Demon Democracy

by David MacGregor

Well, it's official. Hamas won the Palestinian election fair and square. Democracy in action.

And people are not happy! George Bush is not happy, but he's putting a brave face on it, and trying to work out how to deal with a democratic outcome which he cannot tolerate. Tony Blair and the Europeans are not happy, and like the US, they are threatening to withdraw financial aid to the Palestinians, unless Hamas renounces violence and its stated policy of wanting the destruction of Israel.

It reminds me of when Austria voted in a far-right (neo-nazi?) party some time ago. The election was fair and valid, but the result was not to other people's liking - so pressure was put to bear, to remove the ugly democratic sore from the body politic.

Such is the unpredictability of this system we worship called "democracy". But these sort of results are not new, nor are they pathbreaking. Remember, Hitler's National Socialist Party rose to power on the basis of first being voted representation via the democratic process.

You see, there is nothing inherent to the system of democracy itself that will stop it from turning into a more rabid version - "mobocracy" - rule by the mob.

Of course, democracy is already "rule by the mob" - but we don't like to consider the implications of that fact.

The much vaunted push for democracy worldwide is a complete crock. Democracy is simply not worth the effort. It's not a moral system of governance. It's not a panacea for the world's woes. It's not even a guarantee of economic progress. It is simply a method of social and political organisation that allows people to vote for their rulers and the rules themselves.

This may produce reasonable results, where reasonable people are doing the voting. But what happens when unreasonable people are given such power? How to you feel about homeless drug addicts voting? Or criminals? Or lazy good-for-nothings? Or pedophiles? Or drunken layabouts and hooligans?

In my pre-anarchist days, I used to be a great supporter of the idea that only certain people be allowed to vote. For example: people who had proven themselves as self-responsible and self- supporting. Or people who were NOT feeding at the public trough in some way - like all government workers, and those employed directly or indirectly by the state. Or only those NOT on welfare or who don't receive government handouts of some sort.

In my "perfect" democracy, only those who actually paid taxes could have anything to say about the running of government. And only those who had proven they had the capacity to think and ponder over the issues of governance could possibly vote.

I actually believed that if one could just improve the quality of the average voter, then one could improve the quality of those voted in! There is some truth to that, of course, but it doesn't get down to the nitty-gritty of what is actually wrong with democracy as such. You see, there are no perfect people, and hence there is no perfect democracy.

By raising democracy to "god" status, as the means to guarantee freedom and progress around the world, we are in fact releasing a demon genie out of the bottle - and perhaps the Hamas victory is but one indication of the potential consequences.

Consider the Middle East in general. In most cases, these countries are governed by a corrupt elite. The Palestinians themselves were governed such - by Fatah, whom they widely regarded as bloated and corrupt. Hamas didn't come to power because of their suicide bomb policy, but because they have earned the trust of the people as an uncorrupt organisation.

People all over the Middle East would probably like to replace their corrupt (Western-supported) leaders and systems, with something more akin to their own liking - an Islamic state, for example. And it is perfectly logical. If the majority of people are committed Muslims, then it doesn't take much imagination to realise they would likely vote accordingly.

We've seen the same phenomenon in Iraq, where their nascent democracy is in reality turning into a Shia government - as a result of the fact that Shia are the majority.

Advocates of "limited" government also recognise the inherent dangers of untrammelled democracy, and suggest that unless such democracy is limited in some way, then it would simply become mobocracy.

The USA was the first country in the world to recognise this, and explicitly created a state as a republic - a democracy limited by a constitution. The idea of the constitution was to put a limit on what any elected government could do. The underlying principle of this constitution was the recognition of individual rights.

What this meant was, the process of voting could only go so far. You could vote for your congressman. You could vote for a bigger army. You could vote for what public holidays you wanted. But you couldn't vote to imprison all blacks, kill all native Indians, or steal 50% of the assets of wealthy individuals!

The whole idea behind such a constitutionally limited government was to prevent abuses of mob power, to prevent mobocracy.

