At some point during the modern era our society re-defined the word “Democracy”. Yes, it’s true we make a careful distinction between the direct democracy of the Athenians and our own representative democracy, but we have been told endlessly (practically since birth) that these two things are functionally related and morally equivalent. However, this equivalence is dubious at best because we have parted company with the Athenians on a most fundamental issue, elections; the Athenians rejected elections almost categorically, while we moderns make them the wellspring of our government. To say that the two systems are comparable is to suggest that the passive choice between Red & Blue may reasonably be taken as a substitute for Athenian practices which empowered ordinary citizens to compose their laws without the intervention of politicians (and lobbyists). It is a specious parallel; Democracy is more than a biennial multiple choice survey. If there’s a legitimate comparison to be made, between our society and ancient Athens, then it must be acknowledged that most of us are not citizens, but metics and slaves instead. The franchised plutocracy has a real say in the running of our Nation but the rest of us have been muzzled; our authentic voices drowned out by the distorted echo of elected representatives.
The Athenians had little use for elections because they knew this was a formula for oligarchy; a fact attested to by Aristotle and reaffirmed more than two thousand years later by such enlightenment era heavyweights as Charles Montesquieu and John Adams. But somehow during the relatively brief intervening period of two centuries this fact has been utterly forgotten. Missing facts, like missing persons, pose a pregnant mystery; could it be the truth was deliberately buried? My guess: an anxious aristocracy in a revolutionary age sought to bolster its legitimacy; academia and the press pitched in, giving rise to the mother of all oxymorons, the democratic election; a phrase repeated endlessly with never so much as a hint of irony. As my dear departed father-in-law (a working stiff like myself) was ever fond of saying, “presentation is everything”; if a million newspaper editors and schoolteachers say something then it must presumably be true. In my opinion, however, the phrase “democratic election” corresponds exactly with Adolph Hitler’s definition of a big lie1. It is a breathtakingly colossal untruth; the very definition of doublethink. There is no such animal as a democratic election; it does not exist; if you wish to live in a Democratic society you must insist on Sortition. There is no honest alternative.
I seek to emphasize the scale of the deception which has occurred not because I imagine I’ve unmasked some dark conspiracy (I expect the entire thing took place more or less unconsciously) but to underscore a very critical point; you must think for yourselves! I would not slander all of the intellectual authorities in our society but generally speaking our academic and political leaders (of every ideological stripe!) have failed us. So please, if some ivy-clad intellectual seeks to tear me down I hope that you will regard them with the skepticism they deserve. I’m quite certain that the smart money and the responsible commentators will all write me off as some random wingnut. My suggestions – they will say – are naive and impractical. I would remind you, however, that these folks represent that same class of institutionally approved “thought leaders” who got us into our current scary predicament in the first place; one sober misstep after another. You may follow these individuals if you wish, but you do so at your peril!
Government is a subject far too important to be monopolized by the self proclaimed authorities of academia (and Washington). By all means listen to these people, but listen critically; the theology of Left and Right alike has been erected on shaky ground; the belief that suffrage is a synonym for democracy and an unquestioning faith in the infallible beneficence of free markets. It’s not too late for us to adopt a more authentic interpretation of Democracy but if you allow this process to be co-opted by academics or politicians they may (and probably will) lead you astray. Consult the experts – yes – but the driving force behind this debate must come from regular citizens like you and I; ordinary people with inquiring minds and a social conscience.
What precise modifications should be made to our government is a huge open question. No one is suggesting that we remodel our system on the example of ancient Athens, only that this period represents a window onto certain essential truths. A pure democracy, however you might wish to realize this concept, probably is unrealistic, but the existing system comes close to being a pure plutocracy. Is there any sane person (of ordinary means) who wishes to defend our system as it now stands in every precise detail? Otherwise, I would implore my fellow citizens to cease your relentless partisan bickering on those hot-button, red-herring issues (like gun control and abortion) and try (really try) to have a polite conversation on the subject of what general systemic modifications might actually help government to function more effectively for all of us. Try to act as if the future of our species were dependent on the outcome of this conversation, because it most assuredly is.
1This is in no way an endorsement of one of history’s most noxious characters, but his words describe the situation precisely; “It would never come into their heads [the masses] to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation”