Tag Archive: elections

Democracy, majortiy rule, tyranny

And indeed, it is not difficult to show that a theory of democratic control can be developed which is free of the paradox of sovereignty. The theory I have in mind is one which does not proceed, as it were, from a doctrine of the intrinsic good­ness or righteousness of a majority rule, but rather from the baseness of tyranny; or more precisely, it rests upon the decision, or upon the adoption of the proposal, to avoid and to resist tyranny.

For we may distinguish two main types of government. The first type consists of governments of which we can get rid without bloodshed—for example, by way of general elections; that is to say, the social institutions provide means by which the rulers may be dismissed by the ruled, and the social traditions ensure that these institutions will not easily be destroyed by those who are in power. The second type consists of governments which the ruled cannot get rid of except by way of a successful revolution—that is to say, in most cases, not at all. I suggest the term ‘democracy’ as a short-hand label for a government of the first type, and the term ‘tyranny’ or ‘dictatorship’ for the second. [ch. 7, 136]

The empty shell of democracy

[Tariq Ali:] What we are witnessing is that democracy is becoming more and more denuded of content. It’s like an empty shell. And this is what is angering young people who feel whatever we do, whatever we vote for, nothing changes.

Informed consent of the governed

State control of information and the ability to manipulate it makes the right to vote largely meaningless. That is why people like Julian Assange are so essential to democratic choice.

Conferring legitimacy on democratic inputs

In fixating in these ways on ‘the simple act of voting’, political scientists are not alone. In many ways, they thereby mimic longstanding concerns of democratic theory itself. Voting has long been regarded as the consummate act of democratic citizenship. For literally centuries, extending the franchise was the great democratic project. ‘Free and fair elections’ remain among its greatest contemporary aspirations. An inclusive franchise and regular elections are rightly regarded as sine qua non of liberal democratic politics worldwide.

All of those are undeniably indispensable elements of democratic rule. All of my discussions presuppose them; none of my mechanisms can claim any democratic legitimacy without them. But in such ays on those simple acts of voting and aggregating votes can blind us to important cognitive processes that precede and shape those ultimate political acts. …

Here I shall try to refocus democratic theory, at least in part, on processes preceding the vote. More unconventionally still, I shall be concerned primarily with the processes that occur within the heads of individual voters, rather than within the formally political realm. Various elements of the democratic process (free speech, free association, free entry of new parties, and such like) have always been regarded as essential elements of the democratic competition. What are less often noticed, and to which I shall here direct most of my attention, are the more ‘internal reflective’ concomitants of democratic political discussions. [11]

Creating wealth and wisdom ex nihilo

The essence of democratic decision-making is not the choice made by the system at elections, but the ideas created between elections. And elections are merely one of the many institutions whose function is to allow such ideas to be created, tested, modified and rejected. The voters are not a fount of wisdom from which the right policies can be empir­ically ‘derived’. They are attempting, fallibly, to explain the world and thereby to improve it. They are, both individually and collectively, seeking the truth – or should be, if they are rational. And there is an objective truth of the matter. Problems are soluble. Society is not a zero-sum game: the civilization of the Enlightenment did not get where it is today by cleverly sharing out the wealth, votes or anything else that was in dispute when it began. It got here by creating ex nihilo. In particular, what voters are doing in elections is not synthesizing a decision of a superhuman being, ‘Society’. They are choosing which experiments are to be attempted next, and (principally) which are to be abandoned because there is no longer a good explanation for why they are best. The politicians, and their policies, are those experiments. [345]

Decision-making: choosing explanations

To choose an option, rationally, is to choose the associated explanation. Therefore, rational decision-making consists not of weighing evidence but of explaining it, in the course of explaining the world. One judges arguments as explan­ations, not justifications, and one does this creatively, using conjecture, tempered by every kind of criticism. It is in the nature of good explanations – being hard to vary – that there is only one of them. Having created it, one is no longer tempted by the alternatives. They have been not outweighed, but out-argued, refuted and abandoned. During the course of a creative process, one is not struggling to distinguish between countless different explanations of nearly equal merit; typically, one is struggling to create even one good explanation, and, having succeeded, one is glad to be rid of the rest. [341]