How far is democracy a good thing?
Recently in France, the fascist Le Pen has knocked out the moderate socialist Jospin in the presidential elections.

So if democracy sometimes allows the masses to make essentially the wrong decision, is there not a case for manipulation of the media or the withdrawal of full democratic rights in order to prevent such a mistake from occurring?

After all, Hitler himself came to power legally, and certainly was put in a position of strength because of Weimar democracy.

Le Pen wouldn’t have got nearly as high a ranking as he did had the french used a different type (AV-plus) of proportional representation recommended by the Independent Commission on Voting Systems to the british parliament in 1998.

But yes, ultimately, it is still a flaw of all democracies that the majority can be in the wrong. Instead of manipulation of the media, or the withdrawal of democratic rights surely we should be educating the next generation of voters to know more about the system they are taking part in.

Flamin’Red raises a good point.

I am so annoyed by world leaders everywhere praising democracy unthinkingly, as if it is a given that it is the only correct/moral/reliable form of government open to us. This is simply not true. As John Stuart Mill wrote in “On Liberty,” democracy presents two great risks. Most obviously, there is the danger of the tyranny of the magistrate; ie. you vote in some guy who seems like a nice enough chap, but once he’s there he abuses his power (Hitler being the best example). The second danger is the possibility of the tyranny of the majority; expressed by James Madison as
“Measures [being] too often decided, not according to the rules of justice, and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.” By definition, if we accept the wishes of a majority, we are excluding those of minority groups; so it is easy to see how the majority can create this tyranny. For George ‘Dubbya’ Bush and his cronies to insist that any country which does not operate a democratic system is somehow less civilised than his oh so tolerant nation (the democratic country which started sterilising criminals under a negative eugenics policy as recently as the 1920s), is facile.

Archie also raises a good point. To start manipulating the media to ‘correct’ democracy would be self-defeating. The public would end up voting for whoever the panel in charge likes best. Why introduce more coercion and new opportunities for corruption into the political process? This would not achieve anything.

The problem is, if democracy is intrinsically flawed, what do we do instead? I do not know of any examples of socialism working successfully for a sustained period, yet the more I read books like “Captive State” by George Monbiot the less comfortable I am with our present system. Until someone comes up with something new, I am all for a hybrid of democracy and socialism which maintains the popular vote, but respects the sovereignty of the individual and restricts the powers of the state, hence limiting the potential for any sort of destructive tyranny.

What does anyone else think?!

can’t really argue with most of that, yaawaad.
democracy is a slightly illusory concept. i, like you though, do feel a twinge of cringe when i hear gwb banging on about how sept.11 was an attack on democracy.
a lot has to be in place for democracy to work. a media which hounds out corrupt politicians (like here). this provides a reasonably effective check against jsmill’s first problem. a weak electorate. i.e. one which can be manipulated to vote for a party whose leaders are responsible and sensible enough to not be too clouded by ideological conviction. not nec. my idea.
democracy makes people feel as if they have power over their own lives. and as far as applied social scientists are concerned, that is enough. the feeling of perfection, as opposed to actual dominant incompatible perfection (see perfect world topic, or all posts from pangloss, if u can be assed).
archie’s point about the self-correction mechanism of the media being self-defeating is maybe true when applied to the likes of us who can see democracy in a very real light. but to most people in peace-time who would rather live than reform the conditions of their life, this type of manipulation, however immoral and bitter, is ultimately a good thing.
did any of you see a programme on bbc2 called ‘the century of the self’ recently. political devolpments since freud, and how his ideas can be used to make people feel free. possibly the most damning exposure of new labour that i’ve seen since '97.
there is, as yet, no alternative. all that can be done is to expose what is real to people. even in watford’s mayoral electino, some seriously dirty tactics are being used by labour against the libdems, their main rivals. the truth is though, i’m quite glad to be able to debate and constructively criticise those in power in this country.
maybe by democracy, gwb was (after sept.11) contrasting american’s ability to attack the us and afghan women’s ability to question the taliban . . .

I am not sure what you are classing socialism as here; since it is such a blanket term, but from the context in which you raise it being “powers of the state, hence limiting the potential for any sort of destructive tyranny” I am assuming that you are referring to a Stalinist/Soviet style Communism rather than anarcho-socialist systems.

Of course ‘true’ socialism as proposed by Marx would involve a short period which he called ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’ which has been interpreted in different ways. But his fundemental idea was that we should have a much more all-encompassing democracy which would actually give citizens power over the basic aspects of their lives, such as votes in the workplace etc.

I’m sure you have all read his argumnets concerning why this would work economically, but I would propose that without fundemental direct (small community) democracy, and instead the tyrant domintated representative democracy in place now, we can’t truly pretend to be ‘defending’ democracy in this thread, rather defending an elected dicatatocrship.

I think that the whole notion of democracy is so hypocritical. We are led to believe that our political system is so enlightened and every individual has an equal say, however if you look back at the last general election, in many constituencies less than 40% of people voted at all. That means that we have at least 60% of the population who are opposed or unhappy with the governing party! We are given the choice of voting for the puppet on the right or the puppet on the left. This is not democracy! If you agree or would like to know more then you will enjot visiting

sorry, wrong address, its actually - definately worth a visit!

you can’t really cite hitler as an example of democracy not working, the way he manipulated the weimar government was slightly more complex than that, and it was a combination of ‘backstage intrigue’ as well as the failure of their particular style of democracy that got him into power. as for the fact that only 40% of the country votes, does that demonstrate the failure of the politics, or a failure of the people?

