Democracy is a form of government in which all eligible citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives, via voting. This may include mechanisms for the proposal, development, and creation of laws.
Democracy claims to represent the will of the people (at most it can represent the will of the majority; the difference is important), and thus anything openly opposing democracy is seen as opposing the liberty of the people.
However, that which gives the people liberty is not necessarily the democratic process itself, but their condition as citizens by agreement to the social contract. Agreement must be unanimous for all citizens (contrast with vote); this forms the necessary condition for being a citizen. That is, all citizens must alienate their natural liberty in equal degree, in order to give a foundation to civil liberty and the State. These conditions are civil rights coupled with civil duties, which enforce one another. For example, in agreeing not to harm other citizens, one gives substance to the right of not being himself harmed by any citizen.
“Finally, each man, in giving himself to all, gives himself to nobody; and as there is no associate over whom he does not acquire the same right as he yields others over himself, he gains an equivalent for everything he loses, and an increase of force for the preservation of what he has.”—Rousseau, The Social Contract
” … it is in order that we may not fall victims to an assassin that we consent to die if we ourselves turn assassins.”—Rousseau, The Social Contract
Types of democracy
Democracy today, along with capitalism, has become mostly a hyperreal term, standing more for the illusion of freedom and responsibility than anything else. Allowing people to vote every couple of years gives them the impression that they are in charge; therefore they feel responsible for their socio-economic conditions, whatever those may be. (Democracy and laissez-faire capitalism are fundamentally incompatible ideologies, given that the poor will outnumber the rich.)
There are two main types of democracy, and many other forms that combine features of the two:
“Democracy” comes from the Greek δημοκρατία (dēmokratía), “rule of the people”, which was coined from δῆμος (dêmos), “people”, and κράτος (kratos), “power”, circa 400 BC, to denote the political systems then existing in Greek city-states, notably Athens.
Athenians established what is generally held as the first democracy in 508-7 BCE. Cleisthenes is referred to as “the father of Athenian democracy”.
In a direct democracy, all citizens participate directly in the decision-making/legislative process.
“Besides, how many conditions that are difficult to unite does such a government presuppose! First, a very small State, where the people can readily be got together and where each citizen can with ease know all the rest; secondly, great simplicity of manners, to prevent business from multiplying and raising thorny problems; next, a large measure of equality in rank and fortune, without which equality of rights and authority cannot long subsist; lastly, little or no luxury—for luxury either comes of riches or makes them necessary; it corrupts at once rich and poor, the rich by possession and the poor by covetousness; it sells the country to softness and vanity, and takes away from the State all its citizens, to make them slaves one to another, and one and all to public opinion.”—Rousseau on the conditions necessary for democracy
As population increases, direct democracy becomes impractical, leading to representative democracy.
Practically all forms of modern democracy are representative, or “indirect”. Due to the practical problems of direct democracy, in representative democracy voters elect representation that makes decisions for them, sometimes using a form of direct democracy among representatives. This can lead to several problems. One was identified by Plato as a popularity contest: the voters will elect the greatest orator, not necessarily the best leader. In Athenian democracy, to avoid this situation, leaders were elected by lot (randomly).
Today, the economical and political are highly intertwined, and the first unfortunately determines the second. To run for president, for example, requires huge campaign funds and support from corporations. In general, most politicians possess great amounts of money, or require them to further political aims. This is a barrier to the election of most otherwise eligible candidates; lack of funds simply makes it impossible. Further, it is a subtle way in which monetary elites control politics. If they can decide those who can be chosen, or buy them off, choice itself for citizens won’t make a difference.
Another change, which started with the work of Edward Bernays in 1920’s, is the way political speeches and programs are constructed. The initial presumption and fundamental requirement of democracy is that people are capable of being rational, active citizens, who have vision beyond narrow self-interest. However, politicians are increasingly using the methods of advertisers, attempting to appeal to people’s subconscious desire, through emotion, rather than presenting arguments or appealing to reason—the id rather than the ego. Rather than being active citizens, people are reduced to passive consumers. This is an incredibly successful approach to acquiring votes.
Political parties are “partial associations” representing the particular will of those who helped put them in power, rather than the general will of the people. Meritocracy will have only independent MPs (Members of Parliament).
These are a few of the factors that have led to the corruption of the noble Athenian ideal of the citizen, and the replacement of democracy with “bread and circuses” and plutocratic (monetary) rule.
Democracy and free market capitalism
Democracy, by its nature, encourages a community outlook, while capitalism is based purely on self-interest. In our world today, it should be clear which ideology sets the rules. Virtually none of Rousseau’s conditions for proper democracy are met (” … a large measure of equality in rank and fortune … “). An increasing number of people are content to vote once every 4-5 years, while working daily in an autocratic totalitarian environment in which they have no say. Many businesses would indeed fail, were they turned into democracies, as the workforce lacks management abilities and the democratic process is often slow and not necessarily coherent; some would succeed (most likely small ones). The delineation between economic and political organizations is unclear, or rather, democracy is run increasingly like capitalism in today’s world, while the illusion of freedom and decision-making power is maintained.
