Democracy: Who Really Rules?

Certainly I never thought it was possible: Listening to and largely agreeing with an extreme left wing thinker!  Yet whether you agree with Noam Chomsky or not, the points he raises in this “Who Rules the World” interview, warrant consideration and discussion. Unfortunately, judging from some of the rabidly vitriolic responses, this seem to be a vain hope. If nothing else they highlight the danger to, if not the imminent demise of, democracy as we know it – or at least like to think of it.

It was Voltaire who said, “I disagree with every word you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” It may just be the earth’s increasing revolutions around the sun, but I am (some might say “at last!”) learning the wisdom behind the adage that “There is a reason the Lord gave us two ears and only one mouth!”  That doesn’t mean it is coming any easier but, as I mellow, I find myself thinking more about something my headmaster said.  

Answering his own rhetorical question, he told our class that, “The two most tragic words in the English language are ‘if only!’” (And probably every other language too!) Yet now perhaps they seem more pertinent than ever. And as I reflect on them I realise that if those of the two most tragic words, the two most powerful words have to be “What if?” Just think of the infinite possibilities that they open up!

And not just for new ideas or discoveries. Think what conflicts might have been avoided or how many lives might have been saved if someone had stopped to consider, “What if they are right and I am wrong?” How much conflict or misery could you have saved yourself if you had asked yourself that? No matter how convinced you are, there is always the possibility that you may be wrong.

That is something worth bearing in mind when it comes to political debate. Here, though, there are a couple of further questions that might take the heat out of the discussion and prompt a more fruitful debate and an ultimately better solution. You would do well to ask yourself:

  • Why do they think that?
  • What are they trying to achieve?  

Question mark (blue) 27528362_sI hint at this in “The Democracy Delusion” when I claim that many of today’s problems are the result of policy-based rather than principle-based decision making. I believe that over time policies become entrenched to the point that they get mistaken for principles and thus we get further and further away from the principles. World War I showed us the futility of trench warfare; and our current political situation with entrenched positions is steering us towards a political equivalent with results that might be just as devastating.  So let’s pause to ask ourselves a few what if questions and see if we cannot improve things.

What if …

Constitutions had an expiry date and new ones had to be devised every ten or twenty years? (Something that was originally proposed for the US constitution.)

What if …

We could find a way to balance individual human rights with collective rights?

What if …

We could reconcile ideological differences and find a way to fuse left and right-wing thinking to avoid the causes of so much conflict over the past century or so?

What if …

We were able to find a way for people to participate more in the fruits of the labours?

What if …

We could eliminate the tax avoidance and evasion that subverts morality and distorts efforts to create a just and humane society?

What if …

Government could be more representative, transparent and accountable?

What if …

We did not have political parties?

What if …

Elections (and hence politicians) could be made less susceptible to manipulation by lobbying and vested interest groups?


Those are big questions. And there are likely many others that I have missed. But they are questions that we need to address if we are to identify who really rules and move beyond the polarity and polarisation of present day politics. And they are certainly questions that need answers if we are to safeguard the ideal of democracy that most of us hold so dear and which is increasingly being eroded if not actually becoming a delusion.

Yet, while they are big questions and present enormous challenges, they are not unanswerable. They do have answers. We just have to find them and I have endeavoured to play my part in doing so. Apart from renewable constitutions, I have proposed solutions for all the others in my book “The Democracy Delusion.” I believe they provide a very good starting point for discussion, debate and ultimate development.  

Let’s Eschew Party Politics

Political conformity“Our current election process suffocates those of independent thought. It whispers that we have but two unfortunate options from which to choose. … It favours the powerful over the weak. It promotes oligarchy. It allows morally bankrupt syndicates to dictate our political destiny.” These words are from the introduction of a 2015 book the two party system: “Two Tyrants: The Myth of a Two Party Government” by A.G. Roderick; who, according to the biographical information provided is “a freelance writer and former staff writer for a top 10 newspaper who has worked as a legislative analyst and policy advisor in multiple state legislatures and at the municipal level.”

Yet despite the title and referring to “a state of symphonic polarization” and claiming that Republicans and Democrats have achieved “absolute power,” Roderick goes on to say, “The goal of this book is not to decry the evils of political parties.”  Why the hell not?

This seems to me to be a craven attempt to pull his punches! After all, how can you decry the parties – or at least what they have allowed to develop – without decrying the political system? I guess you would have to read the book to find out, which, having just come across, I haven’t yet done. Nevertheless, it still appears to be an inherently illogical stance. Especially when you consider there is a similar situation in the UK which has a very different political system.

And the case against the party political system becomes even stronger when proportional representation is promoted as the solution. While the logic appears sound that this is more representative of the people’s wishes in a democracy, whether it actually does deliver that at the end of the day is highly debatable. The inter-party wheeling-and-dealing needed to form a government makes such a system inherently less stable and, arguably, even more susceptible to corruption. You need look no further than post war Italy for an example of this. Let’s not, however, get side-tracked into any arguments about the relative corruption of the two approaches.

The idea that coalition or multi-party government offers better government as a result of the need for consensus or compromise is inherently flawed, for consensus and compromise invariably means it takes longer to reach decisions, without in any way guaranteeing that the best solution is reached. It certainly does not ensure that the final decision is in the best interests of the people being governed. In fact, as the recent Greek crisis showed, there is a strong case for arguing that party politics is irrelevant and that power actually resides in the hands of those who control the finances and economics.

All this means makes it imperative that we re-examine our whole system of government and the democratic principles that underpin it. Eschewing party politics might be a darned good starting point.