle was that each state would have equal representation. In order for this to be the case, a very unique system had to be developed. Also, the 18th century operated under a different cultural perspective wherein “the household” was an entity. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong; I’m simply saying that it is what it was and it was different. We –in modern times–think of the individual as a single person. The census focuses today even on households with individuals inside. At that time, the focus was on households with a number of people on the property and maybe listed them, but did not focus ON the individuals themselves. This makes a difference in how we interpret “democracy,” yet and so, the Constitution is flexible, and the path of the interpretations of what Oliver Wendell Holmes called “The Path of the Law” means that it still = Democracy.

  • Jack Durish

    Sorry, I can’t help myself. Garbirelle mentioned that “there are many forms of Democracy in the world… they are all referred to as ‘democracy’ because…” Does that include the “Democratic People’s Republic of China”? “North Korea”? Yes, many of the most tyrannical nations in the world include “Democratic” in their name. It’s a good reminder to beware of people who invent their own definition of “Democracy”. There seems to be a lot of that going on in this discussion thread, doesn’t there/

  • Gabrielle Sutherland

    To comment on my own comment about basic political science: It’s sad that “All” doesn’t really mean “All” but actually means “Many”.

    . . . and that this is still a problem today.

  • Lori Gonzales

    Yefim–We are a republic that practices some forms of democracy, but we are not entirely a democracy by definition. I would also add that in practice, we do not have universal suffrage. We do, however have a general suffrage that does not discriminate according to gender, occupation, social status and wealth. But many remain disenfranchised. Even then, individual states may enact their own voting legislation.

    According to Madison, a republic in the eyes of the founders differed from a democracy because government is delegated by the people through representation. As a republic, he theorized it would be more difficult for individuals to serve self-interests. As such, this is how the founding fathers defined and differentiated between republican and democratic forms of government.

  • Michael J Moylan

    Republic a state that votes for represenatives that vote on their behalf. A form of government that recognizes that all of us can not be their for every vote. So we choose folks that work on our behalf. We ask them to represent us. Not perfect as we have seen but I guess we could go to the polls and vote on hundred of items a few times a year. The question is who decides what issues you vote on?

    Still democratic in Nature that gives authority to a appointed person to represent them on their behalf when they can not vote on every issue. Still democratic to the point they get to appoint those who will represent them. Not perfect as we well know.

    We yell about congress not getting things done can’t imagine what it would be like with every citizen getting their say on every issue , we would prove nothing would get approved.


  • Diana – Sorina Bodia

    I agree with Barbara, on political level the matter is related to constitutionalism. On a social level there is the constant need of participating and of being free, but this doesn’t necessary mean with democracy. We have yet to understand what really democracy is and how it should be applied so as not manifest itself as a jungle.

  • Dore’ Patlian

    Diana, democracy simply means “rule by the people”, comes from the Greek demos which is people and cracy which means “rule by”. It has nothing to do with constitutions or forms of governance. The UK is a democratic monarchy, as are Denmark, Netherlands,Belgium,Sweden, Norway, Spain and Thailand. The US is a democratic republic, one of very many in today’s world. It simply means that the people make the laws, usually through a parliament or legislature.

  • Catherine Maggs

    But is democracy the ‘ opium of the people ‘ ? Marx said of religion ”Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”For a secular world, democracy fulfils the same function…it isn’t viable in its purest form but it is the ideal & gives us hope

    Plato disliked democracy for its abuses … the sophistication in our abilty to construct voter choice is one in favour of his opinion…

  • Patrick. Toms

    Catherine,When speaking about The word democracy,then this is the nearest we get to what some people might class as freedom,it is a much bandied about word in the English language and can mean many things,as a young chap I worked for a man who had been in the Indian Army,and served there for 16 years and came out as the Rank of Major,I once said something to him about Democracy,he told me it was rubbish there was no such thing on thinking about Democracy as we like to call it one of the things which is memorable is the Magna Carta which is venerated by the Americans,and probably more so to them than even Englishmen,as I am not or have not studied History in College or even achieved any distinctions in this field of History I find democracy a bit odd what does it mean,on this blog there are different points of view,it is just one way of ruling by a system which is controlled by the Status Quo who have been there in this position for a long time,and like everything else is based on the elite who rule and the the others,but that is just the way it works and most of the time works well.

  • Evdhokia Karayanni

    ‘democracy’ from the ancient Greek word ‘demo-kratia’ the government of the people i.e. citizens, developed in its fullest form in 5th.c. Athens B.C. the so-called ‘Classical Age’. It was defined by Aristotle as a type of government in which the decision making power, the legislative and the judicial power were in the hand of the citizens, i.e. the ‘demos’ who gather regularly as an assembly at least once a month below the feet of Acropolis, at Pnyka and voiced rather freely their political opinions. Contemporay historians have defined this system as ‘direct democracy’.
    The parliamentary democracy, representative democracy whose structure (vaguely.. ) we have in the Western World derives from the Roman Republic, (around 3rd.c…B.C.) in which citizens elected officials who governed them from various posts, this in now defined as ‘indirect democracy’.
    From the 18th.c. A.D., the times of Enlightenment and ‘liberal’ revolutions till our times the so called ‘democracy’ has been adapted to various cultures and states and has become according to my opinion (!) ‘parliamentary oligarchy’, meaning we citizens, vote, elect but do not govern… at times beyond our interests.
    These few lines are my contribution to a HUGE topic from the perspective of a historian expert in Ancient History.