Meritocracy is, in this sense, a “fractal system”, applying to both political and economic situations. Regardless of domain, Meritocrats hold that the best should be in charge, and all should have a chance to acquire skills and demonstrate their talents.
While democracy takes elements from equality of outcome, Meritocracy is based on equality of opportunity.
The law of large numbers
“It follows from what has gone before that the general will is always right and tends to the public advantage; but it does not follow that the deliberations of the people are always equally correct. Our will is always for our own good, but we do not always see what that is; the people is never corrupted, but it is often deceived, and on such occasions only does it seem to will what is bad.”—Rousseau on the general will
The law of large numbers is a mathematical theorem, providing the link between probability as abstract concept and empirical ways of measuring probability through repeated experiment.
Assume a voter has a 0.52 chance of voting a better opinion, A, and a 0.48 chance of voting a worse one, B.
The choice an individual voter will make is very uncertain (there’s almost half of a chance for each option).
However, assume we have a very large number of identical, independent voters, each having 0.52 chance of voting A and 0.48 chance of voting B. Then it’s a safe bet to say that 52% of them will vote A, and 48% of them will vote B, even if we are uncertain with respect to individual voters. In conclusion, democracy acts as a “contrast enhancer”, whereas the individual voter’s opinion would be on a grey-scale; on a large scale, democracy is sure to reflect the average inclination, however small that would be, multiplied by the population as percentage.
This is, initially, neither good nor bad, and depends solely on the average inclination of the people to vote a better or a worse opinion. Nevertheless, it leads us to the main problem of democracy, direct or indirect: as we know from the example of Galileo and countless others, The nature of Truth is not democratic. In every domain, truth, innovation, and understanding have been the province of only the few, who have made effort towards them. While right to vote might be equally shared, ability and determination in any chosen domain is not. Intelligence and understanding are not democratic. To claim equality between the knowledge of one person and the ignorance of another benefits neither of them.
Democracy, the dialectic, and the scientific method
The dialectic and the scientific method are cornerstones of Meritocracy; they are the instruments used to replace a moralizing approach to politics with an evidence-based approach, using actual results.
Assume a democratic survey would be conducted with respect to legalization of light drugs, for example. Light drugs are those that are not known to be addictive, and may be used by indigenous cultures around the world. While the survey will reflect the prevailing moral opinion of the population, it’s still just an opinion, and gives us no actual data about the problem at hand or its socio-economic aspects.
A more fruitful approach is to ban these drugs in one part of the State (thesis), fully legalize them in another part (antithesis), and at the end of a 5-year period compare and contrast results from the two areas in order to decide the appropriate policy (synthesis).
Relationship to Meritocracy
“Democracy becomes viable only at the point at which the vast majority of citizens are highly capable, clever, and resourceful. At that point, democracy and meritocracy intersect and become synonymous. Until that point, the most meritorious people in society must be placed in charge.”—Anonymous, alias “220”
The age of the idiot
“An idiot in Athenian democracy was someone who was characterized by self-centredness, and concerned almost exclusively with private—as opposed to public—affairs. Idiocy was the natural state of ignorance into which all persons were born, and its opposite, citizenship, was effected through formalized education.”—Walter C. Parker, “Teaching Against Idiocy”, Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 86, Issue 5, January 2005
Even in Athens, the original democracy, citizenship and the right to vote had to be earned, by education. Idiots are born; citizens are made. Meritocracy will allow voting in different domains only to those individuals who achieve qualification therein. An ill-informed decision is as bad as, if not worse than, a random decision.
Today, most people are idiots in the Athenian sense: they are self-centred, apathetic, ill-informed, and uninterested in, and unable to fulfil, the role of citizen. The task of Meritocracy is to bring the age of the idiot to an end, and replace it with the age of the active, engaged, informed, positive contributor to society, the citizen.
Aristotle’s political models
Autocracy—rule by one person, e.g., a king; usually degenerated into Tyranny.
Aristocracy—rule by the best people; usually degenerated into Oligarchy and Plutocracy.
Democracy—rule by the ordinary people; usually degenerated into Ochlocracy (mob rule – 51% of the people could technically vote to enslave the other 49% in a pure democracy).
Meritocracy is a modern version of ancient aristocracy. It seeks to identify the best people to run the State. To avoid any slide into plutocracy, it prohibits inheritance and prevents anyone from becoming excessively wealthy. To prevent any slide into an oligarchy, it uses democratic votes amongst suitably qualified people to remove anyone from office who is acting against the interests of the people.
Democracy: theory versus practice
Democracy in theory is supposed to be “rule of the people, by the people, for the people”.
What remains of it today is a hyperreal facade, behind which there is “rule of the people, by the rich, for the rich”.
Actual democracy is nothing but cleverly disguised plutocracy. The plutocracies are in complete control, yet the people believe they are in charge.
Meritocracy is rule of the people, for the people, by the most talented of the people, as determined by the people. Meritocracy is Equal Opportunity for Every Child.