For centuries now, democracy in some form or another has been hailed as the absolute gold standard for civilisation to work towards. The people voting for those whom so profess their ability to not only govern, but provide, through medium of philosophy, policy and politics, the best conditions possible for people to enjoy the best quality of life possible.
It is actually quite a simple principle, and one which should be quite straightforward, at face value. I mean, allow people to vote on who they want to be led by, what ideas they want to adopt and how they want them implemented. The nuances of ‘who’ count as ‘the people’, the idea of being ‘led’ and the boundless nuances of philosophy aside, as an idea, it is pretty simple.
In recent years, however, it has become increasingly apparent that it never bloody works. Not really. Far from being a megaphone for the voice of the electorate, it is merely a mechanism to achieving power for self-serving politicians. Democracy in most manifestations essentially boils down to two viable options. In almost every western country, there is a guarantee- a factual certainty- that one of two parties will win. Those parties become vessels of power fetishism and self service to those who get involved.
The EU referendum perfectly illustrated this point, the one that ‘democracy’ as it was supposed to have been is a myth, a fairy tale; an easily spun trigger-word in the armoury of the powers that be. The people voted, in the most ‘democratically’ legitimate election of our time, answering a simple question of ‘in or out’ with a yes or no paradigm. One person. One vote. 17.4million people voted to leave, 33.6 million people voted over all; 72.3% of the total electorate participated in the referendum.
But it wasn’t that simple, was it? Even though we voted to leave the EU in all its current forms, we voted to leave its jurisdiction and its precedence over our parliament, it was met with dismissal. It was met with challenge at all angles, and not by the electorate- that’s fine, and obvious- but by our politicians; the lines became blurred as soon as we voted on something that stood to affect the balance of power, the status quo. Suddenly, the electorate was racist, stupid, misinformed, misguided, had been deceived, had been out right lied to! Suddenly, it was so that we were not capable of making such a decision. Suddenly, because it didn’t work for those in power, democracy became undesirable, became void.
How is this? How is it that when we vote on a simple question with two clear, simple outcomes- regardless of repercussions. Remember, we were warned of all this destruction and devastation (which is yet to come, unless rising wages, living standards, GDP and a strong pound are devastating consequences ) and we STILL voted to leave. We knew, and as such democracy became a battle of the spin-doctor’s and the celebrity activists so vain as to think they have relevance or influence.
In other terms, democracy was revealed for the flawed reality that it is, exemplified perfectly by the most fundamental of those flaws: in the majority getting what they want, the minority losing out. And the minority, in this case, was 16.1 million people. Now, don’t get me wrong here, majority rule is as far as I am concerned fine. In fact, it makes sense. But majorities in politics, and as such democracy are not as black and white as at first it may seem, because majority opinion is fluid. Most people wanted to leave the EU, for example, but those people are not bound by this similarity. If exactly the same group of people that voted to leave the European Union were to vote on, say, abolition of the monarchy, the decision there would undoubtably be split. Take those in favour of monarchy abolition and make them vote on something like bringing back the death penalty, and again the unity of opinion would dissolve, and the tonality would almost certainly be split.
The flaws of democracy, the cracks in its armour, become apparent here; it is impossible to give the majority rule, precisely because the very notion of a “majority” is nonsense when it comes to ideas, politics, philosophy, economics and, really, civilised life. People have no unity beyond certain farcical issues. Our divisiveness is the only thing that knows no bounds, and this doctrine of which we have all been conditioned to revere that is “democracy”, especially in its modern manifestation but also throughout history, capitalises upon our differences, monetises conflicting opinions and encourages the dark manipulation of electorate emotion.
We have rendered ourselves a society, under “democracy”, that criminally charges and fines people for satirically teaching their dog a trick. We have found ourselves under “democracy” so deeply concerned with this idea of emotive identity politics that we created a catch all bracket of criminality named “hate crime”, to be able to charge anyone with a criminal offence should they say the wrong thing. Words, under our western liberal democracy, are criminal. We have rendered our political system and the people that run it puppets of our misguided vanity and allowed them to build a system of power and control that is built upon the pretence of freedom. “Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains.”- the immortal words of Jean Jacques Rousseau- resonate so. Democracy isn’t a pillar of our freedoms, it is the blacksmith forging our chains. We never tend to increase our personal freedoms with democracy, and with that revelation it must be asked, what is it for?