  • Stan Skrzeszewski

    Lets see, I get to go and vote every now and then, now and then I get polled, and the political party that I belong to asks me for donations on a regular basis. Does this feel like democracy? No. I seem to have no real involvement in the political system even though in the past I was quite involved. That just made me cynical. The quality of democracy depends on an informed electorate. Since many Politicians seem to know little about our many complicated issues that seems unlikely. Democracy an opium of the masses. No, more like a placebo.

  • Diana – Sorina Bodia

    I think democracy is a mean to an end as Karl Popper put it – a way of preventing tyranny to install itself in the system. In this sense it may be regarded as a drug because it gives people the power to interfere in politics. But, here it appears the problem of will, without the will to participate and take action nothing can happen.

  • Patrick. Toms

    Diana,Yes you are right without participation there is no real point.

  • Gabrielle Sutherland

    Aristotle’s theory describes the relationship between political systems in that none exist separate and apart from each other. The Philosopher came to this description from his observation of History–which is an important point–and noted that in the diagram, one naturally leads to another, and that leads to another, etc. In this sense, Rule by 1 does not lead to Rule by All/Many, but only has the ability to ‘move’ to Rule by 1 [other] or Rule by Some/Few.

    Aristotle’s Theory has held up over time because it is observed in History to remain consistent. Different “–isms” can be employed, and various regions operate according to culture (which he accounted for), but the “–ocracy” theories have remained the same.

    a priori or ex nihilo arguments don’t work.

  • Patrick. Toms

    Gabrielle,I think that Philosophy plays a greater role in our lives than people know,also the rules you quoted were very interesting as well.

  • Gabrielle Sutherland

    It’s so interesting to think about, isn’t it? I think sometimes people bridle at these suggestions because of the idea of determinism, as if we must follow this or that philosophical model, rather than understanding that philosophy, for the most part, is descriptive. Philosophers seek to understand the human condition, and follow methods to explain the whys and wherefores, right? Artistotle though of himself as a scientist (which is funny to us).

    I agree with you, though. I spend multiple hours, sitting still, pondering these theories and attempting to apply them to my life or the world around us. I also think it’s funny that historians and philosophers tend to get along very well as friends, but NOT very well once the discussion turns to theoretical application. That, too, gives me lots and lots to think about in my alone time. I have a couple extremely good philosopher friends, and we have such great times together. Then we start talking theory and it gets ugly, fast! Then when we come back together we each will say, “I thought about what you proposed, and find it interesting that. . . ” but fairly quickly we are back on opposite sides of the theoretical fence once again–saying things like “How can you postulate such a thing. . .don’t you realize that. . . ?!?!?!?!?!”

    It’s SUPER interesting stuff, yes!

  • Patrick. Toms

    Gabrielle,Yes you are right and gives me further insight into the Philisophical side.

  • Elizabeth Rocke

    May I throw a couple more quirks into this discussion. I find it interesting that ‘demos’ in practice meant all adult males!. No women, no one not Helene. That meant a small percentage of the population. Those in Athens would shudder at what we have today. Depending on your definition, that was ‘one man, one vote,’ but not ‘one person, one vote.’

    Also, armies and ships are not representative of society as a whole. Depending on the society they are special circumstance organization. Even there though a general may command, sergeants are who really run the army. Still read either Iphigenia in Aulis or the Iliad to see how the commander of a whole army isn’t very much of a commander, but more like first among equals. Even in the Roman army, at least up until Caesar’s time you had two general’s in command. That strikes me as a recipe for disaster, but it did happen.

    Colonial America in the 17th century had, according to my readings, two different views of government. John Locke emphasized the individual in society, and Filmer viewed it hierarchically society organized on family lines. I believe the northern colonies followed Filmer and the southern Locke.

  • Elizabeth Rocke

    Addenda to my first comment: I started with 1066. I do have some knowledge of kings in the Anglo-saxon period, but the conditions were different. I also thought about rulers in other lands and areas like Abd-ar-rahman and his descendents

  • Daniel I. Radakovich

    The US is a republic whoseexecutive and representatives are elected by democratic principles. The original form of society involves election from monarchy to oligarchy to democracy and herediyary processes only came about much later if at all. All forms of government may become corrupt, the strength of democracy is that such corruption may be more discoverable and rectifiable. It is not a panacea for good government to have denmocratic aspects but it is however a much stronger and mire resilient format than others as WWI proved beyond any doubt.

  • Patrick. Toms

    Daniel,It is interesting that the Uk still has the monarchy and a Parliament etc which still functions,and of course a Democracy although it looks like the greeks were ahead of us in a lot of the things we sem to think we are the only ones to have gone through these phases.

  • Dore’ Patlian

    The Queen reigns but does not rule, The UK is a parliamentary democracy.

