Saturday, February 8, 2014
Issues of Democracy - why Journalists should stop helping elected thugs
It is interesting to look around the world at the moment and identify the failures of democracy, and to be amused by the Western media's complete incomprehension of what is going on and why.
Time and time again you get headlines about how people should stand back and accept the 'democratically elected government', despite the fact that the democratic result was a fairly evil dictator keen on persecution, mass murder, civil war and ethnic cleansing.
This is because most ignorant Western journalists believe as an absolute truth that 'democracy' is a good thing, despite all the evidence that democracy is as bad, or even worse, than any other form of government. (Interestingly many non-western journalists treat democracy with considerable scepticism, which baffles Western journalists even more.)
Just to be clear Robespiere, Napoleon III, Mussolini and Adolf Hitler were in some form 'democratically elected' leaders, and every Communist dictator, ever, has regularly received about 97% of the popular vote in their countries.
There are a many issues with saying that winning the popular vote provides legitimacy.
Communist governments obviously don't get 'real' votes. One party states are not democracies, and saying that people get a vote on the single party does not make them so.
Popular votes are pointless if there is no choice.
Which brings us to unofficial one party states, like South Africa, where there is a popular vote which means virtually nothing. People get a say, but there is no chance of removing the party which - very largely through its dreadful economic and social policies - has kept the vast majority of the voters ignorant and poor (while flooding them with propaganda suggesting that result is an outside conspiracy, and only the people's party can save them...) Actually some of you might recognise this more directly as being Mugabe's very blunt approach, but the principal is the same when adopted by more weasely worded one party statists (for whom too many Western journalists have a romanticised and highly inaccurate perspective).
Most African (and many Asian and Middle Eastern... and Eastern European) 'nations' that pretend to democracy, are effectively one party states where the 'opposition' is never really going to be allowed to get anywhere.
Popular votes are pointless if people don't know or don't understand the choice.
When Australia 'granted independence' to its League of Nations mandated territory of Papua New Guinea (read abandoned an under-developed country to sink or swim if you prefer to look at the results), it disastrously insisted on imposing an elected republic. For the best of all possible idealisms of course. The stupidity of this was not only that we were dealing with an illiterate body of tribes in a country with no social cohesion and no established rule of law, but that we didn't even know who or how many voters there might be. Our 'protective officers' had to spend months canoeing up rivers and climbing jungle trails trying to find the isolated tribes that had often never seen an outsider before (and had no idea they were even part of a country, let alone what its laws were), only to ask them to 'vote' for a parliament. The inevitable result was village leaders choosing whichever local strongman offered the best deals (or threats) and telling everyone to vote for them. The result is a cesspool of corruption and intrigue masquerading as a parliamentary democracy,and condemning the majority of the population to decades (or centuries) of poverty, illiteracy and inter tribal violence. Hurray for our moral superiority!
Popular votes are pointless without education, or understanding of rule of law.
The US, in its 'wisdom' has imposed republican democracy on 'nations' in the Middle East which are not really nations at all. The fancy lines drawn on maps by European treaty powers in the post Great War settlements paid virtually no attention to geographic features, tribal groups, trade routes, cultural backgrounds, or anything else that might cause some sense of cohesion in the resulting societies. Inviting them to vote inevitably leads to attempts by subgroups to control and dominate their neighbours/rivals.
Having 50.001% the population supporting you should not give you the right to start persecution and ethnic cleansing. (Nor should having 90% - see Nazi Germany and Jews - but in fact persecution is far more likely when the persecuted are a big enough block to need putting down to prevent them challenging the status quo, than when they are insignificant...)
This is made worse by the fact that three or more divisions in a country often means that who comes out on to may not even have half the support of the population. If the majority of the population are in two or three factions that constantly squabble, you often finish up with co-ordinated minorities managing to seize and hold control. Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, and Anwar Saddat spring to mind as samples. These people immediately change the voting rules to make it impossible to get rid of them...
Popular votes are pointless if they only enhance tribal division and lead to ongoing violence.
Speaking of rigging the rules, let's look at 'rotten boroughs'.
