Ulf D. Posé
Saturday July 12th, 2008

The downfall of democracy – a transition?

Welcome to Germany! On entering the territory, you leave democracy behind! You enter a country full of anarchy, a country spoiled by disorganization. Chance is the ruling power, there are no common goals left. Everybody stands for himself. Those who demand more get more and those who give what is demanded are the fools. Everybody abuses freedom. It does not come as a surprise that more and more people refuse to support the political parties at election time. The people help themselves, thereby reclaiming a bit of basic democracy directly, rather than through delegation. They avoid a decision making process that has become more and more insincere.

Whatever might be the reason for this election apathy?

Some are glad, others wonder, but nobody is really surprised: Less and less people vote for the mainstream parties. At the moment, extreme right-wing and left-wing parties are gaining. This annoys many. At the same time, the mainstream parties celebrate their so-called successes in the polls. Time and again, the SPD has the worst result ever and they comment that it was a good result. Whenever the CDU has to accept a landslide defeat, they are exhilarated. Well then: Congratulations!! Do you really think the public believes this rubbish? Only about half of those who are allowed to vote do so. Nor is this just a national phenomenon. George W. Bush, for example, was elected President by a maximum of 25% of the American population.

As late as 1918, the Secretary of State Robert Lansing believed that, after democracy had won, there would never again be war. His reasoning: Democracy is, after all, pure rule of the people. And since peoples are extremely peaceful, they will avoid war. Apparently, neither George W. Bush, nor NATO, nor Herr Scharping, nor Herr Fischer, nor Herr Scharon, nor Hamas nor…, nor… nor … have ever heard of Herr Lansing. As it is, the development is rather clear and easy to understand, if only you consider the background.

Let us start at the beginning: We have three options: Either we have a dictatorship, or anarchy, or the compromise, democracy. We have already had dictatorship, so we chose democracy as an alternative. Democracy is simply the attempt to avoid dictatorship or anarchy. However, it is an attempt that was never meant to last long.

It was the ancient Greeks who invented democracy. “Demos” means the people. Not necessarily the “lower echelons” of the people, “hoi poloi“! “Cratos” is Greek for reign, as opposed to “archy”, leading. If hierarchy and monarchy were stronger, we would have to call them “hiercracy” and “moncracy”. Great! However, the ancient Greeks did not entirely trust the idea of democracy and therefore used it only in transitional phases between one political system and another. They believed you should not let a people reign longer than necessary. As soon as a new monarch was found, democracy was abandoned!

And there was another issue the ancient Greeks combined with democracy. They decreed how in times of democratic rule political decisions had to be reached. The Greeks thought it did not really matter who was currently in power during a democracy. No matter if it is a leftist or rightist government, all parties want the same. That is why the ancient Greeks chose who was to reign by throwing dice. Yes. This is not a spelling mistake and there is nothing wrong with your eyes. Political decisions were made by throwing dice. This method saves time, costs little and delivers a useable result. How magnificent: Chance reigns, and therefore the last responsibility lies with chance. The idea is one that quite a few politicians might be well-advised to keep in mind. Socrates found this procedure a good joke, but it was plausible and mostly a very convenient solution. K. J. Arrow was awarded the Nobel Prize for economics in 1972. He studied the democratic decision making process, and held that election using dice would still make a lot of sense.

This seemed to be a good reason not to take his research seriously, or to hush it up. Arrow found that, if you want to combine optimum freedom and equality, this can only stem from the “dictatorship of the individual”. Both politicians and mathematicians have considered this statement critically. The most famous example is by. Donald G. Saari. Fifteen people were asked to decide between three solutions. Six of them had the preference A, then B, then C. Five people decided first C, then B, then A. Four people wanted B, then C, then A. Solution A cannot be realized, so the decision rests with C (first preference of the second-biggest group). This, however, is not in accordance with “what the people wish”, because the majority would have been for B (10 to 5 for B). Thus, the entire problem is provided with a factor, which leads to a distribution of solution A = 27 points, solution B = 34 points, solution C = 29 points. The resulting just and democratic solution would be: First B, then C, then A. This, however, had started out being the preference of the smallest group, which leads to the rather stupid conclusion: In a democracy, the tail wags the dog!! In the literature, this entire process is known as Arrow’s paradox. There have been many attempts to overcome this paradox in some way or other, but so far, none of these attempts have been a success. But who cares?

By the way, it was democracy that handed the death verdict to Socrates, because he said he knew nothing about truth, only about certainty. His democratic judge got rather grumpy when Socrates said: “Neither of us knows anything about truth. I, however, do not profess to understand the truth, whereas you claim you do. Apparently, I am a little wiser than you in that respect”. And the ancient Greeks never said anything about a party being allowed to govern. Our constitution, too, does not say anything about the reign of a party. What does it say in the constitution? Political parties are involved in forming the people’s political opinions. Nothing about ruling. Strictly speaking, that means no party can force its members to vote according to the party leadership’s will. It is unconstitutional. But who cares?

Originally, we only decide who is to reign in a democracy, not how. We adhere to the principle of majority and political equality. Early on, we democrats came up with the idea that democracy should be combined with liberalism. Liberalism tells you how to reign, not who should reign. What liberalism wants is as much freedom as possible and as little pressure as absolutely necessary. There is no reason why the two concepts should be combined, and we are no longer aware that democracy and liberalism are actually two different things. The combination has become so familiar to us that we cannot imagine a separation. Strictly speaking, many of the things we consider undemocratic are just illiberal.

These days, it seems that the knowledge about basic forms of democracy, too, has been lost. We know there is direct and indirect democracy. Only the indirect democracy asks the people to select representatives who are authorized to make decisions for them. In a direct democracy, the people themselves decide. That means our democracy is already no longer a real democracy. And last not least: We forget that in a liberal democracy the ideas of freedom and equality exclude each other. They are opposites. Every form of equalizing simultaneously cuts off parts of freedom. We are not equal. We all have different bodies, different talents and different desires. Even in the New Testament, you cannot read anywhere about equality, only about freedom. Justice, too, never means equality. The Roman marshal Ulpian defined justice a long time ago as the determination to let everybody get what is his due.

And then the mainstream parties are surprised when people start refusing to give them their vote. Strictly speaking, it is outrageous that some people still try to make us believe democracy is derived from the ancient Greek understanding of the term. If we were still living this ancient understanding, modern democracy would probably be better off.

I guess we have long since decided for anarchy. The original meaning of the word is “without leadership”. It is a state of general chaos. In anarchy, you no longer have any common goals. Everybody thinks only of himself or herself. Those who make demands are kings and those who grant what has been demanded are the fools. In anarchy, freedom is abused for doing outrageous and unrestrained things by everybody.

And another thing: Wasn’t it monarchy that outlawed slavery and democracy that made Hitler possible?

UDP

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