It is time to admit that this ignoble experiment has failed. It was flawed in its inception and deleterious in its consequences and it is over. I know it is heathen blasphemy to call out democracy as a failed, ignoble experiment but the case against it is strong.
First, let’s define our terms. Democracy is a procedural thing not a substantive philosophy. It is simply a matter of how one chooses those who will govern a political entity. It says absolutely nothing about the policies that are to be enacted. Democracy can entail liberal, pro-market polices to the point of laissez faire or it can support outright socialism or something in between. The very fact that any and all substantive political philosophies can fit within a democratic framework should expose the emptiness of the term as a substantive political philosophy.
In any event almost no one is a pure democrat. Nobody really believes in a pure majoritarianism. If, say 50% + 1 voted to reinstitute chattel slavery for African-Americans, does that mean we are going to put them in chains again? Of course not. Everyone instinctively knows that there are things that majorities, no matter how large, must not ever be able to do. Not even the most obtuse among us think that right and wrong, prudent and imprudent is determined by a show of hands. The hypocrisy and emptiness of using Democracy as a substantive term rather than a procedural one is exposed by considering that the call to “protect” democracy only occurs when someone has or thinks they have a majority on a particular issue. Otherwise they fall back on an argument grounded in an actual substantive philosophy.
Second, let’s examine the claim that democracies are better at preserving liberty than other forms of governance. Let’s set aside the obvious human rights failures of socialism or even a mixed economy. These are human rights disasters even under the democratic banner. However, even if we limit ourselves to the Western world, democracy comes up short in protecting human liberty. Let’s examine monarchy briefly, for comparison sake. Now I am not a monarchist, by any means, but the fact of the matter is that monarchies controlled less of a nation’s activities than do democracies today.
The best estimate is that monarchies absorbed about 5-8% of the national output. Compare that with the over 50% and climbing in the Western democracies today. Monarchies took on far less debt than democracies do and monarchies regularly used commodity money rather than grossly inflate the currency as do democracies today. An excellent overview of all this can be found here.
The reason for this relatively lower governmental burden is the simple fact that monarchs owned the nation as their property. This gave them a time horizon similar to any property owner. Yes they would tax and inflate but not to the point of destroying the long-term viability of the nation. It is the same mentality that encourages a farmer to not overuse his fields for short-term gain at the expense for the greater longer-term potential. The goal of property owners is to maximize the long-term capital value of the asset. This is also why war tended to be more limited as well. What gain to the property owning ruler in total war?
Speaking of war, the notion that democracy is more peaceful is laughable. True the Western democracies have tended to not fight each other, especially since WWII. These nations are however, U.S. client states and operate under the direction of Imperial America. The Warsaw Pact countries did not go to war with each other either as they were Soviet client states. Toward external rivals and/or colonies the Western democracies have been amazingly brutal and violent. None of this is to ignore the predations and abuses of monarchies but to simply recognize they governed in a more limited fashion than democracies.
Democracies generate short-term thinking because nobody really owns the assets of the nation. The rulers are temporarily in charge of the country and so have an incentive to loot the country eight ways to Sunday for themselves and their constituents and then move on, usually working for some organization that wants to also loot the country. It is a massive tragedy of the commons. The greater the breadth of democracy the greater the incentive to expand the scope of predation. It is not a coincidence that as the franchise has expanded so has the size and power of the government. In the end the working definition of democracy is when two wolves and a chicken get together to vote on what to have for dinner.
Third, if democracies are not protective of human rights are they at least stable? I don’t think so. Historically most democracies have devolved into outright dictatorships or imperial systems. From ancient Greece to Rome to all of the failed democratic experiments in Africa or Latin America. Even in the West democracies have given themselves over to the Iron Law of Oligarchy, in which the rule is actually by the few. One only needs to look at the concentration of power in the hands of the U.S. President to see the instability and fragility of democracy. Consider that on December 8th., 1941 one of the most powerful U.S. presidents ever, FDR, felt compelled to go to Congress to ask for a declaration of war against a nation that attacked us just the day before but a mere 9 years later a far weaker president, Harry Truman felt no such need to ever ask such a question when taking this nation to war in Korea. There has been little to no check on executive war making powers since then. The historical record then, is an inexorable drift to outright concentration of power in the hands of one individual or a ruling clique.
In the end, democracy was unnecessary. The Enlightenment ideals were coming into vogue prior to the democratic experiment and it is only intellectual confusion that conflated expanded democracy with human freedom and protection of human dignity. We can have a free and prosperous society without democracy, we could have developed the modern dynamic economies of the West without democracy. Expanded democracy has gone hand in hand with the descent of the West away from those Enlightenment ideals and into spasms of violence and theft. Trusting human institutions to govern our social behavior rather than modelling the Christ continues to bedevil humanity by sending us down the path to Perdition. The Kingdom of God is no democracy, His will being done on Earth as in Heaven means we don’t need one here either. We can, by faith, do better, no vote necessary to confirm that truth.
Praise Be to God