Home > Democracy, Law > The problem with democracy

The problem with democracy

Sometimes when I advocate the abolition of government, democrats will say, “if you don’t like it, move to Somalia!” Or sometimes you get “go live in the woods!” What they are admitting with this comment, besides a closed mind and an ignorance of the philosophy they are condemning with such conviction, is that the only way you can be free of the violence of the state is hide from it. We’ll talk more about Somalia another day. For now, let’s talk about democracy.

First, we should talk about this belief some people have about democracy that a democratic government is the collective will of the people, and that congress or parliament is the talking shop for organising society and getting things done collectively. Sorry to be so blunt, but that is a very naïve point of view. If it were true, then government would be where we make suggestions of what we should do as a society and try to find the best information and use it to help each other. If it were true, congresspeople would actively elicit opinions from the people, rather than from special interest groups. If it were true, there would be no compulsion. But there is. Government forces you to do everything it says. Every time a law is passed, that is a new order for you to follow.

Force changes everything. Force is the reason government does not have to do what you want, in other words why it is not accountable. Force is why government is not and does not have to be efficient, because if you do not like it, you cannot change it. Sure, you could vote for a different party, but when was the last time that made government efficient, or stop lying, or stop promising things it had no intention of delivering? Force is the reason no one can control government spending: government has the power to take as much of your money as it wants. And force is the reason we cannot opt out of anything the government does: if you live in this country (and that is almost every country), you pay and you obey. It is not we as a society who have decided, but they as a small group who have, and elections will not change that. The sad thing is that most of us do not see the gun pointed at us, and even respect the people holding it.

It’s too bad that the government is so desperate to squeeze every last drop of tax milk it can from us cattle, and so afraid that independence from its cold hands will expose the naked emperor whose rule we are simply not allowed to opt out of. It’s even sadder that democrats think that’s a good thing. Through their support of government, democrats promote violence against me and you and everyone. Call me crazy, but I think a more moral, free and peaceful society would be one where we could choose where our money goes, what services we pay for and receive, and where the natural laws of reciprocity, cooperation and competition replace violently forcing us to do whatever a small clique of elites tells us to.

Because democracies have more freedom than dictatorships, people’s ideas stop there, and democracy is good enough. But democrats tend to believe that we need government, because without it we would have chaos, we would be killing each other, we would be dominated by Nazis or something like that. I don’t think so. If the people agree that there should be no government, it will be because they realise they do not want to be forced to comply with the whims of a small group of self-interested, power-hungry incompetents. They will defend themselves against tyranny, closing the power vacuum and living contentedly with real freedom.

Now, remember, anarchy can only come when voluntary institutions take the place of government ones, which will take time. A sudden implosion of government would not be a good thing. A gradual replacement of it would.

But democrats don’t get that. Democrats are people who believe that initiating force against innocent people is okay, as long as the results of that force are perceived to go toward some kind of “greater good”. Most people think they know what’s best for society. Democrats believe that their version of the truth, whatever it is, should be forced on everyone else, however much of other people’s money it costs. So democrats want their guy to gain power and so they can push their beliefs on everyone else. If we did away with government and the popularity contests of elections, no one would force you to follow their favourite policies, and you wouldn’t be so angry whenever your party loses.

But even if somehow you believe initiating force is legitimate, in which case I question your morals, it does not seem very wise to me to fall for the illusion that your “representatives” actually represent you, that politicians are who they say they are and who the media say they are. Have you ever noticed that whenever the person you elect gets into office, they do a couple of things you like and a whole bunch of things you don’t like? Do you think it’s because you just picked the wrong guy?

And yet, even though unaccountability to constituents is pretty much an iron law of democratic politics, people often stick by their guy. I can see two reasons for that. First, a lot of the things politicians do that we don’t like, we don’t find about. How much time has your local representative spent meeting with lobby groups? How did he vote on the last five bills? How could you know? You have better things to do than track his every step. Second, humans, yes, me too, tend to believe that most things we do are right, and we become more and more convinced those things were right over time. That is how we can stand up for people we voted for in the face of any kind of miscreant behaviour. But that behaviour continues, and it will continue, because any time you give someone that much power, they don’t need to listen to the people who gave it to them anymore.

Democracy is outsourcing problems like education, health care and security to an institution with such a long record of corruption, inefficiency and incompetence that, if it were a business competing in a free market, would never win another contract. But the government does not compete in a free market. It is a monopoly kept in place by force.

And because government is so powerful, the struggle for the reins of government leads to conflict. It may only be conflict between friends, as they can’t agree on the right parties and policies; or it might mean violent power struggles such as the ones created in the vacuum of power created in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. That kind of situation is not anarchic because there is still a government, but the seats are empty. If there is a government structure that people can take control of, they will fight over it.

How could an election or a national government decision possibly represent the will of the people when it leaves them divided? People tend to say that there are certain decisions that can only be taken on a national level. But why do we need a nation at all? The historical evidence shows that nations themselves are creations of elites to consolidate their power over the widest possible territory, and are kept in place by feelings of nationalism spread by contemporary elites. If you disagree, I suggest the books Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson, Nations and Nationalism by Ernest Gellner or Nations and Nationalism since 1780 by Eric Hobsbawm. It might be for nationalist pride that democracies, though they rarely attack each other, tend to be more aggressive toward other states than undemocratic regimes. Democracies often adopt a crusading spirit that they feel gives them the right or even duty to kill all terrorists, overthrow undemocratic regimes, and promote democracy, however many people have to die.

But back to decision making. Perhaps a better idea would be to let local communities and neighbourhoods decide things. Then, at least it would be more reasonable to ask people to move if they do not like the laws. It would also mean that those who plunder the public coffers would be shunned by their neighbours, a major disincentive to anti-social behaviour. But the ideal is probably to let people decide as individuals. Only individuals can decide what is right for themselves, and since each individual represents him or herself, the sum total of their decisions is the closest we can get to the collective will of the people.

Elections and political parties cost a lot of money, they are terribly divisive, they don’t bring you freedom, and they rarely change anything. It is rather unusual to see democrats happy with the outcome of an election, and satisfied with the government for more than a few months. I guess they accept it with the hope that one day, some time, my party will win, and then things will get better. If that day never comes, please consider the voluntarist alternative.

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  1. May 21, 2012 at 12:30 pm

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