That people’s first reaction to questioning democracy is anger ought to tell you a lot.
This fellow @Voxday was on Twitter advocating direct over representative democracy. I made the point that direct democracy is insane (and did not, by implication, disagree that so is representative democracy). He marshaled his facts and retorted that I was a moron and that I held to 18th century views. Which, I think, proves my point, only more so. Not only is direct democracy insane, it drives those who hold to it batty.
Now to qualify (as much as possible in 750 words). If you’re on a small island with two other people in their right minds, a direct democracy might appeal. But if one of you three is an expert in survival tactics, it would be insane to form a democracy instead of (a modified) monarchy. And since it’s likely one person will have superior necessary skills, one leader is better than three.
For the same reason, captains of boats don’t share responsibility because, as all experience proves, that while some captains will sometimes cause their ships to flounder, making decisions dictatorially (as it were) is far more protective than harmful.
Direct democracy insists “all adults” vote on all decisions. What’s an “adult”? Who decides? All adults vote on it? But that’s circular. All people vote first on defining “adult”? Do we include infants in this list of “all people”? Appealing to “common sense” (to decide not only who is an adult but to decide anything) is to move from direct democracy to something else, where something other than the will of the people is sovereign. Like Reality, or God. (I’m all for both.)
A bridge in Spokane needs replacing. How much should be spent on it? In a direct democracy, all adults (assuming we know what this means) must gather to vote on the matter. There are a lot of bridges in this country, and a great deal of other matters to be decided. How far from the curb should the stop signs be in Charlevoix, Michigan? Boy, we’d be pretty busy voting, no? In other words, it’s insane. And that’s not all.
What should be the punishment for breaking a law? What should the laws be? Who decides right and wrong? The direct will of the people? That is insane, and obviously so. The madness of fickleness of crowds guarantees that, sooner rather than later, a direct democracy will vote itself into error. Let’s attack Sparta! Again! If there is no appeal to Truth and Reality, which cannot be voted on, then a direct democracy must fail.
Of course, as a direct democracy we can vote whether to delegate all small matters to smaller, local units. And we can leave the big stuff to bodies that are freed from thinking about the mundane. Which is to say, we can start with a direct democracy to implement a representative democracy. This appears to be an improvement. And it is. It is closer to the principle of subsidiarity, which (to quote a succinct Wiki) “is an organizing principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. Political decisions should be taken at a local level if possible, rather than by a central authority.”
Representative democracies that don’t acknowledge Truth and Reality are just as prone to failure as direct democracies, though the former have the advantage of discovering a greater variety of ways to go insane.
The fellow with whom I was arguing said, “‘Representative democracy’ is a lie” (the scare quotes are original). Well, and so it is if that government does not hold to Truth and Reality. Vox also said, “Representative democracy is a wolfpack telling a herd of sheep that they will respect their wishes, then doing what they want.” This isn’t quite right.
If a representative democracy holds (to at least a large extent) to Truth and Reality and which honors subsidiarity, then it can reach rational decisions. Not always. Nobody’s perfect. No, the problem comes in over-representation, which appears to be the thing Vox hates—and which he should hate.
Over-representation is the move away from subsidiarity towards centralization. Instead of village men voting for county representatives who in turn vote for regional representatives who in turn vote for state representatives who in turn vote for higher bodies which in turn vote for leaders (you get the idea), the lower tiers are shorn or their influence removed and we move toward oligarchy and tyranny. Vox’s wolf pack.
Which is exactly what has always happened. And which is obviously happening to us now. The solution, however, is not to turn to direct democracy, which is insane.
I remind the reader that a complete political theory cannot be completed in 750 words.
Update. Say, even the raving Salon agrees: Can the people be trusted with democracy?