  • Catherine Maggs

    Elizabeth – not even ALL adult males; resident males including those from other Poleis & of course Slaves were all excluded . As you say , a tiny group got to make all the decisions….hey- sounds familiar 🙂 Plato/Socrates, disliked this way of doing things because invariably the best orator was able to sway the vote with rhetoric …”plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose” . It is the idea of democracy that is the powerful illusion[ the Opium] the reality will always be organised in favour of the few .You mention Filmer…as in Robert? ”Divine Right of Kings” Filmer?? I actually like his version of Patriarchy[ & I’m sure that is not a p.c thing to say]

    Evdhokia- you called what we have” parliamentary Oligarchy ”…I see what you mean & in fact this was Plato’s choice of government[ as I’m sure you know] & that would be fine by me BUT…how many of our politicians have any interest in, let alone concept of ‘The Good’ which made that system work justly .

  • Barbara McLennan

    I think this discussion is losing its focus. If ordinary people get to choose their leaders and feel they have the legal right to vote, unmolested, that’s a democratic system. Legal forms can vary from time to time and place to place. If people are content and decide not to vote and be counted, that’s a democratic decision too. The only places that get 100 per cent turnout are totalitarian dictatorships, where the military orders people to vote and they could be shot for voting the wrong way.

  • Jack Durish

    Barbara: You are absolutely correct IF you get to decide the definition of “democracy”. If you read this discussion thread in its entirety you will learn that is the source of the disagreements. The unfortunate lesson to be learned here is that very few have been well-schooled and lack an understanding of democracy, that our founders explicitly rejected democracy, and that our teachers and our political leaders are among those who are most ignorant.

  • Gabrielle Sutherland

    When I think of Democracy as all-inclusive, I like to think of medieval Iceland that conducted the annual Allthing. Every member of society gathered, and all adults voted on whatever was on the agenda that year. The legacy from the Allthing that is most interesting is not the body of laws, but the sagas that come out of it. IMO

    We have inherited several genre of sagas, but the general family tale is hilarious and comes directly from the Allthing. All the sagas have as their purpose: genealogy, as we would expect, because literally EVERYONE came to the annual event. The separate sagas are filled with so much that is mighty and great, but the overall [index] tales are filled with family feud and in-between votes stories of husbands and wives fighting over how to vote. . . and wives typically hitting husbands over the head with frying pans type-of-thing. It’s a wonderful read.

    The literature re. the battle between the sexes (in the Middle Ages) is VERY funny, and much less acrimonious than it is in modern day as it is generally assumed that “stuff” will be worked out after the argument, and nothing will be solved. The significance with the Icelandic version of this genre is that much of it centers on voting at the Allthing.

  • Publius II

    I enjoyed the original essay and the comments which I have read. I offer just a few oservations. First, it is quite true that the American system is indeed based upon a Roman Republic, which was a sham democracy designed to appease the commoners so that the Senatorial elite could continue to dominate society with minor concessions to the commoners. European Parliamentary systems seem a bit better to me in that there is potential for more truly democratic actions through parties such as the Labor Party. However, people I speak with in Europe are as dissatisfied with their system as we are in the U.S. with ours. There does seem to be a growing sense of the ineffectiveness of democratic systems, which is something we should all be concerned about. The situation seems similar to (but not quite as extreme) the depression era politics. Perhaps the same economic frustrations are fueling it? I do feel strongly that institutions of power are in reallity economically based. However, the dilema is how to give people equal access to this power without giving handouts to the undeserving. I think former President Clinton was on the right path by giving special incentives and breaks to the middle class so that opportunity, and consequently power, would quickly “trickle down” to the people. In America particularly the wealthy have pretty much obtained a complete lock on economic/political power; and Americans know that they are unhappy with the system but have not really figured out why. I am not sure if the majority of Americans are ever going to wake up and “smell the coffee.” Any attempts to make even modest reforms are refuted as “socialism” and dismissed out of hand. I have noticed that at those times when we mix government intervention and free market concepts together we have prospered. When all controls are removed and we have a free market (as under Reagan, Bush II, and Herbert Hoover) we have hard times. Just an observation by a fellow historian.

  • Ed Cote

    “Democracy is the rule of the best con artist. Let those who have true power rule over those who do not.”

    Violet Skies, Book One

    Note who it is saying that- my villain. One of my strongest characters, yes, but the VILLAIN. A selfish, gluttonous, greedy sociopath who never forgave the Old Democracy he destroyed for taking power from his noble House in the first place. So what does he do? Seize his own city-state and rule it in his own image until it becomes a ruthless, brutal, dog-eat-dog, crony-capitalist hellhole where everything is for sale and no one but he has any true rights. A place plagued with every depravity, from slavery and homelessness to drugs and prostitution.

    Rithmoor is Charles Dickens’s worst nightmare and Dibian is an oligarch if there ever was one.

    He will tell you he has set his people free, but in its own way Rithmoor can’t function without Dibian any more than his communist rival Olbinaar’s city can function without him. Both are meant to serve as cautions, which brings me to my next point.

  • Ed Cote

    Tristan: It’s easy to accuse you of being too cynical, but I think you’re actually being more productive and honest than that. You’re asking tough and uncomfortable questions but I don’t think you’re doing it just to shock. I can respect that even if I don’t entirely agree.

