Democracy is the status quo of the west, an indispensable part of modern western society. Both the left and the right-wings of the US and the European Union nation-states talk about how great democracy is. It is one of the few things that politicians like Nigel Farage and Jeremy Corbyn are in agreement on, at least in public. Yet, considering the travails of modernity, is democracy still functional as an ideology? Or, as I contend, is democracy a deceptive ideology with manifest shortcomings for the very people the system claims to empower?
What is democracy?
Before we go on further, let us establish what we are talking about when we say “Democracy”, as there might be some confusion. European nations and the USA are all under varying forms of a Democratic-Republican system; a system where the voters can elect a leader (president or prime minister) and representatives in congress or parliament. Democracy became ascendant post-French Revolution, yet not until the aftermath of World War II did Democracy coagulate into its contemporary, God-like position.
The Origins of Athenian Democracy: How and Why it Failed
It is universally known that Democracy began in Greece, in Athens. Democracy has her foundations in Solon’s reforms, and the legendary democratic duo Cleisthenes and Pericles who came into the Athenian political scene some 50 years after the death of Solon. Pericles and Cleisthenes are what we would describe today as “Reformists” and “Populists”, introducing as they did tremendous reforms, political and military. They also had an anti-oligarchic rhetoric which solidified their support amongst the Greek populace. Their reforms helped Athens enter a Golden Age of art and literature. Other Greek city-states took notice of the success of Athenian Democracy and began to implement democracy in their own societies. It all sounds great so far, right? Unfortunately, widespread knowledge of Greek history and experiments with democracy is uncommon; to the detriment of modern times.
In Athenian Democracy, only adult male citizens that completed military training were able to vote at all. This meant that the Athenian Electorate was only 10-20 percent of the total population. Unlike the modern American democrats, Athenian democrats were in favor of giving citizenship only to those whom were of Athenian descent. This was introduced by none other than the legendary democrat Pericles, and the military general Cimon. Aristotle himself argued why this was the case.
Because of instability within the city-states -as Aristotle, Plato and other Greek philosophers note- and because of the military misadventures that Democratic city-states suffered, Athenian democracy failed. The Peloponnesian War in 431 BC ended in an embarrassing Athenian defeat at the hands of Sparta and her allies. The unification of Greece which was a process started by King Philip II of Macedon and completed by his son Alexander III of Macedon, also known as Alexander the Great established Macedonian hegemony over all Greece, save for Sparta. Athenian dominance had come to an end.
Aristotle and Plato both praise the political stability within the Spartan Diarchy whilst criticizing democracy, stating that the collective doesn’t necessarily make the right decisions, even going as far as to saying that democracy is no different than an ill-informed Tyranny. Thucydides gives two examples of this; the execution of Socrates, and the the illegal execution of six Athenian generals- which the people then came to regret. Some would argue that the Sicilian expedition was a failed product of Democracy; a farce which cost the lives of more than 12000 Delian League soldiers in battle against only around 2200 Spartans and Syracusans. Democratic Athens also perpetrated horrendous acts -which ironically the modern Democratic nation states sometimes emulate- such as executing every single man in Melos for not wanting to be a subject of Athenians. This looks eerily familiar to the US Militia voting to kill Indians in Gnadenhutten and widespread popularity of slavery to name two examples of US and Athenian concordance.
After losing to Autocratic Sparta and its allies, Athens and its other democratic city-state buddies falls under the hegemony of the Macedons, whom were one of the few Monarchist (if not the only) people in Greece at that time-period. This showcases the difference between Autocratic (Monarchist) rule and Democratic rule. The swift and smart decision-making of the Macedons, coupled with loyalty from their people, as opposed to ill-informed decision-making in Athens. Philip Argead succeeded in uniting Greece despite the constant pressure both from the other Greeks, and from foreigners (Illyrians in the west and Thracians in the east). After Philip Argead, Democracy in Greece was reduced to a local irrelevancy. After the Roman conquest of Greece, Democracy was only existent within local administrative levels.
World War I and World War II have both been putative victories for Democracy, which helped shape the new status quo of Europe. Ever since then, particularly after the Cold war, Democracy in the west has been getting stronger and stronger in hold, if not effect.
These “peaceful” and “prosperous” times are now falsely attributed to the power of Democracy. This is a false cause fallacy, correlation does not equal causation. It is argued that the prosperous times that Europe faced was due to technological advancements (spurred by Capitalism and the Third Reich), and the Industrial Revolution and its aftermath. The Industrial Revolution eventually increased life expectancy (which is one of the most important measures used to determine whether a nation is prosperous or not) over time.
Democracy, as advertised, is a system that gives power to the people by allowing them to elect their leader and their representatives. Let us disregard empty sentences with no meaning such as “empowering the citizens” or “power to the people” because they were connotated with Democracy purely for propaganda; and are in fact straight out of Pericles’ playbook. One big flaw with Democracy and giving “power to the people” is that you are basing your decision-making system on a fallacy (Ad Populum). Because majority of the population wants something or someone, does not mean that it is the right decision. One could argue that we need to look at Condorcet’s Jury Theorem and try to aim on educating the populace on making good decisions. That is also a very naïve point of view, even if every single person in a nation was educated, you still have one massive obstacle which is the self-interest of groups and persons. Condorcet’s Jury Theorem assumes that people want the best for the group that they are participating in. That would only be close to true if that group had brotherly love -Philia as Aristotle describes it- within that group, one look at the western democratic nations would show us that brotherly love does not exist in those countries in any broad sense.
Democracy inevitably creates another political class; the media. For many citizens, media has become the silk road of information; various interest groups have tried to take advantage of controlling that silk road, and some even claim that they have achieved such a feat. Nevertheless, this would explain the newfound phenomenon of “Fake news” being so prevalent in media today. Despite the fact that trust in the American media is at an all-time low, the power that mass media has is stronger than ever. Even if the people reject the lies of the media, it still holds sway over the people.
During election seasons, especially in the US, candidates shifting policies and tones have become a very common occurrence; the triangulation tactic of Bill Clinton demonstrably works. This is quite disgusting when you think about it. We are tolerating the manipulative methods that politicians use to get more voters so they can be elected. Under such an environment, it is impossible for an honest politician to fight for what is right as in a Republican Democratic system, he will be swimming with the sharks as the lone fish.
Legal Bribery is also rampant under a Democratic system. As I have previously written, one popular promise from politicians is to protect/increase welfare and social security spending. Trump himself made this same pledge. This is a form of legal bribery. As a leader, you use tax money given to the state by other citizens and spend it by transferring wealth to the poor and/or unemployed. Promising to pay people to vote for you is a very popular and effective tactic employed by various politicians and presidents. Turkish President Erdoğan a couple of years ago used taxpayer money to give coal and pasta to "encourage" Turkish citizens to vote "Yes" on the Constitutional Referendum. Ironic, that despite stating that this is indeed bribery, the CHP (Republican People’s Party) and MHP both resorted to such measures themselves. The model works.
In conclusion, Democracy gives the people a hand in the government yet despite that hand being ours, it is not controlled by us; and does things that are not good for us. In a sense, Democracy is no different than an illegitimate oligarchy today and worse than the oligarchies of yester-year. This results in Democracy being a system where it incentivizes poor economic policies, slavery (bondage slavery in the past, wage slavery in the present), social division and poor decision-making. A leader that is of a caliber of Alexander the Great, St. Justinian, Frederick the Great, Cyrus of Persia or Alexios Komnenos has never arisen from a Democratic election.