Well, if you haven't been asleep the last 100 years, you'll know that this idea has failed. The US Constitution is a toothless tiger, a worthless piece of paper. It has been shredded and trampled on by countless politicians, political parties - and, of course, the very people who voted them in.

It's an experiment that failed. Which brings into question the very idea of democracy - and the idea that it can be limited by such a document. Obviously not. When politicians (and their voters) get a whiff of the power available to them, then all bets are off. Who needs or wants limits on democratic power?

If the poor are hungry, let's vote money out of the wealthier people's pockets to feed them. If the children are uneducated, let's vote other people's money to fix it. If the people are sick and unhealthy, lets vote the required funds from "somewhere" to alleviate the situation. If the state is on a military adventure, let's vote them unlimited funds to wage their wars.

If it was possible to limit the nastier consequences of democracy by means of a constitution that protected individual rights, then I wouldn't need to be writing missives like this to remind you of your right to keep the money you earn. I wouldn't need to remind you that taxation is theft - and that playing "goody-two- shoes" with other people's money is not the hallmark of a generous person, but of a deranged mind.

Governments of all western democracies (and their supporters) are on a binge. They are on a roll. They are drunk with their own power and influence. They are steamrolling in the fascist state - on the wings of democracy. And guess what? This is entirely proper. Yes, we have the right to vote in our own fascist state. What is to stop us? As long as the majority want it, and vote for it, who is to criticise us? We have democracy on our side - just like Hamas does!

If we want, we can vote the grass from under your feet. We can vote to imprison you without trial. We can vote for a secret police to clean up society and arrest your neighbour if you don't like him. We can vote to eliminate all the people you consider undesirable. And we can vote ourselves into prosperity!

Bollocks of course, but this is the popular wisdom. This is the great moral crusade our leaders have embarked on - to bring democracy to the world. God bless them!

Is there an alternative? Well, I hope so, or we're all doomed. From a pragmatic point of view, I much prefer the idea of running a country like a business - with a CEO and Board of Directors.

We, the citizens, would be like shareholders, and could vote in the Annual General Meeting. Of course, running the country is not something we could vote on directly, as our rights as shareholders would be limited to putting people on and off the Board. And of course, the CEO would be answerable to the Board of Directors, who in turn would not be able to do anything to reduce the value of the shareholders' stake in the "business."

A corporate structure has many advantages - one of them being the clarity of purpose, which is to maximise the value of the company's shares, so as to benefit each and every shareholder.

All shareholders are ideally created equal, so when the company's fortunes rise or fall, each shareholder is directly involved in the result, good or bad. A company cannot demand I hand over shares in order to give more to "needy" shareholders. It cannot force me to give up my shares in favour of some altruistic enterprise. No, the business of business is to make profit - for all those involved.

The nearest examples of such a style of governance is in the way countries such as Singapore or Dubai are run - as "city states," with a sort of benign ruler at the helm. They are more like neo-monarchies than anything else, but such an arrangement can be a lot more successful than the democratic alternative. And if this model was "converted" to a full business model, then it could point to an interesting future.

Under a businesslike city state arrangement, one could change states as easily as selling up your shares in one, in order to purchase shares in another. Citizenship would then be as simple as selling or buying it. And under such conditions, states would compete for citizens, by being good and competent managers of each shareholder's financial interest.

If you didn't like the "rules" in one state, then you'd simply shop around for a state you did like - and purchase your shareholding accordingly.

The essence of such a social/political arrangement would be the element of voluntarism that existed. You would not be forced to support a corrupt regime, or one which had a different business philosophy to your own. You would not be forced to "belong" to any state if you disliked their rules and policies. No, you would be free to "secede," free to take yourself (and your money) to where you could gain the greatest personal advantage.

Democracy is an idea whose time has gone. And "limited" government is an idea that has proven incapable of restraining democracy from becoming plain old mobocracy.

It's time to search for an alternative. 

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February 1, 2006

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