Firstly, I don’t think the use of Hitler as an example was central to previous posts, so it does not detract from the core arguments.

Secondly, to call low turnout a failure of the people is hasty, judgmental and ill-considered. In what sense is it a failure? Are you suggesting the existence of a Rousseau style ‘social contract;’ ie moral compulsion to vote (in which case you ought to read Hegel)? How can you justify this? To vote in a representative democracy is simply to put minimal input into the choice of who will stand as master over you for the next few years. Particularly for someone who holds minority opinions, which democracy by its nature excludes, voting can seem pointless. I would be interested to know why this perfectly logical chain of reasoning, which would lead many people not to vote, is in any sense a failure.

Louise: you acknowledge that Hitler came to power through the ‘failure’ of Weimar democracy, yet you say that it can’t be cited as an example of democracy not working.

This is a complex issue, but I would say that Hitler used democracy to reach the position where he held the largest share of the vote.
From this position, he was able to impede the other parties from cooperating successfully, and was therefore able to negotiate through intrigue with the German elites into the position of Chancellor.

This demonstrates that people can clearly destroy democracy by the democratic electoral process (of any kind), which seems ludicrous.

I was simply trying to point out that Hitler was a bad example to use in illustrating the ‘failure’ of democracy. I also think that a low voter turn out is as much to do with the people as it is the system - if you feel your views aren’t represented then you can do something about it by actually stating that you abstain to vote on your polling card as opposed to simply not turning up. If you look at the European elections, the only people who cared enough to show up were fairly right wing, and that’s why a lot of people do not feel that British MEPs are representative of their views. I for one intend to vote on Thursday, as I really don’t see any other legitimate way of changing the way this country is run, as I don’t think that we’re going to be having a revolution any time soon.

Louise. I admire your stout adherance to your beliefs; I always respect the views of a principled person. But, but, but…you have merely restated an opinion in your last post. ‘If people don’t vote it’s their own laziness at fault; how can they criticise a system which, let’s face it, isn’t about to change: people need to get off their backsides and take responsibility for themselves.’ However, I issued a challenge to this perspective in my last post, which you have not addressed. The idea of a responsibility to vote. How does this responsibility arise? I suggested that you might be writing in the light of social contract theory. If so, what is the origin of the contract, and what are its terms? If not, why do you believe so resolutely in a responsibility to vote?

Oh democracy how I weep for thee.
Thy rotting, misused legacy
Shall be remembered fondly by
The quiet revolution…Why?
Jonas Serti Onassis

I understand that you cannot force people to have an opinion, i just find the fact that people care so little about the way in which their country is run somewhat bemusing. I do think that people have an obligation to vote, but i understand that you cannot enforce this, but i really don’t see how people can hope to see any change in the country without actually using the system available to them and voting. I may be repeating myself, but it really annoys me when people complain about the way the country is run, and yet do nothing about it. I also think that you sacrifice any right to complain about the government if you cannot be bothered to actually stop them from being elected. And going back to the original argument, the voter turnout in the French elections was rather poor, maybe if more people had voted, Le Pen would not have had such a large majority of the votes?

People may not be interested in politics, but you’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t care about how much tax they pay… The only reason people are disillusioned with voting is that they think their vote makes such little difference to the way this society is run…

There are two main reasons, firstly, we don’t use proportional representation, which would make every vote count “more”. Secondly, there just isn’t a proper alternative to labour on the left, and the liberials aren’t exactly properly capitalising on this fact. The fact that they don’t even have anyone standing for the local elections in my area, when the christian allience does isn’t helping my bothering to vote…

without communist ideologies and practice, democratic ideologies would merely be a philosophical dream due to lack of comparison between beliefs, wherein positivism and negativism is seen, and contrasting fo sequential events that would only happen through practical application. Therefore, I can say that without communism, democracy and all its concepts would not exist.

But communism is anterior to democracy, both in theory and in practice.

Democratic America was founded a good 150 years (or so) before the communist USSR, and the democratic writings of John Locke (who in many ways is the father of American democracy, even though he is English) and John Stuart Mill far procede the Hegelian socialism of Karl Marx.

In fact Marx used his socialism as the next step beyond democracy and free-market capitalism, as it’s more beneficial antithesis. Whether it is a more perfect system I’ll leave for you all to decide.

And democratic Greece was founded a good few thousand years before the communist USSR :smiley:

sorry, couldnt resist

And that’s a bad thing? Anything is better than having a socialist in office, even if it’s a fascist (and from the admittedly little I know about Le Pen, I’d hardly call him fascist).

I think it’s safe to say that having a moderate socialist in power is better than having a right-wing racist. The racist would do far more damage, except to the indigenous population. What do you have against socialism that you would put a man like that in power rather than Jospin?

Kurt stated:

I too would like to know what you have against socialism, and more importantly I would like to hear your logic for socialism being worse than anything else. Personally, I have studied different regimes in power throughout many parts of the world. I had many history and civilizations classes in highschool.

But socialism I have studied on my own time as a small hobby. It is by far the best working system yet (in my opinion).

What’s your take?