Maarten Maartensz:    Philosophical Dictionary | Filosofisch Woordenboek

 D - Democracy


Democracy: Government by the people.

Very much of the talk that involves the term 'democracy' is cant or propaganda. The reason is that real democracy, as defined, does not exist unless the people runs the government, which it can only do if it produces the bureaucracy besides electing the government.

In Europe and the US in the 21st Century democracy means in effect that the governors are periodically (re-)elected by means of public elections, directly or indirectly, usually on the basis of a lot of propaganda, and in principle by all of the adult population, however (un)qualified.

Here is Guiccardini, who wrote in the early part of the 16th Century on the idea. I quote from his Storia Italia (History of Italy). The speaker is supposed to have made his point in 1495, and spoke against one who fondly believed that all good things for society and government issue from democracy:

"Guidantonio Vespucci, a famous lawyer and a man of remarkable intelligence and skill, spoke as follows:

'If, most worthy citizens, a government organized in the manner proposed (..) produced the desired results as easily as they are described, it would certainly be perverse of anyone to wish for any other form of government for our country. It would be a wicked civilian who did not passionately love a form of republic in which the virtues, merits and abilities of men were organized above all else.

But I do not understand how one can hope that a system placed entirely in the hands of the people  can be full of such benefits.

For I know that reason teaches, experience shows and the authority of wise men confirms that in so great a multitude there is not to be found such prudence, such experience and such discipline as to lead us to expect that the wise will be preferred to the ignorant, the good to the bad, and the experienced to those who have never handled any affairs whatever.

For as one cannot hope for sound judgement from an unlearned and unexperienced judge, so from a people full of confusion and ignorance one cannot except - except by chance - a prudent and reasonable election or decision.

Are we to believe that an inexpert, untrained multitude made up of such a variety of minds, conditions and customs, and entirely absorbed in their own personal affairs, can distinguish and understand what in public government wise men, thinking of nothing else, find difficult to understand?

Quite apart from the fact that each person's self-conceit will lead them all to desire honors - and it will not be enough for men to in the popular government to enjoy the honest fruits of liberty - they will all aspire to the highest posts and to take part in the decisions on the most diffciult and important matters.

In us less than in any other city there rules the modesty of giving way to the man who knows best or who has the most merit.

But if we persuade ourselves that we must be by right all equal in all things, the proper positions of virtue and ability will be confused when it rests with the judgments of the multitude.

And this greed spreading to the majority will ensure that the most powerful will be those who know and deserve least; for as they are more numerous, they will have more power in a state organized in such a way that opinions are merely numbered and not weighed.'"

As it happened, giving the vote to all of the adult population in the 20th Century "in the name of democracy" has been very good for rabble-rousers and has produced few good governors: Hitler was democratically elected, and in every parliamentary democracy one can be sure that most of the voters have no adequate ideas of what they vote on or whom they vote for.

Yet the great majority in democratically governed societies believes itself to be free and to vote in 'free and fair elections', also and indeed because these elections have been much engineered by propaganda.

It should also be noted that because 'government by the people' and 'power to the people' are such popular slogans, all governments of any kind whatsoever tend to style themselves 'democracies', and tend to manufacture periodic public elections. The main reason to do so is that this enables the leaders of government to claim that they govern by popular support and through free and fair elections.

The truth is that even where there are free and fair elections, and where there are several political parties who compete to get their leaders elected, the majority of the electorate is not qualified to judge rationally about those they elect or about the plans these propose to get elected for.


See also: Bureaucracy, Democracy Plan, Government, State


Aristotle, Machiavelli, Mill

 Original: Apr 8, 2005                                                Last edited: 18 November 2005.   Top