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Thread: On democracy

  1. #11
    Allergic to Mornings ergophobe's Avatar
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    Maybe we should start with defining democracy. Even within political science, there is real disagreement as to how it should be defined. Once we know what we're looking for, we can better ascertain if we have it or what we have is an illusion of it.

    Some clarification on other terms used here. A republic is simply a state that does not have a monarch at its head.

    Democracy, as I think you are defining it, LJ, is a liberal democracy, the democracy of all democracies, an ideal type. None exists and none will ever exist in that form because ideal types do not exist in the real world. We can only aspire to them This, of course, should not be an excuse to justify the failure of a state to examine how far it has reached along this path to getting close to this ideal type.

    A democracy, in its most basic form is a country that has competitive elections to important executive positions. More countries than we would like to think meet this condition. More do now than ever before, that itself is heartening.

    A liberal democracy can be defined as a country that possesses:
    1. Competitive Elections
    2. Rule of Law
    3. Separation of powers
    4. Respect for civil liberties

    Most countries fall short of this second definition. Even the Western democracies in which most of us reside fall short of meeting this ideal type much of the time. A case in point, the most recent Economist has an article on Amnesty that addresses human rights abuses particularly in these Western democracies and by these Western democracies in other parts of the world.

    Everyone knows that the people never have a say in anything important. Not even during revolutions. It is only the leaders - corporate, religious, political etc - that rules.
    There are two ways in which people can have a say in democracies -- only through elections and some form of referenda for direct votes on policy issues. The first exists and we do have a say in electing our representatives. That is how most democratic institutions are set up.

    Take the case of California, on the other hand, where people do have more of a say, more regularly, on actual policy issues. I'm not convinced their system of direct democracy works better. Proposition 8 and the problems the government is having in even correcting budget issues is pretty crazy.

    The ideal type you speak of not only has perfectly responsive institutions but it also has perfectly responsible citizens. Perfectly responsible implies perfectly informed. We don't meet the ideal type necessary for this perfect democracy, how can we expect our institutions to meet this impossible ideal type?

    Finally, it may interest you to know that the Athenian democracy did not only NOT allow women and slaves and people who did not own land to not run for elections but also not all senators were elected. Many of them were pulled through a form of lottery. Yes, names out of a hat, ladies and gentlemen.



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  2. #12
    Supreme Allied Commander Take Five's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ergophobe View Post
    Maybe we should start with defining democracy. Even within political science, there is real disagreement as to how it should be defined. Once we know what we're looking for, we can better ascertain if we have it or what we have is an illusion of it.

    Some clarification on other terms used here. A republic is simply a state that does not have a monarch at its head.

    Democracy, as I think you are defining it, LJ, is a liberal democracy, the democracy of all democracies, an ideal type. None exists and none will ever exist in that form because ideal types do not exist in the real world. We can only aspire to them This, of course, should not be an excuse to justify the failure of a state to examine how far it has reached along this path to getting close to this ideal type.

    A democracy, in its most basic form is a country that has competitive elections to important executive positions. More countries than we would like to think meet this condition. More do now than ever before, that itself is heartening.

    A liberal democracy can be defined as a country that possesses:
    1. Competitive Elections
    2. Rule of Law
    3. Separation of powers
    4. Respect for civil liberties

    Most countries fall short of this second definition. Even the Western democracies in which most of us reside fall short of meeting this ideal type much of the time. A case in point, the most recent Economist has an article on Amnesty that addresses human rights abuses particularly in these Western democracies and by these Western democracies in other parts of the world.



    There are two ways in which people can have a say in democracies -- only through elections and some form of referenda for direct votes on policy issues. The first exists and we do have a say in electing our representatives. That is how most democratic institutions are set up.

    Take the case of California, on the other hand, where people do have more of a say, more regularly, on actual policy issues. I'm not convinced their system of direct democracy works better. Proposition 8 and the problems the government is having in even correcting budget issues is pretty crazy.

    The ideal type you speak of not only has perfectly responsive institutions but it also has perfectly responsible citizens. Perfectly responsible informs perfectly informed. We don't meet the ideal type necessary for this perfect democracy, how can we expect our institutions to meet this impossible ideal type?

    Finally, it may interest you to know that the Athenian democracy did not only NOT allow women and slaves and people who did not own land to not run for elections but also not all senators were elected. Many of them were pulled through a form of lottery. Yes, names out of a hat, ladies and gentlemen.



    2.
    What you're describing is basically a republic. Government by representatives chosen by the people. Republic is not just the absence of a monarch-- or else oligarchy, aristocracy, socialist states, and maybe even theocracy would be classified as republics automatically.

    Pure democracy is when the whole citizenry votes for everything. We don't see that in the real world because it's impractical.
    Johari Nohari

    "If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared. "--Niccolo Machiavelli

  3. #13
    Allergic to Mornings ergophobe's Avatar
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    Yes, dictatorships can be republics. Republics can be democracies but they are different concepts.

    I think there may be a confusion here regarding republicanism and a republic. Clarifying these may help.