    It’s obvious that most people, especially but not only in the US, are extremely frustrated with the status quo and only becoming more so. Most don’t vote and haven’t for a long time. Inequality has gone from acceptable to tolerable to bad to worse to unbelievable to unimaginable in slightly less time.

    I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

    I don’t think the problems are even systemic in quite the way or on the level that many others think. I think the problems are cultural just as much as they are legal.

    Look at the problems we do have:

    1) Corporations and the wealthy have far, FAR too much power, both politically and culturally. Whole books have been written on this and we all know it, so I won’t belabor this point.

    2) We aren’t represented accurately. Women are 51% of the population but 18.5% of Congress, even fewer seats in the executive or judiciary, or as high ranking corporate executives,and of course we’re one of a few remaining democracies to never have a female head of state. Minorities are not represented proportionally either, by the numbers or the priorities. Look at how hard it was to get anything at all done on making immigration policy even slightly more humane. Only 6% of the population meets the criteria that Conventional Wisdom says a person must have to run for Congress. For that matter, less than 2% of the population ever serves in the military.

    3) We don’t invest in anything anymore and we don’t build anything, let alone to last. We developed smart phones that have more computing power than we used to send men to the moon over 40 years ago but today we can’t even fix a bridge. Thousands of bridges nationwide are structurally deficient, and that’s just bridges, let alone the schools, the roads, the levees in New Orleans, on and on and on. We have left everything to rot because we just don’t want to shell out the cash in this year’s budget. Even just the most desperately needed repairs would cause some pretty bad sticker shock if we added it all up (these things have a way of getting worse if we don’t stay on top of them) and that’s BEFORE we even get to needed advancements ranging from clean, renewable, domestic energy to rural broadband and the smart grid.

    Yet labor and materials are never going to be this cheap again, so why not now?

    The recent austerity madness (and that’s what it is, madness) has only made all this worse.

    And that’s just the hard infrastructure. Don’t even get me started on education.

    4) Nobody thinks long term anymore. Any entity, let alone one as big as the federal government or a transnational corporation would be wise to have some semblance of a long term plan, but no one does other than shadowy conservative groups run by men like Grover Norquist. We give so much lip service to The Children and then turn around and screw them over every chance we get, with everything from global warming to (again) education, but even including our foreign policy, which is basically engineered to make sure we’ll always have More Oil and More War. We’re all about instant gratification and the stock price this quarter, even if it bankrupts the company in the next- who cares? Golden parachute, bailout, rinse, repeat.

    5) Our priorities are totally backward. We can spend $1.5 trillion on an airplane that doesn’t even fly and billions more on others that literally go right from the factory to the boneyard, yet we can’t spend half that on clean energy, infrastructure, or education (I mean it- do NOT get me started…) We decry “welfare queens” who Ronald Reagan made up in his revamped version of Nixon’s Southern Strategy but don’t mind very real corporate welfare stealing a million times more than all the baby mamas put together ever spent on food stamps and WIC. The Pentagon wastes more money than most agencies spend. How much?

    We don’t actually know.


    Yes. We Don’t Know. Because the Pentagon, unlike EVERY other piece of the government, apparently has never been audited.

    The Military-Industrial Complex, including Big Oil, protects its own interests, which is siphoning unlimited cash right from the Treasury, which keeps us perpetually at war (gotta justify all that spending) and perpetually broke. Look no further than the Bush Wars.

    Even the brass will tell you we could spend a lot less and a lot smarter instead of planning for all those dogfights with the Soviets.

    And then the soldiers themselves get screwed by everybody from Dubya to Hannity.

    6) We can’t even FEED ourselves decently anymore. I won’t belabor this point either, because again we all know this but also because I know I’m even worse than most. I will sincerely try to do much better this year.

    7) Look, I’m sorry, but pop culture is sick. I know that’s harsh. I know people don’t want to hear it, but I’m not just being contrary or an old prude. (Prude? You really don’t know me do you?) When wrestling is the most popular show on cable TV and parents take SIX year old CHILDREN to Wrestlemania (I wouldn’t give Violet Skies to a 6 yo let alone WRESTLING) when Duck Dynasty rules redneck subculture (despite the fact that it’s repeatedly been proven completely FAKE) when South Park is our idea of brilliant satire, when reality TV is shoved down our throats just because it’s cheap and we swallow it just for the sensationalism, when the greatest and most important journalist of our time writes “comedian” on his tax return, when SAW goes to seven movies, when we can barely find anybody who can actually SING or get even halfway decent music into the mainstream (to be fair 2013 was the best year in a long time) when many “young adult” books would be rated-R if made as movies, pop culture is sick. We’re gorging on cultural junk food, in some cases, downright poison.

    Maybe we put so much stock in entertainment because it is instant gratification and it’s one of the few areas of our culture where we can place some identity and feel like we have some say.

    And yes, I AM an entertainer. I don’t want to be a hypocrite about this. I’ll just say that if I ever do write a rated-R movie I’ll at least be upfront about that and I will never write anything half as obscene as wrestling or Saw.

    Okay, so these are the problems from my perspective, my diagnosis anyway. So what do we DO about it?

