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Democracy in classical sense means participation of the aristocracy, not wide populist participation as practiced in 20th century.

I along with many of people I discuss politics agree that for wellbeing of democracy the civic duties and privileges should be limited and not available to everybody as a universal right.

Ignorance is the worst enemy of democracy. Letting the ignorant majority participate in democratic process on principle alone does nothing for democracy.




Bollocks. Democracy is, literally, "rule by the people"; you can twist the definition of "people", but once you do, they stop being "people" in other contexts too, and you really don't want to go there, if you really care about your fellow man (if you don't, you can pick your preferred system that favours your preferred type of assholes: with the right blood, with the right money, with the right degrees, with the right veneral disease, whatever).

The real problem is that the Greek concept of Democracy was implemented at the town level (their "cities" were really villages in the modern sense), and it has struggled to scale ever since. It's not surprising that the best "democracies" tend to be the smallest in terms of population.

A literal democracy would have everyone being able to vote on any law at any level, which is clearly impractical; unfortunately, once you introduce human intermediaries / aggregators (i.e. your "representatives"), the dynamics change massively, so you introduce corrections, which further sway the dynamics, and on and on...


But literally all historically successful democracies have limited what set of populace are the "people".

I am not US citizen however I know that when the US was created "the people" were pretty much in minority. It was also expected that "the people" will respect and defend their civic freedoms.

The Switzerland for example historically only allowed armed men to vote and even today if one rejects their military service they give up their voting right.

As noble as this popular democracy concept seems in theory in practice it means throwing pearls before the swine. In modern west 50% of people are just to willfully ignorant to understand what civic rights and duties mean.

I am not in favor of any kind of representative model I am also not in favor of direct democracy.

One mechanism would be imposing a citizens tax of 5% of income for those who want their civic rights. That should clear the field pretty fast.


Well, I decide that, to fully participate in a democracy, you have to write in correct English all the time, so hey, you're excluded already, dear JanezStupar. How does that feel? Sorry, no repeated tests, once you're out it's forever.

Let's say that tomorrow that 5% of income is what makes a difference between life or death from hunger; and at the same time, (rich) "people" are proposing a law that will literally kill whoever does not pay that 5%; do you pay and vote against the law, then die from hunger, or do you not pay and die from the hand of "the people"?

"In modern west" (as opposed to "in Soviet Russia"? lol), in some countries, less than 50% bother to vote in most elections, so the "to willfully ignorant" [sic] already don't take part; it's important they maintain their rights nevertheless. How many HN readers never bothered to deal with the US Congress before SOPA was proposed? Would have been right to deny them a voice?

By now I'm pretty sure you're either trolling or a dangerous elitist, "to willfully ignorant" to be trusted with any decision on political systems.


Strawmen.

The only argument I am making is that Democracy means "rule by the people", where "the people" is an arbitrary bunch. And in no way has it always meant "everybody living on this land". This populist form of democracy is an invention of 19th century.

What I am arguing is that I have noticed in historic annals that democracies that have been virtuous and didn't implode after a generation all had built in safeguards from populism. And that citizenship was never viewed as an universal right, but always as privilege that one has to actively protect and exercise else it will be taken away.

Indeed many people do not vote, however when some drastic measures need to be taken, short term sacrifices for long term gain - these people will turn up and block any hope of change.

Also I would like to remind you, that popular democracy was viewed as an instrument of change, that mass participation in political process would enable society to evolve faster into better forms. What it has proven is that rule of the mob is the best "status quo" preserving device anybody ever imagined.

You chose to attack the proposed mechanism, but I merely used it as an example. Should you read this thread, you would notice that I proposed random draw as another alternative.

All I am arguing is that some very wise people eons ago noticed, that for prosperity to happen, you need an elite.

Thats what kept Roman republic strong for so long - the balance between elite and the mob. Once the mob managed to break all the "privileges" of the elite, Rome was effectively doomed.

I am not advocating policy here, I am discussing politics and history. No need to call me names and mock me.

Thank you.

Edit: Soviet Russia (or any communist country) was not a country ruled by an Elite. One does not become Elite by killing previous Elite and proclaiming himself one. Building Elite class takes generations. What happened in communist countries is what you get when you eradicate the Elite and let inmates run the asylum.


What? There is so much untruth in the part about Switzerland that I have to question your grasp on history and political science.

If one rejects the military service in Switzerland, he has an alternative, civil service. He also doesn't lose any voting rights. Certain communes and cantons even have given foreigners the right to vote and to be elected.

The historical situation in Switzerland can also not be reduced to "only allowed armed men to vote" since in its core, Switzerland was a confederacy. Certain cantons had strong aristocracies, others were de facto ruled by the church and so on.


I am no historian and no expert on Swiss government. And if I got these facts wrong I apologize. My source may be bad (honestly I don't remember where I picked it up) but I am not trying to deceive anyone.

But I believe that what I said if it doesn't hold true today it did so 50 years ago, before Swiss got voting rights to women.

And yes I forgot to mention that within Switzerland things are done very differently from place to place.

On the other hand, these signs of "progress" may be the first signs of decay of Swiss democracy. Please don't get offended I am just debating and viewing the world from an unpopular perspective. As usual only time will tell where the Swiss will go.

For one I hope that Switzerland endures for another thousand years.

Thank you for your input.


