Author Topic: Whither, Democracy?  (Read 192 times)

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Offline SuperColinBlow

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Whither, Democracy?
« on: January 30, 2019, 02:58:49 pm »
This thread isn't about foreign policy, but I decided it probably fit best in "the World" category.

I read Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein. I do not agree with everything he writes, but he does have some decent salient points about democracy. He thinks it is doomed to failure because of its flaws.

One flaw I have noticed is that there is, in every democracy with which I know anything about, still a "democratic elite" that controls the votes of the less influential elements of society.

I'm not saying that democracy isn't superior to communism, fascism, or other such perverse forms of government. I would much rather live in a democracy than in a communist dictatorship. The elite in those forms of government get away with a lot of shit that democratic leaders wouldn't.

One of you started a thread about the Trudeau "brand". Politicians are often chosen by their brand images, and not via careful thought. one would think, why would you want to trade democracy for a Heinleinian "meritocracy" (or whatever his form of government should be called)? Especially considering that you're essentially shrinking the number of watchdogs of freedom to do so? But of course, the democratic watchdogs are usually asleep on the job. It took them nothing to earn their positions, all they had to do was file the papers, run for election, and deceive the electorate into voting for them.

Will democracy eventually fail, as Heinlein predicted? Or is it really the best form of government we'll ever come up with?

I hope Heinlein is dead wrong. But as the days pass I am more convinced that there is at least something to his arguments.
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Offline the_squid

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Re: Whither, Democracy?
« Reply #1 on: January 30, 2019, 03:26:56 pm »
In Heinlenís Starship Troopers, it was a one-world government led by the military elite.  This was necessary due to people being too soft and moral decay.  The one-world govít was in reaction to China trying to take over the world. 

I guess if you feel that people are too soft and moral decay will be the end of society, you may have a point to make.

But I think the case for a democracy failing for those reasons is rather hard to make these days.   The Communist regimes are all but gone and democracy has spread around the world considerably.  So Heilenís case is rather weak, IMO.

Offline SuperColinBlow

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Re: Whither, Democracy?
« Reply #2 on: January 30, 2019, 03:42:53 pm »
Not a military elite, an EX military elite. People who had a military career, and were therefore still "active duty", were not Heinlein's "citizens". Had to be a veteran, not active duty, to be one of the Federation's citizens.

And of course we cannot see the future. I see weaknesses in democracies that may be our undoing, perhaps one day. Communism had fatal flaws, and they weren't necessarily apparent until the secretariat of Mikhail Gorbachev, or his few most immediate predecessors.

Maybe we will go to war with China. I thought, however, that the war between the UK/US/Russia vs. the Chinese "hegemony" he called it was triggered by the failing democracies wanting to go to war to squash internal unrest?

Then again, that could have happened in the States during and after Vietnam. And of course it didn't.

And, of course, Donald Trump wouldn't be president.

I'm not advocating this, but I am wondering if it'll eventually happen. Maybe at that time, the only choices left will be anarchy, dictatorship, or the aforementioned ex-military meritocracy imagined by Heinlein.
« Last Edit: January 30, 2019, 03:48:41 pm by SuperColinBlow »
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Offline the_squid

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Re: Whither, Democracy?
« Reply #3 on: January 30, 2019, 03:50:00 pm »
Quote
I'm not advocating this, but I am wondering if it'll eventually happen.

So far, the evidence is the opposite.  There are more democracies and more freedom in the world, not less.  And the trend is a good one, so far.

Offline SuperColinBlow

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Re: Whither, Democracy?
« Reply #4 on: January 30, 2019, 03:51:07 pm »
So far, the evidence is the opposite.  There are more democracies and more freedom in the world, not less.  And the trend is a good one, so far.

True. But then again, Communism was once on the increase. Reds under the beds and all that.
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Offline the_squid

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Re: Whither, Democracy?
« Reply #5 on: January 30, 2019, 03:55:25 pm »
True. But then again, Communism was once on the increase. Reds under the beds and all that.

I can see the USA democracy failing...   but that might be because it was never a real democracy, but is on the verge of being ruled by elite capitalists with all the power.