    More in a minute.

  • Daniel Weisman

    I must reject your contention by going back to the quote from Churchill that you lead with. Yes, democracy is not perfect. However, it has led overall to more just societies than the alternatives. In democracies, there are independent courts that check the power of those who strive to monopolize it. Example–the US Supreme Court limiting then finally stopping the detention of dissidents during the civil war and Japanese during the second world war. But let’s look at the alternatives: (1)monarchy or similar one-person rule has always led to the person in charge being able to exercise power unchecked, leading to very bad times for those who are out of favor. (2) a one-party state led by the “best and brightest” who supposedly know what is best and have everyone’s best interests at heart. That is the theory behind the communist state instituted by Lenin and his followers. Guess what? It didn’t work as planned and instead led to oppression of dissidents. (3) rule by philosopher-kings as suggested by Plato in The Republic. That is quite similar to both communist rule and early rule in Europe when the church was all-powerful. Both led to oppression. I prefer democracy with all its inefficiencies.

  • Alfredo Mathew

    No one voluntarily hands over power. And despite the current political malaise in the U.S., and perhaps in Great Britain and the world’s other leading democracies, the promise of democracy is not an opiate. Rather, it is an idea still in the early stages of evolution, who has promised perhaps more than it has delivered.

    The promise as I understand it, is a central component of West’s contribution to civilization. “governments are instituted by men, deriving their just power from the consent of the governed”. You say that business CEO’s are not democratically elected, and the head of the family household is a paternalistic dictator- so why the celebration of democracy as our highest form of social organization. I would argue that while CEO’s run companies, it is the democratic process of the market place that determines their success, and show me a child who submits their entire being to the authority of a parent. From the moment we are born we strive for independence and make our own decisions. We are shaped by the world, but we have a voice and certain human rights which need to constantly be defended if we are to retain them. The promise of democracy is no person, group, corporation, has unlimited power. Checks and balances, limited government, the rule of law, and ultimately, a well developed human conscience are the only protections from the tyranny of the one or the many.

    Democracy is not a gift, and it does not connote moral superiority or just actions. Athenian democracy condemned Socrates to death and today’s American democracy struggles to balance the security needs of the state with the fundamental right of each citizen to privacy enshrined in our constitution. The triumvirate of the French, British and American democracies have been far more successful in expanding their imperial powers, than their ability to spread democratic ideals. And the argument that Western democracies are superior to Totalitarian regimes, is not really a vote of confidence in the system. Still, I prefer democracy.

    I’m an educator because I believe that all people have the capacity to govern themselves and contribute to the human drama. I do not see democratic institutions as static and unshifting, or history as a march of progress. We move forward and we move back. Hopefully, we learn from our mistakes. One lesson I take is not to rely on a Churchill or an Obama, power politics or philanthro-capitalists to make the world a better place. That power is a choice we exercise every day.

    My favorite writer on the Democratic experiment is Thoreau. He lived in a world of ideals, but he prevents us from growing complacent with the status quo.

    “Is a democracy, such as we know it, the last improvement possible in government? Is it not possible to take a step further towards recognizing and organizing the rights of man?”
    ― Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience and Other Essays

  • John Beatty, MA, Mil Hist

    Um, I hate to be a wet blanket, but “democracy” as practiced in the US and Britain strictly speaking is only a way to select those who govern, not a way to govern.

    The democracies in the west are for the most part constitutional republics or monarchies (except Britain, which has yet to write a constitution thought they talk about it off and on). These awkward constructions have developed a de-facto ruling class principally of lawyers who, in the Anglo-Saxon legal system, are all members of private clubs known as bar associations. In this way, we can see that the “democracy” is mostly controlled by those who went to the right schools and did well on tests prepared by academics.

    While all of this may seem cynical it goes to the matter of “democracy is the opiate of the masses.” As we are all aware, Marx’s expression of apparent atheism that religion is the opiate of the masses was not quite what most think. Neither Marx nor Engels had a real heartburn with religion except where it had a tendency to anesthetize the masses from their supposed misery, especially when the oppressors backed and mandated religious belief and practice.

    In sum, we are asking if the method used to select a primarily privileged class of rulers essentially shuts off activism and protest, let alone real interest in the process or the outcome. I’d say that if anything is the 21st century “opiate” it’s the mass media that constantly drums partisan positions into anyone listening..

    “Democracy” isn’t a complete system, in fact or in practice; it’s just a way to choose who dictates what. As for being an analgesic or even a narcotic, in itself it’s too weak and fragmented. The widespread belief that “democracy” is a way of life, however, is somewhat numbing and illusory. From that perspective we can say that it is true, but not in the sense meant.

  • Craig Misajet

    When the term ‘opium of the masses’ comes up it creates a very clear mental image for me. Marx believed that Capitalism was an unnatural state of affairs and that the powers that be, including the Church, were secretly scheming to consolidate their power over the proletariat.

    In a true Democratic system, one in which the rights of the minority are not protected from the will of the majority, the ‘opium of the masses’ model might fit. However, as John B. was kind enough to remind us, the ‘democracies’ of today are not true democracies. The US is a constitutional republic, and as such is a country of laws not majority rule (many of those laws are designed to protect against a true democracy I might add). So a claim that democracy is being used to consolidate power and suppress a ‘lower’ class is baseless in my opinion.

