The Decadent Failures of National Democracy

Joshua Vo
May 2, 2021
National Policy

Premised Definition of Democracy: The "rule of the people," "rule of the majority," and free selection or election either through direct participation or elected representation, respectively. In layman’s terms, a system in which every individual’s voice and choice contributes to the collective society.

With the posited definition of democracy, we must establish that a republic is a deviation from "pure" democracy; thus, any form of governmental republicanism would be anti-democratic. Too often is it claimed that republicanism is synonymous with democracy, a misnomer that should be clarified.

First, people are naturally predisposed to irrationality, whether through fear of the absurd or incomprehensible decision-making. Several philosophers have declared this as being the primary critique of majoritarian politics: the majority is not inherently rational, and thus the majority’s decision is not inherently sensible. This is to contrast the notion that the majority is always more reliably well-informed than the minority. Most people would reject this blatant dichotomy, but it is a core tenet of democratic rule since saying otherwise would be nonsensical. For example, to say that the majority, which DOES NOT know best, should rule over the minority, which knows better, is an absurd notion that intelligent individuals should never concede to.

If society can accept these premises, then it should be clear why majority rule is an unintelligible notion to strive towards. Being a part of the majority does not automatically concede the notion of the minority and does not warrant the majority being right. One might argue that the baseline morality of individual contribution supersedes the irrationality that coincides with democratic rule. This is a blatant misconstruing of opposing views since it asserts that individual liberty is the foundational principle that drives all ethical principles. This is false since, for example, society restricts the freedom of personal liberty when an individual decides to impose their will on another forcefully, thus also forcefully imposing society’s will upon the aggressor. This, again, might be a point of contention for the opposition, but it would be a strawman. The attack on majority rule does not warrant an attack on societal safety and rational imposition upon the rights of transgressors.

It would be unwise to conflate constructed rational arguments that the populace accepts with the population governing the arguments based on the preconceived notion of mob rule.

James Madison had also proposed a similar critique of democracy by stating that an unrestricted democracy means that the majority decides over the minority. This leaves the minority relatively powerless—and the smaller it is, the less power it wields. This means that the smallest minority of all—the individual—is effectively depending on his agreement with the majority.

To account for this problem, mature democracies have developed a set of checks and balances in an attempt to make sure that it does not happen; chief among these is the separation of the powers of the State. But this makes a system less democratic since it interferes with the principle of “people’s power.”

It should be obvious now as to why, philosophically, democracy is not an ideal form of government. To clarify, this article is not a comprehensive list and explanation of philosophical arguments for and against democracy, it is merely a gateway that notes only a small subset of democratic criticism.

Another contention with democracy is that, while not only being a philosophically contradictory idea, it is also a volatile and impractical notion. For example, contentious media headlines could steer people towards protests and harsh criticism from mass media, which would warrant a sudden, unexpected political change. This would possibly hinder any progress made by an institution since it could be, almost immediately, frowned upon and shut down.

Moreover, voter ignorance is, again, one of the biggest problems of democratic efficacy. This article had stated earlier that mass rule was an affront against rationality on a philosophical level, but it can also be contended to be abhorrent on a practical level. Being an uninformed voter is the foundational starting line for all individuals, and it would take a considerable allotment of time and dedication to strive towards being an informed voter. While the standards for being an informed voter can differ, being informed on economics, history, and policies should be universalized to vote. If society does not impose any practical standards or guidelines for voters, then there would be no difference between the vote of a professor and a beggar, a doctor and jokester, an economist and a construction worker. These differences are not supposed to reorganize society into a structural hierarchy, but instead reevaluate the assertions different people put forth and whether some, on average, have better decisions and arguments than others. For example, an economist should not have his or her vote nullified by a construction worker on legislation regarding financial protectionism.

While most Americans would not conform to these intellectual standards, their shortcomings are a cause of ignorance, not intelligence. A majority of voters are rationally ignorant since it would be cost-prohibitive for individuals to educate themselves on these esoteric, niche subjects in favor of doing something they would enjoy. It would take an enormous amount of time to educate oneself onto such a level and keep updated on forever changing, current political events. This is why voters are rationally ignorant. It is reasonable to assume that most people would have hobbies or aspirations that supersede their political interests. Secondly, it is logical for people to have cognitive biases or preferences that could result in irrational beliefs. Similar to why it is rational for voters to be ignorant, the cost-benefit analysis to correct cognitive biases is not in favor of the informed voter.

As one can see, throughout this article, the proponents of democratic or majority rule have many shortcomings and failures they must remedy to facilitate mass rule. However, these methods of reconciliation are not democratic and, thus, deter from the notional concept of democracy. This article was merely a reflection on a small myriad of democratic criticism proposed by many influential thinkers and philosophers. It is, by no means, a fully comprehensive list that would address all and every possible contention intellectuals might argue for or against democracy. This article was merely to promote reflective thinking among its readers.

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Joshua Vo

Joshua Vo (19) is a university freshman that has recently garnered an immense passion for political science in his free time. Although he is pursuing a pre-medical track, he spends his time advocating for humble political discourse while also reflecting on his own political stance. He does not yet have a definitive position that defines his beliefs but currently settles on being labeled as a paleoconservative.