The Myth of Democracy

Beto ‘Riginale

Of the People, By the People, For the People

Abraham Lincoln

The question is, of course, what or who is the people? As Machiavelli stated, all of humanity comprises two groups: the rulers and the much larger group, the ruled.

Democracy is, in the popular mind, predicated on the idea that the ruled rule, that is, the ruled control the rulers. In more practical terms, democracy is a form of government where the citizens have the power to vote. There are several different types of democracies:

  • Representative democracy: citizens choose government representatives from amongst the citizens.
  • Direct democracy: citizens form a governing body and vote directly on issues.
  • Constitutional democracy: the nation’s constitution limits the powers of government.

Since all or nearly all democracies are a combination of representative and constitutional forms, the term democracy will refer to the combined form.

Prof. Larry Diamond (Stanford University) suggests that democracy has four critical elements:

  • a system of elections used to choose and replace the government,
  • protection of human rights of all people,
  • active participation of citizens in politics and civics, and
  • all laws apply equally to all citizens.

The World Population Review rates the level of democracy for each country. The highest-rated, that is, countries that have the highest level of several characteristics related to the ideal democracy, are rated as true democracies. Flawed democracies are those countries that have a lower rating. True democracies, those countries with a democracy score of 9.0 or above lie in the northern portion of Western Europe (Scandinavia), Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. Other countries with a lower level (democracy score of 8.0 to 8.99) lie in the remainder of Northern Europe with a few in Latin America. The flawed democracies (democracy score of 7.0 to 7.99) are the US, Latin America, the remainder of Western Europe, and India. [1]

Anyone who has read James Madison is undoubtedly aware that the delegates to the Constitutional Convention were all, without exception, men of wealth and power. And as Jefferson remarked, power corrupts. There is no reason to believe that the group of men responsible for the Constitution was less prone to corruption than any other.

There are two kinds of freedom: individual and social. Or to state it differently, there is freedom and tyranny since social “freedom” is simply a misnomer for obedience to authority. Those who are free as individuals, free to express and act based upon their personal experience in life, are usually subjugated to the pressure that arises from social freedom.

How does cultural freedom arise? As I  wrote in The Root of Conflict, there are two truths: the truth of the individual based upon the individual’s experience and the Truth of the group which is that belief promulgated by the leaders – that is, rulers – of the group and which becomes the only truth, The Truth. And all others, whether of the individual or another group, are deemed false.

How is it that some people are rulers and others not? Is it an innate characteristic? I would say yes! Just as with animals, some people are born more aggressive than others. For example, some dogs are more aggressive, bred generation after generation to increase aggressiveness. But it may also be the result of social status within the group. The son of a king or other socially high ranking person is likely to be perceived as having more authority than a commoner. And there may be other reasons why some are rulers and others ruled.

But what keeps the ruler in that position is fear. Perhaps the threat of violence, maybe only the perception of risk. As society has progressed, the means of imposing fear have changed from a physical to a social threat, such as exclusion from the group, to our modern-day perception of risk, the fear instilled in us by the information bombarding us through modern communication.

Historically, there have been many forms of pseudo-democracy: theocracy, monarchy, oligarchy, or plutocracy. Each has its means of instilling fear in the ruled. And each has a common characteristic: rulers exert control over the ruled, and the ruled submit to that control. Even in the case of revolutionaries, there were the leaders – rulers – and the rest of the revolutionaries.

But there is one other relationship: voluntary servitude or more directly stated: voluntary slavery. Over some time, perhaps a few generations, the desire of the ruled to be free, to control their lives, slowly recedes due to the pressure of the fear instilled by the rulers. As the desire for personal freedom lessens, complacency supplants it, and the ruled submit to the rulers’ authority: voluntary servitude.

Consider the US, a progression from the ideal of freedom for which our forefathers fought in the American Revolution to voluntary servitude, the state in which the majority of people in the US now exist. How is that possible? We all learned when we were youngsters in school about “the land of the free” and other such. By nature, children are imitative and tend to believe what their parents tell them or what they observe their parents doing or saying. Look at yourself; how different are your views from those of your parents or your peers?

Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If in our heart, we still cling to anything — anger, anxiety, or possessions — we cannot be free

Thich Nhat Hanh
The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching

Beto Riginale
17 May 2020