    The entire debate relates to the question of subjective political efficacy, to what extent an individual believes he or she can influence the course of government with their vote and voice. In the US for example their is a political commentator on every corner and in every bar and restaurant. But in 2008 more people cast a vote for the next ‘American Idol’ than for the leader of the free world in the presidential election. Off year elections, or mid-term Congressional elections are tragically humorous when voter turn out numbers are considered. Many in the population believe that they have no political efficacy, and that is the real method by which ‘schemers’ can gain control: make the mob believe they have no say in the system.

    On the question of other democratic systems in society. Generals, Surgeons and CEOs are all subject to the mighty equalizer of a meritocracy. They do not tell the green recruit to pin on some stars and get to work. The general earns his place at the head of an Army. If you wanted to be a surgeon, you would probably go to medical school. Much is the case with the ‘white Anglo-Saxon lawyers’ that rule the government. If you want to hold power in a Republic of Laws, then you should probably have undergone some training on the subject.

    “The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all. I like a little rebellion now and then. It is like a storm in the atmosphere.”
    -Thomas Jefferson

  • Narasingha Sil

    Like every political theory or ideology, democracy appears to be a legitimate enough and even a desirable form of polity, but, and I repeat, but, by default. What is so alarming in this system that it has received such imprimatur and acclaim universally over time that any criticism of or, ironically, following the democratic dicta of “the right to reach the truth even by making errors,” any counter argument to democratic form of government and society would be subjected to the stereotyped binary democracy/dictatorship-despotism-totalitarianism. Hence, democracy, as practiced, often reveals, several pitfalls with impunity, especially, the practice of “consensus building” in smaller (narrower) spheres. As a retired university professor, I have some first-hand experience with this “process” in an institution of higher learning of which I wish I could freely provide a graphic account of consensus building perpetrated by a fearfully fanatical power-hungry misanthrope (I use this term by a purposive choice that I am unable to clarify further) who has succeeded in creating a coterie of academic staff univocally subservient to this individual who is a diminutive incarnation of an Orwellian “big brother.” Consequently, all really qualified and talented applicants to several openings over the years have been brutally eliminated by the consensus machine founded on the express motto “collegiality (read unquestioning conformity) is preferable to intellectuality” (conversely, high academic merits breed elitism, i.e., a despicable “inequality”). And so the department is abuzz with a cabal of heedless and “headless” mediocrities, even some outright nincompoops. It’s a happy utopia of fools and fanatics presided over by a cunning consensus builder.

    I have always been a votary either of a representative government run by what Plato and, following him, the nineteenth-century Utilitarians (they were never a homogeneous group) called the educated and dedicated (conscientious) citizens (reminiscent of the Platonic “Philosopher Kings” or the Rousseauistic or Benthamite “legislators”), or a benevolent (enlightened) despotism or, at best, a meritocracy, and refused to ride the populist bandwagon. For me, the rhetoric of equality–a cantus firmus of the popular democrts–could be, and has often been, a pretext for perpetuating mediocrity.

  • Daniel Weisman

    Regarding Dr. Sil’s post, at the end you express a preference for rule by the “educated and dedicated.” Who decides who is worthy of being part of this benevolent ruling class? It seems such an elite would tend to be self-perpetuating over time and lead to the same venality and corruption that you believe plagues more democratic forms of government. I do not see how such an elite ruling class would not become corrupt absent pressure from the governed. A democratic system in which the governed have the power to remove the governors from power seems to be the best system for minimizing the corruption of power. Note: I am not specifically endorsing a particular format–either Presidential or parliamentary systems can work. The debate over the relative merits of each deserves another discussion altogether. I also recommend the website of, which has the text in English of every Constitution around the world. It is a great reference tool for those researching comparative government.

  • Ed Cote

    Okay, I’ve blown out a bit here, but I’ll try to wrap this up.

    Looking at the problems I have identified, what is their essential nature? What’s really at the root of it all? What do they all have in common? How do we solve such problems?

    I think the solution is not a total reboot. Far from it.

    For one thing, the only way to make a government or economy work in practice is to hybridize models- democracy and republic, a mostly free-market capitalist economy with a TON of “socialist” regulation on top of it specifically to keep anyone (especially the rich) from becoming too powerful. What we had under the New Deal did this, and it worked very well for decades. The New Deal fixed most of the problems of its time. It was sweeping yes, but it was reform, not a reboot.

    Going back to the drawing board and writing a new Constitution would be extremely dangerous in this climate to say the least. It would almost certainly backfire and make things even worse in ways even more intractable.

    The Founders knew they could not conceive of every challenge future generations would face. They could not have imagined an AR-15 or a hydrogen bomb, TV or the internet. What they did do was leave us with a living document that could be changed, grown.


    And that’s what we do. A series of Constitutional amendments. We start with stripping the absurd notion of “corporate personhood”, restoring campaign finance law, and protecting the Internet, the single biggest advancement FOR democracy since the printing press. Then take it from there.