Switzerland in its current form is vastly different than Switzerland 800 years ago. Throughout its history, Switzerland was a loose conglomerate of individual sovereigns, its history is rife with religious and political struggle (Villmer wars, Appenzeller wars, Old Zurich war, Murder Night of Zurich, Fibourg-Bernese wars, an endless list, ). At various points theocratic Theocracies had emerged (Zwingly, Calvin), religious persecution was often rampant. After all, there is a reason the Anabaptists fled the Bernese Emmental and journeyed to America.

Peasant revolts were brutally smashed. Niklaus Leuenberger, a peasant leader, was beheaded with the sword, then quartered. His head was nailed to the Gallows, next to the Federal charter of Huttwil. His dismembered body was distributed on the four main roads of Bern. His brother in arms, Christian Schybi was tortured for "witchcraft" and beheaded.

In 1782, Anna Göldi, was beheaded as "Switzerland's last witch". She was a maid and her master, a judge and politician, wanted to get rid of her because he most likely had an affair with her.

So, I really think you should stop seeing old Switzerland as some kind of role model.

On another note, your "might is right" doctrine is shallow and repugnant.


Judging ancient events with modern standards I find devious in its own right.

Let me reiterate, I am not advocating any kind of policy. I am just trying to discuss history and politics. Since I like to take maximum out of a debate I approached this one from an unpopular viewpoint.

And the best you can do is list some anecdotes then call me shallow and repugnant.

The question of government is one of the hard questions. Where there are no easy answers, but a lot of hard ones. Today it seems that our populist democracies are leading us towards totalitarian government - a lot like what happened to Rome between Octavian an Caesar.

What I am trying to bring forward here is that successful republics have strived for maximal democracy, yet had to build in safeguards against populism and mob rule.

We can debate whether this was an important feature or not, but calling me names is not helping your point.


What are your examples of historically successful democracies?


Athens, Rome, Sparta, Switzerland, United States


Rome's been around a while and it has had several significantly different forms of government. Which period have you in mind?


Obviously the republic era, before Caesar.

The civic virtue within the republic of Rome was so great that to this day our institutions mirror those of their age. They were extremely democratic. But not in a modern sense.

Do note that all systems are bound to get corrupt, whither and die. But the best are extremely resistant to corruption. And strong anti populist safeguards are a property of all of them.


Splitting hairs over the literal meaning of a term defined literally thousands of years ago is pointless.

Democracy is a philosophical institution and you need a lot more than a dictionary of ancient Greek to define it.

Democracy is about the rule of the people. Voting, direct or indirect through representation, is merely a means towards this end. Other important elements of democracy is free speech and free assembly - if the people aren't free to organise themselves, they can't effectively rule. There are plenty of examples of non-free elections, and it's obvious that the presence of those doesn't make the host country a democracy.

Another very important - and much forgotten - factor is the protection of minorities. Americans often lament that a minority of 40 senators can filibuster a law, because supposedly it's undemocratic to give such power to a smaller fraction than 50%. Originally, it was just one senator, although he had to physically filibuster the vote - and the purpose of this rule was to protect the minority from getting run over by the majority. This protection is paramount to a democracy - whether or not the filibustering rules, current or original, in the US Senate is a good way of securing this protection is another matter.

If you want to get technical, anything less that full consensus on everything can be considered undemocratic - because when one part of demos imposes it's will on another part, then it's not rule of the people any more - it's rule of a part of the people.


A literal democracy would have everyone being able to vote on any law at any level, which is clearly impractical

It used to be impractical due to obvious infrastructure reasons. But with the internet, is it still?

And I'm not sure that there always needs to be an "ignorant majority". If people are closely involved with any aspect of lawmaking, they'll feel more responsible for being educated about political issues.

Most "politically ignorant" people I know are that because they feel voting is hardly worth the time, because it only contributes indirectly and abstractly to decision processes (and politicians say one thing and do another...). I think an important responsibility of a democracy is to educate people in critical thinking and make sure they are not "ignorant".


It sounds like Congress needs an ignorance quorum before passing any law:

"Congress shall pass no law, unless 51% of the electorate can pass a quiz on the content of said law. Also, individual legislators must abstain from voting until they receive passing marks."


It used to be impractical due to obvious infrastructure reasons. But with the internet, is it still?

The history of electronic voting is not particularly encouraging for the various "democracy in technology" theories.

Besides, even if you sorted out the infrastructure requirements (see security etc), you'd still be left with the day-to-day drudgery of real politics: reading thousands of pages of bills, proposals, analysis, point, counter-point, etc etc etc, is boring and a time-sink. Which is why a professional "political class" has emerged in most countries, and why part-time politicians are invariably rich from the start (i.e. they have a lot of spare time). To fix that, we'll need good AIs to summarize and simulate. I'd actually prefer to have that over a fully-networked, always-on poll booth.


reading thousands of pages of bills, proposals, analysis, point, counter-point, etc etc etc, is boring and a time-sink

A crowd-sourcing approach could certainly work here. People will go through boring work if they think it is worthwhile. Having free time is by no means restricted to the rich anymore. Github for politics? (people could do something useful online instead of playing BlaVille, for a change...)

we'll need good AIs to summarize and simulate

I don't believe that such AIs will be feasible any time soon. Also, it would raise even more security issues. Who controls the AI?


It is hard to agree or disagree with you when you don't say exactly what your eligibility criteria would be.

I, for one, find felony disenfranchisement to be deplorable.


Lottery would be way better than what we have today.

I would also prohibit government employees from voting. With an exception of military veterans.

But these are not honest criteria. I have no idea about what would be a set of good criteria. Thus far I can only see that populist rule is leading us nowhere fast.




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