I do not actually mean the old rotten boroughs in England that were removed a century and a half ago, where substantial medieval towns had decayed to a few farms but still elected 2 MP's. I mean the modern rotten boroughs where, because voting is not compulsory, the British Labour Party MP can expect to win a seat with about 20,000 votes, whereas the Conservatives need roughly 40,000 and a Liberal Democrat needs at least 80,000. Admittedly there are about the same numbers living in each seat, so the MP represents the same raw numbers. But in practice some apparently have only a fraction of the support (or legitimacy).
Is this just? If voting is not compulsory, and people have to be motivated to vote, why should such a disproportionate say in politics be given to people who aren't interested in voting? And is it really 'given', or just taken by those pretending to represent those who don't want to vote? (For the best of motives of course!)
The only real excuse I have heard for 'implying' the desires of those who don't vote, is that it allows representation of the poor and ignorant and badly educated who lack the understanding or motivation to become involved themselves. This appears to be code by the people who 'know what is best for you' to get themselves a disproportionate say in making everyone do what they want them to do. It ignores the possibility that those who do not vote do not want to be represented by the do gooders anyway. (Something beyond the comprehension of the sorts of 'do gooders' who are regularly outraged at the voters for getting it 'wrong', presumably because they are 'misled' or 'dog whistled', into supporting people who don' t really 'have their best interests at heart'.)
If you are going to pretend a vote is valuable, then it has to be actively given to you to actually count.
Popular votes are worse than pointless if you are going to automatically assign the 'preferences' of much of the population without actually getting their consent.
(Remember that bit about dictators changing the rules to stay in power... Put it in the UK context... Hmmm.)
So let us consider the results of real, genuine, popularly elected leaders, who are a disaster.
I am not just talking about people like Hitler who managed to manipulate 25-30% of the vote to dominate a chaotic parliament long enough to change all the rules and entrench their power. (Though that appears to be the default result for 90-95% of all Republics throughout all history, so perhaps it is worthy of some reflection.) No, I am more interested in places where a genuine majority of the population vote repeatedly for a leader who every educated and thinking (not the same thing unfortunately) person knows will lead them to disaster.
Effectively what we are talking about here is popularistic appeals to the ignorant peasantry who make up the majority of the population.
Egypt recently elected the Muslim Brotherhood. This was done by the majority votes of the ignorant peasants in the rural areas, and against the wishes of practically anyone who could be classed as educated, literate, liberal, or with an understanding of rule of law, or role of commerce and legal rights in a modern society. Ie: the traditional appeal to the ignorant to grab control of the 'means of production' and 'distribute it more fairly' - which always leads to the same results of poverty and persecution whether you call it a Fascist state (Nazi Germany) Communist state (People's Republic), Theocratic state (Muslim republic, Hindu republic, North Korea), or just a kleptocracy.
Naturally the Western journalists believe the Muslim Brotherhood should be left to develope its 'democratic' course.
The inevitable result of letting the Muslim Brotherhood rewrite the constitution and entrench their powers while introducing a Muslim republic with proper Sharia laws, would be a particularly nasty form of dictatorship. Like Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia, future votes would have been 'controlled' and eventually pointless. So the intervention of the military to throw them out and try and redo the democratic project was necessary, and possibly the only (very slim) hope of making it work. However, like Fiji, it may be only the start of many interventions to stop backsliding, until the military and people give up in disgust and settle down to exactly the sort of dictatorship which, more or less, kept things together and slowly moving forward under their previous dictators.
The simple fact is that until the mass of ignorant peasants can be adequately educated and slowly introduced to the rule of law and the consequences of voting, it is not safe to let them vote.
Thailand is going through something similar. Too many ignorant peasants voting for idealistic promises from a party that anyone with any education or experience of reality knows will inevitably lead to some sort of compromise between Stalinism and kleptocracy. As a result the educated people and those with economic hopes for the future of a more prosperous Thailand have effectively given up on democracy, and are calling for an appointed council of managers.
Thailand has some advantages here. It is a prototype Constitutional Monarchy, and - in theory - the King can use his vast personal prestige to help sort out some constitutional compromises that could keep the country edging towards the time when a genuine democracy might be safe. Unfortunately the King, who might have been that active 20 or 30 yeas ago, is in his 90's. So Thailand might need its own military intervention as well.