    Then we work on smaller laws, regulations like a new Glass-Stegal. In short, we bring back the New Deal, because WE KNOW IT WORKS.

    And yes, we do need true universal health care. Obamacare is not good or evil, it’s just too little too late. It helps somewhat but makes the key mistake of keeping the for-profit insurance companies (who are really just parasites and only drive up costs with their profit margins) in the system without even giving us a Public Option. The only permanent solution is MEDICARE FOR ALL. Period. I could get a ALOT more by spending $150 a month on Medicare than I could spending twice as much on private insurance. But I don’t even have that choice. I’m force to pay for insurance that doesn’t cover anything I actually do.

    No, laws won’t fix it all. Like I said, much of the problem is actually cultural in nature. Our priorities are wrong. We are mired in challenges but rarely face them honestly. We aren’t willing to sacrifice up front but we tolerate being cheated behind our backs. We don’t invest in our future. We have too many bad ideas and cling to them too fiercely. We love money and guns way too much. We confuse capitalism with democracy when they are in fact completely different and often conflict more than they agree. Well, having 20 different flavors of toothpaste is not freedom.

    Now a quote from Senator Warren:

    “It is not complicated. Our government has three basic functions: provide for the national defense; put in place rules of the road, such as speed limits, and bank regulations that are fair and transparent; and build the things together that none of us can build alone–roads, power grids, schools—the things that give everyone a chance to succeed.”

    That’s basically it. I can boil it down even further: government protects rights and builds infrastructure. That’s it. It’s not supposed to be about Big Oil or Big Brother. It’s just that the Corporate Masters have conned us for 30-40 years into thinking that government was not a PART of the solution but that it was MOST of the problem. And why?

    Because it was THEIR problem.

    Because government was protecting our rights from their deprivations. And at this point only the biggest or most stubborn governments can stand up to them at all. That’s why I call them “TRANSnational” because they have transcended such quaint concepts as human rights and national sovereignty.

    Whew. Okay. Hopefully that ties it all together and it all makes sense now.

    I’m done.

  • Daniel Weisman

    Regarding Dr. Sil’s post, at the end you express a preference for rule by the “educated and dedicated.” Who decides who is worthy of being part of this benevolent ruling class? It seems such an elite would tend to be self-perpetuating over time and lead to the same venality and corruption that you believe plagues more democratic forms of government. I do not see how such an elite ruling class would not become corrupt absent pressure from the governed. A democratic system in which the governed have the power to remove the governors from power seems to be the best system for minimizing the corruption of power. Note: I am not specifically endorsing a particular format–either Presidential or parliamentary systems can work. The debate over the relative merits of each deserves another discussion altogether. I also recommend the website of, which has the text in English of every Constitution around the world. It is a great reference tool for those researching comparative government.

  • James Realini

    Robert Heinlein used to write about people who thought democracy or more correctly democratic-republicanism was inefficient. People get what they vote for, but they still get to choose. If you take away the ability to choose, all of your choices will be made by the “enlightened” and it always seems that they eventually come to the conclusion that “some animals are more equal than others.”
    Mr Fischers’ postulation is typical of the myopic view from the top who only want to make their point of view the only point of view.

  • Robert Davis

    The last Kaiser looked at America’s poverty, racism, and corruption to prefer German Socialism. You have to consider the source but compare Germany then and now to the United States at the same time. I think that the point is well made that no system is best by default but all can be corrupted as easily as reformed.

  • Jack Durish

    Tristan: This is an easy one. A Constitutional Republic.

    Why not look to the past. As a constitutional republic, the United States grew and prospered. It’s people prospered according to their contribution. Yes, the Constitution was flawed. It had been conceived by flawed men. But were were perfecting it. Slavery was abolished. Women’s suffrage was achieved. Denial of civil rights wasn’t a flaw in the Constitution. It was a flaw in those who violated the spirit and intent of the Constitution.

    I truly believe that your goals would be achieved if we picked up where we left off at the end of the 19th Century, incorporate the few good aspects that occurred in the 20th, and continued the march.

    Of course, we can’t. The Constitution is now obscured behind a web of lies from people who promised everything and delivered nothing. Sad…

  • John Beatty, MA, Mil Hist

    I’m glad someone brought up Heinlein, because I thought about his “democratic dictatorship” essay from the ’50s just as I hit the button. Heinlein saw a meritocracy in democratic government that he tried to reconcile with the dictatorships of his time. By allowing only certain people ti govern, he barely saw any reason for it to be responsive to the people’s will. That and TANSTAAFL are his most memorable philosophical moments.

  • peter the painter

    Is a dictator chosen democratically – yes!, sometimes, as in the case of Hitler/Mussolini. But it was a hoodwink. Just as it is a hoodwink now. Whoever gets to the top are elected. The ‘people’ choose only those who are powerful already. Not any different from any hierarchal system. So why lie about it? Hierarchy is like the law of gravity. It is order, why pretend otherwise? – if you want to hoodwink people, thats when. “Democracy leads to Oligarchy” – Aristotle. (Or worse…)

    • Fritz123

      Hitler was never elected. He never had a majority.

      • peter the painter

        Could You Explain ? The relatively recent political ideals of communism and democracy in Europe made the nightmare of that kind of nationalist party possible.

