Monday, August 08, 2005

A Few Thoughts On Democracy

All men yearn to be free, thus we hold democracy to be the highest form of government. It is the governance of a nation with the will of the people being its foremost concern. However freedom is not merely the absence of restraints; it also entails the acceptance of responsibility for one's own self, as well as an obligation to respect the views of others. This means, not simply that one allows those one disagrees with to speak freely, but that one accepts their decisions, namely, when the majority vote into office a candidate that one finds disagreeable, it is incumbent upon one, if in the minority, to abide by that decision. It means that while one may speak out against those policies chosen by the majority of citizens of one's country, one must not obstruct or attempt to subvert the will of the people.

Ironically, freedom requires that one voluntarily restrain one self to a greater degree than would be asked in a dictatorship. Many a times, self discipline is far more challenging than the obeying of externally imposed rules, as it requires self-awareness, self-knowledge & a brutally honest assessment of one's own strengths & weaknesses. This is not an easy thing to do.

Perhaps the most dangerous enemy of democracy is hubris. As humans, we are by our nature egocentric. Were we to allow this base impulse to run amuck & hold our own opinion in a higher regard than that of others, it would be very easy to delude one-self into believing that subversion of the democratic process via overthrow of an elected government is justifiable as "I-know-better-than-those-idiots-who-voted-for- (fill in the blank)". In many ways the democratic political system & egalitarian social system hand-in-hand, perhaps this is one explanation for the difficulty in establishing democracy in some places.

One of the most challenging aspects of democracy is accepting the fact that one is bound to accept the choices of others, no matter how much one disagrees with them. As in a democracy, a government of the people, for the people by the people, the people are for the most part the majority, it can be argued that democracy is the tyranny of the majority. It is not easy to accept that a minority, no matter how large, is not justified in overthrowing a majority with whom they vehemently disagree. It means having faith in & respecting all voters of the country: at this time, that even includes Jane Fonda.

In way, being the "losers" in a democracy is a lot like being part of the "loser" crowd in high school. We all want to popular, we all want to be liked, we all like it when everyone agrees with us, & to realize that it isn't so, hurts. The democratic process means that we must all agree to disagree, a concept that is much easier said than done. The practice of democracy, as in any good thing, is challenging.

Yes, democracy is flawed & democracy is difficult, however, it is the best form of government on this earth. It is the only form of government which views all of its citizens as equals, no matter the accidents of birth such race & gender or attained status such as social class. Indeed, it is only in the ballot box of a democracy does the utopian fantasy of eradication of all social distinctions does come true, even momentarily. In there, it is one person, one vote & the vote of a truck driver carries the same weight as that of a Harvard professor. The democratic process serves as a correction for the persistent & inevitable social inequalities. The core ideals of democracy are equality & individual liberty, the noblest of ambitions. It is incumbent upon those of us who enjoy its privileges to defend it & share it with others.

Your very wise indeed .. and I agree ..
Well-written. As you say, it's sometimes hard to accept that the majority might include people like Hanoi Jane, but those are the rules, and I'd rather live in a democracy than any other type of government (aside from the Kingdom of Jimania, that is!).
Thanks, you guys.

Hmmm...the Kingdom of Jimania, I must confess I did not consider that possiblity :)
NYgirl...I couldn't have said it better my self. You rock my dear.

Now only if you were single lol

Thanks Ron. Sorry, I'm off the market :)
Hear! Hear!
Well said, nygirl.
Nice essay! Two points to expand upon:

1) Being a loser in high school is probably more difficult because (in most HS's at least), the law of the jungle prevails. I.e., one is not necessarily assured of getting a fair shot at status via an accepted process the next time around. (At least at the HS I went to, the realization that the losers and the winners would reverse in real life seemed a remote idea at best.)

2) The differences between traditional 'left' and 'right' views of democracy differ - among other things - on what one should accept. Thomas Sowell outlines this brilliantly in his 1987 book "A Conflict of Visions".

For those with what Sowell calls a "constrained vision" (aka, conservatives, loosely speaking), acceptance and restraint are possible, even laudable because one holds fairness of process on the highest pedestal. For those with what he calls an "unconstrained vision" of human nature and society's potential for change (again, loosely speaking), the paramount virtue is fairness of result.