But other democracies seem to have it figured out better.

Offline SuperColinBlow

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Re: Whither, Democracy?
« Reply #6 on: January 30, 2019, 04:01:06 pm »
Hmm, famous last words?  :P

But I didn't start this as a thread to compare the U.S. to Canada or other "real democracies".
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Offline TimG

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Re: Whither, Democracy?
« Reply #7 on: January 30, 2019, 04:01:10 pm »
One flaw I have noticed is that there is, in every democracy with which I know anything about, still a "democratic elite" that controls the votes of the less influential elements of society.
The election of Trump and Brexit demonstrate that is not true and the voters have the power to force through change that the "elites" oppose should they choose to exercise it.

I also think that democracy is consequence and not an end in itself. Successful societies need to be able to change which requires to a peaceful means to decide on what changes are needed. This, in turn, requires robust freedom of speech rights and a mechanism to replace the the people running the government without a civil war. Democracy is the only framework that is compatible with those requirements which means that, for all its flaws, it is the best system.
« Last Edit: January 30, 2019, 04:04:24 pm by TimG »

Offline SuperColinBlow

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Re: Whither, Democracy?
« Reply #8 on: January 30, 2019, 04:07:14 pm »
The elites can shape the vote, leaders often shape consensus, not just wait for it to fall in place. When you get right down to it, a single voter in the US or Canada has maybe a bit more power as one in pre-Glasnost Russia--but not by much.

There are people who have more influence than others in democracies, not just in despotic regimes. There was an interesting book about the process of political survival (complex so I wont' get into it) where he spoke of the average voter as an "interchangeable", vs. a minority of voters who were more influential, or part of a leader's "winning coalition".

It's the best system, yes. So far. But if you went back to the court of Henry VIII, or George III, would you be able to convince any of them that the idea of our democracy (in the 21st century) would be way better than their powerful monarchy? Probably not. A few centuries ago, the democracy we have now just didn't exist. Jefferson poo-pooed the idea of democracy as tantamount to mob rule.

I believe it's the best system we can possibly come up for the moment. I just do not glorify it as the best we will ever come up with. Who can say what the future holds? Maybe Heinlein's idea, maybe something completely different.
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Offline SuperColinBlow

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Re: Whither, Democracy?
« Reply #9 on: January 30, 2019, 04:17:02 pm »
The election of Trump and Brexit demonstrate that is not true and the voters have the power to force through change that the "elites" oppose should they choose to exercise it.

I also think that democracy is consequence and not an end in itself. Successful societies need to be able to change which requires to a peaceful means to decide on what changes are needed. This, in turn, requires robust freedom of speech rights and a mechanism to replace the the people running the government without a civil war. Democracy is the only framework that is compatible with those requirements which means that, for all its flaws, it is the best system.

With all due respect, the election of Donald Trump shows exactly how the "interchangeables" can be manipulated by rhetoric and "feel good" bull****.

Democracy has less question marks than despotism. But it still has plenty of question marks that makes me wonder is this really the best we can do? And don't be so quick to assume it's just the U.S. that's like that. From what some of you have told me, and debated over on this website it sounds like other democracies besides America possess the capacity for grave dysfunction.
« Last Edit: January 30, 2019, 04:19:44 pm by SuperColinBlow »
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Online Omni

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Re: Whither, Democracy?
« Reply #10 on: January 30, 2019, 04:21:06 pm »
I can see the USA democracy failing...   but that might be because it was never a real democracy, but is on the verge of being ruled by elite capitalists with all the power.

But other democracies seem to have it figured out better.

Other democracies don't give so much power to whom they elect as leader as does the US. And oops, they now have to deal with an idiot like Trump closing the doors of government for the most stupid reasons.
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Offline TimG

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Re: Whither, Democracy?
« Reply #11 on: January 30, 2019, 04:22:14 pm »
With all due respect, the election of Donald Trump shows exactly how the "interchangeables" can be manipulated by rhetoric and "feel good" bull****.
Make up your mind. One minute you complain that an "elite" controls things and the next minute you complain because an outsider can come in and appeal to voters and get elected. You can't have it both ways. Is the flaw in democracy elite control or voters that ignore elite advice?

