Democracy: Social Organization for Dummies

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April 23, 2007

How to organize a society:

1. Establish a ruling class.

2. Have that ruling class give you a list of choices for ruler.

3. Appoint the rich old white man who got the most check marks as your ruler.

4. Let him and his friends make up any laws they want.

5. Give them half your income and a significant amount of your freedom (all mandated by the laws they made up, of course).

6. ???

7. FREEDOM!

I generally part ways with the late and much lamented Carl Sagan when his turgid and annoyingly leftist political views enter the picture. But Carl Sagan was right on one point: Each and every instantiation of a framework or worldview provides a mini-experiment into the viability of that framework or worldview.

He did lead himself astray by committing the fallacy of confirmation bias (which, for someone who is popular for popularizing logic, is rather ironic). If, as he did, we look at the relationship between criminality and ratio of guns but limit ourselves to comparing Vancouver and Seattle, we might come to one conclusion. But if we look at the totality of the mini-experiments on guns around the world, the opposite conclusion jumps to the reasonable observer. We observe that societies where guns are prevalent tend to be safer, that societies where guns are rare or illegal tend to be less safe, and that societies where guns are taken away by legislation become less safe. We may also note that the most publicized shootings occur in our self-professed "gun-free zones" known as public schools. Statists may find this fact to be displeasing, but facts exist regardless of our value-judgments, and the laws of society, if they had a consciousness, couldn't care less about what we find pleasing or displeasing.

At this point in time, the masses of humanity have lived under almost a century of world democracy. What has been the net result of this century of democracy? Greater "civil rights," "fair" redistribution of resources, better working conditions, the end of war? Much like people praising God after an aircraft accident or a hurricane, democracy gets all the praise for things it most certainly did not help fulfill as a system, indeed things against which democracy provides a strong counter-incentive. The acquisition of civil liberties was the result of a constant struggle against ruling class interests. In the end, it makes no difference which ruling class one is fighting against: a struggle is a struggle. The socialist ideal of redistribution turned against the socialists, as the ruling class favours its colleagues in power and uses the welfare class as a political tool. Unions were opposed by great force by the State until they became so powerful that it became more valuable to co-opt them. And war is prevented, not by democracies (which, since their inception, have always been belligerent), but rather by the nuclear bomb (which also neatly explains why States which already possess nuclear bombs strongly oppose nuclear proliferation).

If we look at the whole of the results, and not just the dreams of the statists, democracy has not led to more freedom, economic or social, but rather uniformly less freedom. Two conclusions can be drawn from the democratic experiment:

1. Democracy is a spectacular failure at doing what it was supposed to do: empower the masses politically.

2. Democracy is a spectacular success at empowering, financing, legitimizing, and ensuring the stability of the ruling class.

Our political thought has barely progressed at all from its anti-monarchic reactionary framework. It is not difficult to imagine that people would find it quite unacceptable that one person, on the sole basis of heredity or force, should benefit from organized extortion and kidnapping under the guise of protection. But having accepted extortion and kidnapping as "necessary evils" in order to maintain order, people mainly objected to the fact that power was vested in one person. Naturally, they came to the conclusion that, if it would be more "fair" to give power to more people, the "fairest" outcome would be to give power to all. This is what I call in my book the popular model of exploitation, and can be expressed as such:

In the interests of fairness, power should be as diffuse as possible. Any concentration of power is exploitative.

This applies to all forms of power, not merely the political. Egalitarianism is the natural consequence of this model, explaining why it is such an intuitively convincing ideology.

There are three main problems with this model. First, whether diffusing power is desirable or not, it remains unproven that concentration of power is necessarily exploitative, unless we introduce new premises, which egalitarians often do (such as "wages are exploitation" and labour theory of value for economics). Second, while it is clear that diffusing power fulfills some criterion of "fairness," it is less clear that "fairness" should be our sole moral-organizational principle. It could very well be that some organized concentration of power, by putting power in the hands of particularly competent people, raises the well-being of society as a whole.

But most importantly, when applied to political power, the model assumes that power must continue to exist, and that we must merely debate on its concentration or diffusion. In some cases, this is correct. For example, the existence of economic power is a social absolute: It cannot cease to exist as long as society exists, since there must necessarily be agents, and those agents must necessarily own resources in some mode or other. But insofar as political power is concerned, it assumes that the existence of the State, as the monopoloid agency that dispenses political power through legitimacy, is a social absolute. We know both theoretically and historically that this is not the case, and thus the model is woefully incomplete.

The fact that people believe the State to be an social absolute strongly informs their beliefs and behaviour. Statists sometimes use the popularity of socialism to "prove" that people do not desire to be free. But this is a woeful misunderstanding of the situation. As long as people believe the existence of the State to be a social absolute, they will seek to co-opt (or so they believe; of course we know that the relationship is actually inverse) the power of the State for their own gain and purposes. This is a standard Tragedy of the Commons situation, a scenario that is already well understood, as applied to rights.

In a Tragedy of the Commons situation regarding a forest, loggers will scramble to cut unowned trees before their competition does the same. This fails to prove that loggers are stupid; rather, it proves that leaving natural resources unowned is stupid. Only if loggers who owned a piece of land decided to clear-cut it without planting new trees could we say that these loggers are stupid. And in practice, they are actually not stupid in this sense; in fact, logging companies are responsible for approximately 90% of new growths. People are generally reasonable when dealing with clearly defined and voluntary social relationships.

All forms of statism, whether their proponents like it or not, require a ruling class in order to operate. The Market Anarchist alternative, which is, as Pierre-Joseph Proudhon correctly identified, "the dissolution of government in the economic organism," demands, indeed requires, the elimination of the ruling class as a concept, and of political power as a whole. We can extend Proudhon's phrase and say that Market Anarchy dissolves political power in the individual's self-determinism, and transforms said power into the remaining forms of power. In doing so, Market Anarchy eliminates the grave inhumanity entailed by political power, and decouples the social benefits of the other forms of power that exist within a given society, free from the crushing imbalance and the diseased, perverted incentives that politics imposes on all other areas of social life. Democracy, on the other hand, raised the opposition to inhumane rule as its standard, but is now revealed to serve as standard-bearer for the same old masters.

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Francois Tremblay's picture
Columns on STR: 12

Francois Tremblay blogs at Check Your Premises, is co-host of the Hellbound Alleee Show and has self-published a book called The Handbook of Atheistic Apologetics.