Is it to give us a say in how things are run? Well, things are consistently run badly, and by politicians. To suggest we have the democratic power to change this is awfully naive; politicians make it their business to ensure that it is only politicians whom hold the monopoly of power. When we mention democracy, it is always in the context of a state, and within a state is more often than not a government. Democracy, in this respect, serves as a tool of oppression. To avoid cliched and tired discourse that inevitably dissolves into allegations of corruption, observably it is true that politics- the commissioner of democracy- is a game of power, between the individuals so lucky as to be in the position to achieve them. Politics, without sounding droll and banal, has become a game of personal prowess, not ideology, not ideologically driven change, not the tennis court of philosophy it once was.
More than this, the electorate en masse have a very limited grasp of the nuances of what they are actually voting for, should ideology actually play a part. The viciousness of electoral rhetoric is such that policies of “minimal state” are rendered corporate money printing endeavours, with little knowledge of the actual political science behind them; similarly, with anything attributable to “socialism”, it is ridiculed as impossible communist nonsense and the debate is taken from that of “the best way to live”, or an ideological conversation, to that of faux fact white noise, irreverent and irrelevant rhetoric spouted by people that wish to do nothing more than fortify their “relevance” at the cost of perpetuating political ignorance.
And to say that people are unsure of the nuances of political debate- and thus have to rely upon the opinions of commentators they have chosen to follow- is not the act of supreme arrogance it may first seem; we lack education in politics (in academic terms) more so than almost anything else, and yet we are all allowed (and even compelled) to involve ourselves within the political sphere more so than any other. Upon leaving school, we have spent more time studying chemistry, physics and French than we have studying politics and philosophy. We are kept in the dark so that these discussions involving fiscal drag, economic catastrophe, NHS privatisation, “dementia tax” and parliamentary sovereignty can be spun into simple back and forth’s involving buzzwords, smear campaigns and party-political trigger words, used as pawns to keep the opposition out of power.
It is all about power. Democracy- the so-called will of the people- should not be so boring as to simply be a discussion as to who holds the whip. Imagine that, telling people they’re in for a good whipping but that they can vote for the hand of the whip, and having them fight to protect that right? It’s almost laughable. In any case, what use is democracy in a regime that isn’t free? Freedom of speech, freedom to voice ideas and support anyone and anything you wish to support is a fundamental right we thought we had, but as it turns out is one we are sorely without. If there isn’t a safe, free platform to voice ideas and allow free flowing support to trickle through for those ideas, how can it be said that democracy truly represents the will of the people, if the content of that will is muffled and oppressed, confused and disengaged?
Politicians in the west use politics entirely as a platform to power. They do not actively seek to implement any real meaningful change, any change showing Thatcherite ideological tenacity, through fear that in doing so they may lose power. They back down from issues and often avoid them altogether if they perceive that whatever change they are proposing may be the catalyst to their own undoing. Look at labour politicians at the moment- actively suggesting they break away and create a new, “centre ground” party to distance themselves from the ideology of Jeremy Corbyn (a similar rhetoric to that which consumed republicans in the face of the ascension of Trump) through fear of losing power, losing their influence. Their convictions are pathetically weak and a disservice to those that elected them, and I think that is what democracy can be seen to produce time and time again: disservice.
Democracy as a principle and a reality is flawed. It is sold as this necessity of civilisation, but it is sold by people that don’t respect it, in an atmosphere that cannot accommodate it. The plight of democracy and the democratic process of voting, and elections, is that there is nowhere else to turn. It’s all we have, aside from a good old-fashioned dictatorship. I mean, it could be argued that we are in a dictatorship of ideology, and that in fact the liberal, central dogma that so tightly grips British politics is a dictatorship of thought, not allowing for any real divergence and meeting those that challenge its supremacy with violent hostility. But even with that revelation, the age-old question of how else do we manage leadership- which is enormously pivotal to societal human existence- and the intricacies of “fairness” come to light.
Plato suggested that it should be the exclusive endeavour of those philosophically enlightened to elect and lead. Maybe he had a point; after all, you wouldn’t, as he assures us, want anyone but a qualified captain sailing your ship. But alas, it cannot work that way. People (and rightly so, do not misunderstand the point here) need involvement in their society, need influence on who governs them and runs them, who makes the decisions. I suppose the ultimate point here is that those decisions and that influence should be minimal. The state should be minimal so as to reduce the deficit of ideologically tenacious leaders and those concerned solely with power.
If democracy is all we have- and the sad truth of the matter is that it is- then the power it provides those seeking its approval should be limited; the conservative ethos that the state should be reduced to minimal involvement is king, at least whilst democracy, bitter sweet democracy, keeps failing us and yet, remains the best we have.