The hypocrisy behind calling our representative systems ‘democratic’.

Many people are coming to the conclusion that if we do not have some better kind of democracy, the dishonesty and deceit of our elites will lead us to a bad end.

Not many people know, however, that until 1800 our form of government – electoral representation – was thought to be the very opposite of democracy. It was those grand illusionists the Americans who put about the idea that representatives could be ‘democratic’.

The founding fathers themselves disapproved mightily of democracy: they wanted elected representatives to be a ‘natural aristocracy’ – the best among us, chosen by ‘the people’. They used the word ‘democracy’ in the old-fashioned way, to mean citizen assemblies and selection by lot. Their remarks are illuminating:

Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention… and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths. (Madison, 1787)

The ancient democracies, in which the people themselves deliberated, never possessed one feature of good government. Their very nature was tyranny. (Hamilton, 1787)

Democracy wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There was never a democracy that did not commit suicide. (John Adams, 1814)

Democracy is impracticable beyond the limits of a town. (Jefferson, 1816)

Benjamin Franklin (1706-90) is credited (perhaps wrongly, though it’s not out of character) with the statement: ‘Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner.’

The system the founding fathers wanted was republican and unashamedly based on ‘rule by the few’. But soon it became apparent that many more votes could be got by pretending representatives were democratic than by proclaiming them as ‘natural aristocrats’. And so the great deceit began.

If we want some real democracy, we will have to shed this particular illusion. If the people are not ruling, then the nation is not a democracy. If we hire someone else to clean our windows, we are not cleaning them ourselves. Systems of true democracy are available, well-tried and well-practised: we should adopt them. Some of these systems are: citizens assemblies, assemblies selected by lot, referenda, indirect election starting at grass roots level, rotation of office…

This is extracted from Chapter 4 of my book In The Name of the People published 25/02/13.

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