Besides which, the educated classes who are coming to against democracy may have a point. The last century or two has shown overwhelmingly that democracy usually does more harm than good. They might be sensible to prefer alternative forms of government... at least for a century or two... until their society has developed a bit further.
The Western journalists however, have swallowed the 'democracy is good' line hook line and sinker. Largely because they have a very inadequate understanding of the history of the perhaps half a dozen countries that have more or less managed to make it work.
Britain, the 'mother parliaments' took centuries to slowly expand the voting class. The Medieval land-holding and managing executive came first, and had to be beaten into a co-operative venture (largely through opposition to overbearing monarchs). Fortunately the monarchs balanced this by providing some rules and laws to protect the common people from overweening lords, so a workable if delicate balance started to evolve. It was improved by gradually introducing the other economic components that made things work in the state. The major trading towns got a pari of representatives to start with, and later the franchise was gradually increased amongst the 'contributing' economic classes over centuries, with the property or income level required to vote steadily declining. Still, the vast majority of the population had been literate, and well versed in legal rights, property rights, free press, and political promises and copouts, for centuries, before universal voting was allowed. (Which possibly only went too far in granting voting rights to all, even un-contributing, whereas the 'right to vote' going to anyone who contributes one dollar more than they take from the state would be much safer).
In Britain there was no stupid concept of introducing universal voting rights in 1066, or 1214, or 1642 or 1688 or 1793, because it was perfectly clear that such a step would be disastrous at those times. (The English Civill War made it pretty clear that some things needed to change... and the results of the Puritan 'republic' made it clear that knee jerk reactions were dumb, and the change should be a steady but slow process... Still think the current vote is spread too widely to be workable long term...)
So why should throwing universal voting rights into semi-feudal Afghanistan, or tribal New Guinea, be a good thing?
The Americans are worse here, in that they pretend that their democracy sprang fully formed, and that they didn't develope in exactly the same very slow way. The property franchise in the early colonies was reinforced by the 'all are equal save yellow's, red's and black's' bit of the early Republic'. Only after a century or two of literacy and getting used to economic development and free press and rule of law etc was the franchise very gradually expanded. (Blacks finally getting votes in the 1960's etc). Again, despite the recent pretences, no one really thinks that giving even all whites - let alone yellow's, red's and black's - votes in 1600 or 1776 or 1861 or even 1901, would have made for a workable system. (It appears not to have occurred to most Americans that a civil war with 600,000 dead should perhaps have given them pause to consider whether they had the best of all possible political systems?)
France, which did ban slavery immediately on becoming a Republic, nonetheless had a property franchise. Only about 20% of most rural villagers had full citizenship and voting rights at the start. Again, no one thought universal voting would be sensible, or indeed anything less than disastrous. (And in fact even those numbers led to disaster... Napoleonic wars anyone? The fact that France is on its 5th republic - plus three monarchies and two empires - in about 200 years, should perhaps indicate that they have not got the perfect solution yet either?)
Should Cromwell have been considered a 'democratically elected' leader. Should Robespierre? Should Napoleon III? Should Stalin or Adolf Hitler or Mao or Kim il whichever? Should Mugabe or Morsi, Putin or... well, its pretty endless isn't it?
But would our modern journalists still have been demanding they be 'respected' as elected leaders, they way they have some of the thugs they are currently supporting? Unfortunately the answer is probably yes.
Why do journalists think that getting a number of votes, whatever the reason for them, makes for 'legitimacy'; and being an evil murdering bastard intent on repression and possible ethnic cleansing doesn't make for illegitimacy?
How can people think that numbers equal morality?
Most of the most terrible things in human history were extremely popular with many people who would now be considered as deserving of being 'voters' in their societies. By contrast many of the great breakthroughs of liberalism and rights were imposed on people who were suspicious, and initially would have almost certainly have voted against them.
Popular democracy is not automatically a good thing, and popular votes do not automatically grant the moral right to appalling behaviour and persecution. (In fact, historically, the opposite is usually true, with extreme popularism almost automatically equalling bad morality and appalling persecution of someone!)
Misleading and manipulating ignorant masses is never going to grant anyone moral righteousness. (No matter what some journalists think.)
Ignorance of history is no excuse for stupid journalism.