Growing up in a democratic country has instilled in me a great respect and love for this governmental system. Is this veneration justified? Does democracy merit being held in such high regard?
At first glance it is undoubtedly true that democratic countries generally have great economic outcomes. Europe, North America, Australia, Japan and so on all are wealthy countries. But the story doesn’t end there. Many countries that have or have had totalitarian regimes in the recent past have done exceedingly well economically. South Korea, China, Chile, Dubai and so on all have seen a tremendous growth in wealth. All had periods without democratic rule that coincided with this growth. We can’t thus link democracy and good economic outcomes outright. While true that democracies generally speaking perform well, it isn’t necessary for such outcomes based on the evidence.
Economic freedom is a good indicator for economic growth, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be linked with political freedom. While those two have genrally both been on the freer end of the scale in the Western world, other parts of the world have done well for themselves economically without the political freedom part.
Public approval ratings of governments in the democratic Western world are generally low, while significantly better than in sketchy non-democratic countries, trust levels in politicians are declining over time. I postulate that it isn’t the lack of democratic control that upsets people in non-free countries, rather it is the lack of public safety, political corruption and non-existant economic opportunities for themselves and their families. If the economic outcomes are good and you can live a prosperous and happy life, does it really matter whether or not you can “control” the government through the ballot-box?
One might imagine that it would be psychologically comforting to have the knowledge that one has at least some modicum of control over one’s rulers through the ballot box. We know that people enjoy and are comforted by the sense that they can control their environment. It is the reason for the existence of “fake” elevator door control buttons and buttons at automated crosswalks. Even though these buttons are completely inert, people are comforted by the belief that they are in charge. This could be applied as an argument in favor of democracy, whether or not the control is real or not.
My own view is that democracy fundamentally is the illusion of rule by the common people. Having representative democracy inevitably means that our “representatives” will vote against our interests some of the time. I therefore am forced to compromise my values and beliefs in choosing a representative. We also know that politicans pander, pivot and compromise with other politicians in order to get things done. It is therefore common for actual policies to materialize that nobody voted for, and few actually want as a result of this horse trading behind closed doors. Is this what democratic control actually means?
The mainstream media, academia, business leaders and so on often represent a small, elitist set of values and beliefs far from what is good for and what the common folk actually want. When the vast majority of media outlets, journalists and academics are left-leaning, how can we have an honest public debate over political issues? Without such a public, free and fair debate, can there actually be any substance to democratic rule by the people? Who actually is entitled to put pieces of paper in boxes is rather uninteresting if you can have a great impact in shaping their political views.
We mustn’t forget the hidden aristocracy in Western nations. Even in countries that have never had or that have formally abolished peerage, aristocracy and so on we find that there is an unelected elite with disproportionate control. The people that are awarded civic honors for their work, that have vast economic means (without having earned it in the market), that occupy influential positions in academia and in cultural institutions, that oversee newspapers, that have their comments published in said newspapers and so on often have “fancy” surnames that are instantly recognizable as being “better” than “common” surnames often found in the working and middle class. Having such elites isn’t compatible with democratic ideals is it? Yet, it remains present and influential.
We must also acknowledge the limited nature of our choices. The Overton window, opinion corridor or whatever you want to call it is typically quite limited in democratic countries. My own views as an example aren’t in the least represented in any party or politician with a chance of being influential in parliament. I’m thus denied a choice in the same manner that someone with more “mainstream” beliefs has. Why don’t I run for office myself you ask? I remind you of the fact that the unelected elite, media, academia and political establishment are all preventing such attempts from being successful.
Do I believe in democracy because the other alternatives “suck”? Certain circles within the libertarian movement and the so-called Neoreactionaries (NRx) have espoused the virtues of monarchy. Not monarchy in the Northern European monarchy-in-name-only sense, but actual monarchy with a king and queen as owners of the country. The primary argument in favor as I understand it is that a hereditary monarchy is very, very interested in preserving wealth and power. This is best achieved in thinking long-term and stimulating economic activity through favorable economic conditions. Plunder and pillage are fine for short-term wealth increases, but long term conditions as are applicable in a hereditary monarchy dictate that the citizenry must be afforded conditions for fruitful economic pursuits.
It is likely that my views on alternative forms of government have been tainted by what I have seen in our paparazzi weeklies covering our monarchy as it currenly exists. The royal family has espoused leftists views, pro-multiculturalism and so on, I believe quite different from how an actual monarchy would be. I still prefer both personal, political and economic freedom, but living in the real world and knowing this isn’t a viable or realistic option…
This all leaves me with a final question. Is democracy actually preferable? If the outcome in another form of government would be acceptable and better in some aspects, does it in the end matter whether or not I could vote for it? How valuable is the illusory and extremely limited form of control I have in a democratic system? I leave you with questions, rather than conclusions since I haven’t formed my own final opinion yet. I welcome debate on this and similar topics.