But it still has plenty of question marks that makes me wonder is this really the best we can do?
As I said, the important values are the ability to effect change by replacing the people in charge without bloodshed and the ability to discuss and debate ideas without fear. You will not find a system other than democracy that supports those values. Democracy is the consequence - not the end in itself.
« Last Edit: January 30, 2019, 04:31:01 pm by TimG »

Offline SuperColinBlow

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Re: Whither, Democracy?
« Reply #12 on: January 30, 2019, 09:57:27 pm »
It still matters what the voters do, they have the authority. This makes it all the more desirable, and necessary, for an elite to "manage" or sway those votes. Exactly how much power do you think you have as a voter? Not much, individually. Which is why the people who have the power to combine those votes, and shape consensus, are that kind of powered elite. Do you understand? Coming from Canada, a constitutional monarchy/parliamentary democracy, I'm quite sure you are familiar with the fact that power and authority are not always commensurate.

It's almost like wealth: one person with a dollar in his/her pocket cannot achieve much. But when you combine your dollar with everyone else's dollar, you can actually do important shit with it. (Build a bridge, run public schools, buy an F-35 joint strike fighter....etc.)

For example, In California the people can literally pass laws themselves. The present constitution originates from a time when people were sick of the railroad barons (business interests/special interests) making the governor and California Legislature into their private stooges. So they brought about a method by which the legislature and governor could be bypassed and, with them, the corrupt special interests; namely, passing plebiscites. All you need to get a question on the next election ballot is 250,000 signatures on a correctly-worded petition. Let freedom ring!

Unfortunately, it hasn't turned out that way. What do you need to get such a prolific petition drive? You need organization. Who has organization, and the money and influence to not only do the petition drive but to shape its outcome? Special interests. The unions. Big Business, etc., basically the people who have the power to shape policy through the ballot box. The voters have the authority, but elite interests have the power to bring those votes together in large blocks as a class, and swing the result one way or the other.

This isn't "having it both ways" as you put it. It's how it actually happens. If you really think that in any democratic country the voters can make a difference alone, and that a "real democracy" has little or no "elite", then please pass whatever you're smoking to me. It looks terribly pleasant.

Other democracies don't give so much power to whom they elect as leader as does the US. And oops, they now have to deal with an idiot like Trump closing the doors of government for the most stupid reasons.

Rubbish (about the power of the president). Your prime minister has more power in his pinky finger than a Pres. of the United States has in his whole hand. Our dear leader LOOKS more powerful to people in other countries because he has a world reach that most other national leaders do not. But that only means the whole federal government of the United States has a world reach, not the president by himself.

(not to get off topic but you cannot check and balance what isn't constitutionally described at all. But again, I do not want this to degenerate into a Canada v. America thread.)

This thread was intended to be a more theoretical discussion. I believe in democracy as the best we can do at the moment, I just happen to admit that, as with any form of government, the drawbacks must and always do accompany the advantages. It's a double-edged sword. You cannot have a particular government and enjoy its advantages without living with its drawbacks.
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Ignorance is Strength

Online Omni

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Re: Whither, Democracy?
« Reply #13 on: January 30, 2019, 10:38:16 pm »
Other democracies don't give so much power to whom they elect as leader as does the US. And oops, they now have to deal with an idiot like Trump closing the doors of government for the most stupid reasons.

The POTUS has at his disposal the "football" which is carried around behind him by the secret service, and which contains the codes to launch wwIII which could destroy the planet. That's a lot of power. I suggest/hope that the current situation is the same as it was when Nixon was losing his marbles, the real "football" is nowheree near Donny boy. 

Offline SuperColinBlow

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Re: Whither, Democracy?
« Reply #14 on: January 30, 2019, 10:40:32 pm »
So do the heads of state/government of:

India
Pakistan
the UK
France
Russia
China
Israel
North Korea.

They've got their own footballs. How is the U.S. president so exceptional in that?
War is Peace
Freedom is Slavery
Ignorance is Strength