One implication of the unconstrained view is that individuals need not show as much restraint if the "wrong" person wins and election because a "bad" outcome equates quite directly to a bad system - i.e., uneducated voters, (sounding familiar yet?)

It's a great book that I've summarized much too succinctly, but worth a look because it explains how the utterly different definitions words such as 'fair' and 'just' and 'equal' that seem like they ought to mean the same thing to everyone turn into massive misunderstandings on the larger political stage. As for me, I'll take my democracy straight up. Viva street smarts, common sense and the common man empowered. Keep up the good blogging, NYG!
NY Girl,
Yes, democracy is flawed--because humans are fallible. And with democracy, comes responsibilites. Those who have abrogated their responsiblities cause problems. I can't stand it that certain individuals gripe and gripe when a united front is needed.

The fact remains that democracy is better, by far, than other alternatives--despite the flaws.
Great post!
Hi & welcome Always on Watch & Pat in NC. Thanks for your comments :-)

As you mention, always on watch, we as humans are flawed creatures & with freedom comes responsibity. It's like when you're an adult, no one tells you when to go to bed, but you'd better be able to wake up & go to work alert or you will not be able to pay your bills.

Thanks Seth, I'm really flatterd. I hope I'll be able to get my head out the door (just kidding).

Koyabashi, thank-you for the kind words. You're right, high school was much worse :-)

The uncontrained vision that Sowell mentions (I was debating if to bring it up, but that would have meant mentioning a few others too & would have made the post too long & bulky) is very scary. As he & you mention , who decides what is fair & just, & where do you draw the line. This is how almost all dictatorships began.

Flawed though it might be, I too prefer to take my democracy straight up.

I can't tell you how heartend I am to see so many people who support real democracy.
Of course, NY Girl, there are some who are furious that "the vote of a truck driver carries the same weight as that of a Harvard professor". Their reasoning is: Don't truck drivers (and the rest of us) know who our betters are and why won't we defer to them?

To our self-declared betters, countries that carry names like the Peoples' Republic of Outer Vulgaria are the Real Democracies.
excellent post, i'm impressed... indeed, democracy is flawed in that it leaves itself wide open to misuse by those who act for personal gain, but it is also very controllable if the electorate has the wit and the means to being able to participate in a meaningful fashion..
keep well
Nice Post.

Democracy can flourish only if the majority understands that the Government is to protect the minority from the majority but to serve all of them....
Nice Post. Very well written..
Hi & welcome @mit. Thanks Bart & H2So4
I don't mean to act like Poli Sci major, but your view of democracy is overly expansive and imprecise.
Democacy is rule by the masses. It is an egalitarian sledgehammer against which the walls of tradition, individual rights, and societal institutions are plywood walls.
It provides for no defense of rights, other than the hope that the masses are smart enough to become majoritarian opressors. (Do you really think that the average person will intuitively understand game theory or utility maximization over continuous and intergeneration iterations?)

Pure democracy is far more likely to produce one majority, one time results, despotism, or into a reign of terror than a stable system.

You are actually conflating Democracy with liberal constitutional system built on large scale sufferage and shared values. (This is commonly known as Liberal Democracy.)

I not certain that Americans give anything but lip service to our rights or the Constitutional protections thereof. We just signed away more sovereignty in the name of free trade with the passage of CAFTA.
Two weeks ago, the House of Representatives changed the rules of the vote to ensure maximum support, while disenfranchising two opposing Republicans.
Today, we have a spat between Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter and Judge Robert over which branch of government has greater authority to reinterprit the Constitutional protections and limitations out of existence.

We speak of Democracy, while increasingly signing away the subjects on which we can vote to a Judicial Oligarchy, international elites, and the interest group-bureaucracy-media complex.
I think it was Churchill who said that democracy was the worst form of government, until you considered the alternatives.

I'm sure that Churchill never majored in political science, and that he had a narrow view of what democracy actually was, or the kind of democracy that he preferred.

What I'm sure most people believe that democracy is about, is the ability of the people to select (and deselect) their elected representatives.

The problem with using the will of the majority, is that the majority is often wrong.
Hi & welcome RonL. You're right, I did not get into the nitty gritty too much, but as Shipwrecks said, democracy is bad until you consider the alternatives.

As you mention, the judicial elites & internation elites & special interest groups undermine & work against democracy. Democracy must be defended continually & we have let down our guard all too often.
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