  4. #14
    Supreme Allied Commander Take Five's Avatar
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    Ah, yes. My Americanized definition of republic is indirect democracy, which I believe is what Your Local Jesus is meaning.

    On that, I say the same as what I earlier wrote. People's sway in such structures depends largely on political participation--esp. voting. And because people know so little about politics (e.g. bills), the question is whether you really want idealized democracy to be in effect. I think the more frequent elections are, the more sway citizens will have--but I don't think that's necessarily good.
    Johari Nohari

    "If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared. "--Niccolo Machiavelli

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    Quote Originally Posted by Take Five View Post
    On that, I say the same as what I earlier wrote. People's sway in such structures depends largely on political participation--esp. voting. And because people know so little about politics (e.g. bills), the question is whether you really want idealized democracy to be in effect. I think the more frequent elections are, the more sway citizens will have--but I don't think that's necessarily good.
    Yes, in some ways this ties into the classic representation versus efficiency argument. It would be more representative to have more frequent elections that better tap into public mood. Having said that, frequent changes in government implies inefficient policy making (every time a new government comes in, a new consensus has to be formed to collect enough votes), training a new group of people, lack of consistency in policy making. Also, as you said, frequent elections assume:
    1. People are informed
    2. They know what they want, as a group

    Neither of the above two conditions hold.

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    Branded with Satan murkrow's Avatar
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    I wish there were some monarchies worth living in. I'd haul ass outta here.
    wails from the crypt.

  7. #17
    Sniffles
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    Liberal democracy certainly is bullshit. I support the kind of democracy the Swiss have, which is more direct and locally based. Centralized power is a death nail to any form of geniune democracy. Decentralized power is the key here.

    Democracy is not perfect, largely because humans are not perfect. Alexis de Tocqueville certainly noted many of the flaws and dangers of democracies, particularly their tendencies to degenerate into "tyrannies of the majority". I also like his observation that because all perspectives have a say in a democracy; people often mistakenly assume all perspectives have equal merit. That's not true, but we've really fallen deep into this lately!

    Also in order for democracy to really work, you need an informed public. That's certainly impossible to achieve when the major sources of information are governed by principles of providing cheap entertainment(like loud mouth pundits) for a quick buck. People also need to be part of geniune communities with deep ties. An atomised mass of random individuals thrown together(which is basic to Liberal political theory) makes this difficult. In fact it makes it inevitable for the government to interfere more in peoples' lives and resort to more arbitrary power.

    There's simply too much to this issue for me to explain at once.

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    Quote Originally Posted by murkrow View Post
    I wish there were some monarchies worth living in. I'd haul ass outta here.
    Interesting... two types I am aware of:

    1. The Persian Gulf. Taxes are not necessary so neither is representation. Without representation, civil liberties don't need to be guaranteed.

    2. Britain before democratization. Taxation necessary thus a demand for representation and finally better protection of civil liberties. Nor a constitutional monarchy.

    What makes a monarchy an attractive place to live, I am curious.

  9. #19
    Sniffles
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    I haven't gotten around to reading it fully, but Hans-Hermann Hoppe's Democracy: The God That Failed certainly sheds considerable light on this issue.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Peguy View Post
    Liberal democracy certainly is bullshit. I support the kind of democracy the Swiss have, which is more direct and locally based. Centralized power is a death nail to any form of geniune democracy. Decentralized power is the key here.
    The idea of centralization/decentralization is separate from the idea of democracy but I do agree with you that decentralization helps. I think what you are referring to is federalism though (bringing government closer to local contexts such as in the Swiss cantons which makes sense. Federal institutions help democracy become more stable particularly in more diverse areas.

    Democracy is not perfect, largely because humans are not perfect. Alexis de Tocqueville certainly noted many of the flaws and dangers of democracies, particularly their tendencies to degenerate into "tyrannies of the majority".
    Very true.Both France and the United States, Tocqueville's two cases of comparison use majoritarian systems that may lead to the tyranny of the majority. Most of Europe, on the other hand, uses proportional representation which does not concentrate on representation for the majority but representation for as many people as possible. It allows more parties to participate and thus is more reflective of society. The pros and cons are debatable but the larger point is that democracy is not synonomous with majoritarianism. Majoritarianism is just one type of institution that may be adopted in a democracy.

    Also in order for democracy to really work, you need an informed public. That's certainly impossible to achieve when the major sources of information are governed by principles of providing cheap entertainment(like loud mouth pundits) for a quick buck. People also need to be part of geniune communities with deep ties. An atomised mass of random individuals thrown together(which is basic to Liberal political theory) makes this difficult. In fact it makes it inevitable for the government to interfere more in peoples' lives and resort to more arbitrary power.
    I concur with most of what you say. I would like to understand the rest better. Are you referring to sensationalism in the media? When you speak of genuine communities - are you referring to the idea of social capital that Tocqueville and more recently Putnam have talked about in aiding democracy?

    I'm not sure how liberal political theory leads to atomised individuals. Are you implying a stress on individual rights makes us less likely to consider the group?

    Interesting ideas...I want to make sure I understand them.

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