Is democracy the way forward?

Plato, one of the world’s most influential philosophers, wrote thousands of years ago in his classic ‘The Republic’ that democracy was an inherently flawed government system. Arguing that it would never work purely efficiently, Plato describes it as a government that offers everything, but stands for nothing, where politicians tell voters anything they want to get in power, and do not rule impartially.

And Plato’s not the only one. Socrates, another Greek philosopher (and OKAY OKAY; Plato’s mentor) argued:

“such is democracy; – a pleasing, lawless, various sort of government”.

Our very own Winston Churchill, who worked his way to the top of this system stated that:

“the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter”

(I’m trying not to take that personally).

It has become very evident in the last decade that there is growing dissatisfaction between the public and government in many democratic countries, examples of which can be seen within our own UK elections and the upcoming US presidential elections: voters feel disparaged and disillusioned. Is this due to largely unpopular candidates- the Hilary vs. Trump campaign has lately been referred to as a campaign of the ‘Lesser to two evils’- or is this due to our ever increasing awareness of the political and global stratosphere: are we much more tuned into today, and therefore have more to say? Either way, despite it obvious that we are not going to please everyone, there seems to be a large proportion of us left unsatisfied with our employees at Downing Street and the Oval Office. We also have to address the idea that largely unpopular candidates are in our ballots; is this not evidential of a flawed system, or are we just becoming too picky

Perhaps it is not our leaders, but the system itself? Whilst built on the most noble intentions, does our government suffer from stagnation?  Are we unwittingly in a state similar to Russia’s Brezhnev era? With such a fast-paced, technologically revolutionised and increasingly globalised world we live in, surely the last thing we need is an archaic government system at its heart.

Or yet, it could be the ideals of our system. There is an argument to say that our government is built on capitalist ideas. For example, the nature of the political working environment is similar to the enterprise of many private companies in our country: there is an individual desire to be promoted, earn more, have more influence, and the methods of achieving this are just the same (this contradicts Plato’s idea of an efficient government: they should be entirely impartial). Another example of this ideal is in the way our candidates are elected: it is a competition by which candidates can use any (legal) means necessary to earn the support of the voters, often resulting in disconcerting tailored marketing, misleading slogans and finger-pointing (what about this doesn’t resemble businesses of our free-market economy?). My question is: why do we expect any more of our politicians and our government if they are run on the same ideals as our infamously cut-throat business sector?

Russell Brand, a spearhead for political change has famously over the past decade called for a complete overhaul of our democratic system, controversially stating that our current politicians have their own self-interests and only widen the gap between those with lower and higher disposable incomes. He comes from a much more humanitarian ideal, and begs the question: what is our long term goal? If our aspiration is to have equality, a perfect economy and and a complete utopian society (which surely, it must be?) then surely we need to change our system because as Plato suggests, our current system contradicts these ideas. I imagine this goal is not on our generations horizons, but to ultimately achieve it is some reform not required? How can we hope for a society to become this if the ideals at the heart of our current one contradict it?

DISCLAIMER: this is just an idea, something thought-provoking I came across and thought interesting to explore…

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10 thoughts on “Is democracy the way forward?

  1. I think the problem with Democracy — I’d rather call it the “democratic system” since, in the US, anyway, we don’t have a democracy. We have a republic. Democracy exists for us on the state and local level, but not on the national level — the representatives we elect (democratically) are supposed to represent us — anywho, the problem is that we haven’t come up with a better system. Back in Plato’s time, only citizens could vote and that was never “most people.” The problem is something you’ve hit on; our candidates are “celebrities.” People aren’t look to them for their fitness to rule and they’re far to eager to win the office. I think — every election — of “The Allegory of the Cave.” I think it’s true that those who are eager to rule are the least fit for the job.

    I think you’ve hit the mark with your comment about “capitalist ideals.” I agree that is the gap. I agree with Russell Brand.

    I think there’s a good point in re-evaluating elections in light of the constant media blasting we have now. In my grandfather’s time, people used to live their lives and then go hear a candidate speak from the back of a train at a train station. They read candidate speeches in the newspapers — taking their time, thinking about the points, comparing statements slowly and with consideration. Now with all these idiot pundits flapping their lips no one can think — but it’s addictive and people think they are being informed. That was the argument for 24 hour news, “The news is constantly changing and people need to be updated.” I will always wonder if that is a “need.”

    You might find “Democracy in America” by Alex de Toqueville interesting reading. I read it in grad school and never forgot it, and, when things get icky (as they are now) I read sections again.

    Switzerland practices direct democracy and it has a system that works. I believe it works because Switzerland is definitely “Switzerland first!” or because of the small population, or because the education system is very good and everyone knows what’s going on — I have no idea. They have great social welfare programs, a high standard of living and pay high taxes.

    I don’t have any answers but I like your piece her very much.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you, I will definitely have to check out that book! I really agree with you about the media, I think particularly with the recent UK referendum many people just felt bombarded with too much information, much of it biased, and found it impossible to navigate through! Interesting that there is a very real working form of democracy in Switzerland, I will have to have s look into what makes this so much more efficient!

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  3. This is a thoughtful reflection on our current political systems. The most important questions are what can and are we willing to do about it. It’s clear that changes are needed like getting the big money out of politics, having leaders that represent the people’s interest and working for more peace, equality, justice and earth care are important.

    But how do we get there? I don’t know. It probably has to start with local engagement and more personal responsibility. I hope more of us turn our caring into action for reform.

    Thanks for raising important question. Brad

    Liked by 1 person

  4. In the US, opinion is passed off as news, ideology is based on half-truth, and opposing viewpoints are (quite literally) demonized and shouted down. It’s to the point that both sides (right and left) actually hate each other. Both sides think the other side is out to destroy their way of life . . . and the country. It’s the two party system in death throws. A two party system is only good for keeping the people off balance and at each others throats, while the political ruling class rocks on.

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  5. Great points…I find the discussions in Plato’s Republic very relevant and up to date for any Time. And i strongly believe –
    “Until the Philosophers become the Kings/Rulers of the State, Or the ‘Kings’ of the State are enriched with the spirit and power of Philosophy – That is to say until Power and Wisdom are combined in One man… no city will be liberated from it’s current misgovernment, nor will the Human race attain Well-being. “~ Socrates, Plato’s Republic
    No matter how difficult or unbelievable it may look it is possible.. but if we think ‘Power and true Wisdom in One man? that’s impossible! think of some other way’ then it will be same as thinking of something other than good Government/Well-Being.

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  6. Maybe it`s time for another visionary to apply democracy to our way of perceiving democracy. Problem is that there should be a One that has the perfect combination of Emotional and Cognitive Intelligence so she/he can speak both in the language of the stupid and the smart. Only then, I think, we will have a chance to evolve.
    Until that time, we will continue to argue with the others around “who is the best” rather than “who will lead us to a better place”.

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