The London Libertarian

The London Libertarian

About the blog

Commentary and debate on politics, economics and culture from a libertarian perspective. To Libertarian Alliance Website >

Anyone can make individual contributions on any subject covered in this blog by emailing


PoliticsPosted by Jan Lester Thu, April 03, 2014 12:23:39

democracy There are few ideas about which there is more *commonsense confusion and *political *hypocrisy than democracy (*‘liberty’ is a rival in this). Etymologically, ‘democracy’ means ‘people rule/power’. The original democracies in Greek city-*states involved voting on important matters for all *citizens—which at that time excluded women, slaves and metics (guest workers). A *civil organization that freely chooses to adopt some form of voting as a decision procedure is not thereby democratic, as voting itself is not inherently political (i.e., about state rule).

Most Western *nation-states today claim to have ‘*representative democracies’, which are asserted to be a kind of ‘indirect democracy’. But the people manifestly do not rule or have power. Therefore, this is somewhat like calling slavery ‘representative self-ownership’ or ‘indirect self-ownership’. For these so-called democracies are, in fact, elected oligarchies merely posing as democracies; because of the *legitimization that is afforded by the false *propaganda that ‘the people are ruling themselves’ in this way and so somehow *consent to the consequences. That is, most adults have a vote that *collectively decides who is elected (which is the one rare and fleeting moment that a glimmer of democracy might be asserted to exist), and then the elected oligarchs do whatever they want, if they have a majority, until the next election possibly changes the majority party or coalition. However, even most such would-be ‘oligarchs’ are themselves, in effect, political eunuchs (or ‘lobby fodder) unless they are also elected among themselves, or appointed to high office, or (threaten to) collectively rebel by voting against the *government. (On the complete worthlessness of an individual *subject’s political vote in this system see *voting.)

A slightly more democratic, and possibly safer, sense of ‘representative democracy’ (really still oligarchy) would be sortition, whereby a lottery decides which, say, five hundred people rule for some period; with a trickle constantly joining and leaving to ensure some continuity. This is more representative as, over time, it must take a statistical representation of all types of subject. But an enthusiastic minority would inevitably still dominate the proceedings and most people would probably see it as too onerous a disruption to their lives, unless it paid much better than they earned otherwise.

‘Delegational democracy’ means that people are elected to implement the actual wills of their electors. And this would be a sort of democracy. But it is a mystery how the delegates are supposed to know what the electors want beyond a few issues. If the delegates are going to do regular surveys and adhere to the results, then why would they be needed as delegates? Some form of full-blooded democracy, with people directly voting on any number of issues, would easily be practicable; though having all able actively to participate in the debate is more problematic.

So it is clearly possible to be far more democratic than we are now, but politicians do not want democracy. This might partly be because they see the pitfalls of rule by an uninformed and capricious majority, but it must also be for the obvious reason that they prefer to be elected as oligarchs with the *power, prestige, and pelf this personally gives them. Luckily for them, most members of the public lack any real interest in, or understanding of, politics; so the public do not seek any serious democratic involvement.

None of this is intended to argue for real democracy. Any more-serious form of democracy would almost certainly be more danergously *authoritarian, even *totalitarian, than elected oligarchy. Democracy as such is inherently a form of *majoritarianism. There is no democratic principle limiting what democracy can interfere with. However, any attempt at democracy would probably soon collapse into a less dangerous oligarchy following Robert Michels’s (1876-1936) “iron law of oligarchy”; as career politicians come to dominate the *rationally *apathetic masses.

Like elected oligarchy, all forms of democracy are the continuation of *‘civil war’ by other means (see *cold war). One side *proactively imposes on the other by threat of force but without actual bloodshed. Thus democracy is an enemy of liberty and also *welfare; not least as it flouts the efficient *economic calculation of the *market. A ‘*liberal democracy’ is more or less a contradiction in terms, at least insofar as ‘liberal’ refers to liberty. The more it is liberal, the less it is democratic. A completely liberal system would be a *libertarian *anarchy.

For the political systems of the *UK and the *USA, see those respective entries.

A Dictionary of Libertarianism

  • Comments(2)//