        • Fritz123

          IMHO Hindenburg appointed him to be the leader..not taking him serious.

        • fritz123

          Just see it in Thunderbird again and one though of the day comes to mind again. As you speak of democracy as a political ideal. There is that old Prussian military person von der Wense who wrote about Prussia after 1806 that was very much like Germany after 1945 and the problems were surprisingly similar. But more important and the reason why I write about it was the size of the ideas that did not fit into election periods in the times of spin.

      • peter the painter

        Brown or Juncker weren’t elected either. Cameron didn’t get a majority. Most european countries have vast coalitions who didn’t get a majority. But they still call it ‘democracy’.

        • fritz123

          Nobody cares about Juncker, he is just an official, and Schulz was elected by the EU parliament IMHO that we elected in direct elections or not. Juncker does not more than to make suggestions and all memberstates must agree. They are perfectly free not to do it but sometimes the suggestions are not so bad. The big deal happens at home anyway when the national patliament makes with the EU law what it wants. In general it is much worse than any EU law. You can see this in copyright and in workers.

  • Elisabeth Frankish

    I agree with you. I
    think almost all of us have been deceived since the Crown ‘lost’ 13 colonies in
    the American Revolution in the 1770s. We have all been taught that the
    Patriots won the Revolution, but – have you ever heard anything about
    what the senior-most Loyalists did, after
    they were exiled? History tells us nothing, but I think I know – they
    would have met and analysed “what went wrong” , and they would have
    identified the catalysts for the revolution, then prepared a new set of Standard Ooperating Procedures for “the Establishment and Maintenance of Crown
    Colonies so as to Avoid Revolutions”. A revolution always starts in the
    minds of the people, and so any method which seeks to prevent a
    revolution must also take place in the minds of the people. I think the
    analysis would have identified that the great disparity in wealth
    between the merchant monopolists (who were a normal part of society in
    those days) and the colonists, was the major catalyst of discontent. And
    so, after the American Revolution, a huge undertaking occurred to
    dismantle the merchant monopolists -voluntarily- so as to remove the obvious
    disparity in wealth in the eyes of ‘the people’ who resented them so
    much. This dismantling resulted in smaller independent component
    companies (i.e. separate banks, shipping companies, and merchant trading
    houses) with different names and different heads and different
    addresses to give the appearance of a ‘falling away of the old order’
    (feudalism) . I speculate that ‘free trade’ was also a response to these
    lessons-learned from the American Revolution. I think the press was also employed to reflect the lives of the masses so that the activities of the concealed merchant monopolists became invisible. All of this did successfully
    result in a great sigh of relief from the working and middle classes,
    who no longer perceived such huge disparity in wealth and power. With their
    sigh of relief came another sigh of relief, from the upper classes who
    controlled those now-decentralised merchant monopolies. The dreadful
    truth (I think) is that a capitalistic society needs merchant monopolies- they are
    like the tallest trees in a rain forest, overseeing everything, providing structure, anticipating the needs of the future and providing for them, and
    generally sheltering the rest of the rain forest. The majority of the population
    is like the smaller trees and plants of the rain forest. Many of them really
    have to struggle just to survive, and so it is very natural and understandable that they
    should grow resentful of those ‘tallest trees’ which appear to take far
    more than their fair share of resources – but- what’s so awful is that the
    tallest trees don’t really care about the smallest plants who are
    truly struggling for survival (although, perhaps they could if they chose to). Welcome to the heartache of humanity: the
    natural order of the world which is hierarchy. Humanity is perpetually
    cornered by the majority’s deep yearning for equality and yet equality
    is absolutely not natural if one studies the natural world. And the
    people who controlled the merchant monopolies in days gone past have
    handed down this disturbing truth and the terrible deceit which seems to
    be necessary for peace. And their descendants today want to return the order of the world
    to an overt hierarchy (because they also despise the deceit (but
    possibly for different reasons to most of us)): Hence I agree with you Tristan when you say, “Democracy is the opiate
    of the masses”. The TPPA here in New Zealand which is due to be signed in February is a stepping stone to achieving that overt heirarchy and control once again.

    On another but related topic, have
    you ever wondered why New Zealand has so little economic history, compared to
    other Crown colonies? You might know that the colony of Canada had the
    Hudson’s Bay Company (which was the a Crown- chartered merchant
    monopoly)- well, have you ever wondered what the NZ equivalent is? New Zealanders will say they don’t know. We
    have not been taught to think like that. We have also not been told that
    NZ did have a merchant monopoly in its colonial years which was
    concealed by interlocking directorates. We have also not been told what
    happened to the enormous wealth which would have been generated in those
    early colonial years- which will now exist as private capital,
    somewhere. In my opinion, New Zealand is the product of the new Standard Operating Procedures for the Establishment and Maintenance of Crown Colonies so as to Avoid Revolutions- because, we are one of the first ever Crown Colonies to have not had a revolution!

    But, right now, NZ Police are preparing for riots to occur with the signing of the TPPA. It’s the same old story all over again.

    What’s the solution? To tell the truth and to have the truth
    be told about our history, is a first step.

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