Democracy Isn’t Good Enough

Written on December 29, 2008. Written by .

Statue of Liberty
Improving governmental systems.
Photo courtesy of Michael Brenton

American propaganda tries to convince us that democracy is some kind of ideal governmental system. I agree with Winston Churchill who said “… democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” The issue is that we still haven’t tried that many governmental systems, especially since almost all governments to date have been blatantly tyrannical. Democracy is just tyranny of the majority. That is a bit better than tyranny of a minority, because at least you’d expect more people to be happy. But that doesn’t mean its fair. The American federal government seems to be able to get away with anything it wants nowadays. If enough congressmen agree, they could reinstitute slavery, wage an agressive war for empire, or make our country communist.

Why is all this possible? The problem started with the constitution. It’s provision for ammendments is too flexible, and it was not specified strictly enough to prevent severe human rights violations. In its time our constitution was a great achievement, but those were primitive times compared to today. Now we can see that it had many holes, which have resulted in its deterioration. The Bush administration has overtly violated the constitution in the patriot act and there has been no legal repercussions.

I used to think that if the people wanted something like communism, then they should get it. But that was before I realized that any form of communism requires some human rights violations, particularly in the form of property rights. I still think that the McCarthy trials were terrible. We shouldn’t have to worry about communism at all because we should have a constitution that does not allow human rights violations no matter how many people want them.

The best solution I can see is a government based on a strict constitution. It should be much more specific than the current American constitution. It should expressly specify what types of laws and taxes are permissible, and hopefully provide clear philosophical justifications for each. And if everything is philosophically justified in a rigorous way, then we won’t have to allow for ammendments that directly contradict previously established law. Ammendments could still be used to provide further clarification of the law, but not to modify it. The ability to modify the constitution is simply too dangerous. It makes it possible for corrupt officials to legally hijack the government and to use it for any purposes they desire.

The purpose of a constitution is to limit the abilities of the government. So a strong constitution makes for a restricted government, which is good because there is less potential for abuse. The ideal constitution should be strictly based on principles and enforced by a strict system of accountability. All budgetary transactions should be publicly displayed on the internet. Any individual should be able to download a list of all taxpayer ID numbers along with their corresponding tax payment values. That way anyone can verify the total income of the government. Similar, there would be a list of all expenses, with a clear definition of how precise the label needs to be. There should not be a label of “Secret Military Project” except perhaps at times of congressionally declared war. This would make financial corruption much more difficult. Government officials would also be held strictly accountable, with any violation punishable by prison-no immunity.

Overall, I like the system of a democratic republic in which elected officials are in charge, but the people get to determine who stays in office. The only major problem that we have is that the constitution is not doing its job. The concept is great, but the present reality is lacking. Putting much tighter constraints on the government with a stricter constitution seems like the best option at this point.

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2 Comments so far
  1. mspice January 4, 2009 11:37 pm

    I think your assertion of democracy as tyranny of the majority is pretty accurate, although the checks and balances of the executive, legislative, and congressional branches of government get rid of most potential problems, although as we clearly can see in today’s world, not all. I think the idea of an extremely strict principle based constitution is a really good idea. This would be an extremely difficult document to produce of course but would bring principles and accountability to governments for really the first time in human history. Nonetheless, this is unfortunately only a dream today. Most of the governments today in the civilized world are pretty socialist, and in the uncivilized world are totally brutish and totalitarian. Producing this constitution would be a major philosophical work I think to justify all the various aspects of it. It is hard to imagine it being complete in any reasonable time. It will hard to know when it is necessary to make additions and changes. Any ideas about how to deal with this?

  2. Cory Roussel May 21, 2014 4:08 pm

    Reminds me of the TED Talk Ivan Krastev gave on “What went wrong [in democracy] is also what went right.”

    How about simply holding the government accountable for it’s blatant disregard on the Constitution?

    Oh wait, we’ve been trying that, it’s not working. Hmm..

    It’s hard for me to imagine how more specific in-and-of itself could solve the problem. It does seem really silly we’re still using a document forged by some 63 men back two hundred years ago. Think about it, we’re being governed by a system that was created when it took weeks to send your representative in Washington a letter. Now, we have systems in place where we can video conference instantly. We no longer need so much representation. Whereas the tea party was about “no taxation without representation”, the new tea party will be “no taxation without direct democracy”.

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