Are we still democrats?
This essay is nothing more than a sledgehammer blowing against the palace of glass that is democracy, or more specific: people that call themselves democrats (with a small d). The main goal of this text is to explain the concept democracy – as far as I can do that in one essay – and bring to light the hypocrisy of people that call themselves democratic, but are actually nothing more than ideological tumors that try to metastasize their cancer into society, and explain why this hypocrisy is a slippery slope towards tyranny. This essay is far more a call for sincerity and honesty than a political tractates.
A while ago I had a reunion with some of my classmates from grammar school. After discussing some trivial manners about what we were studying, how many girls we had slept with – or how few in my case – and other small talk that takes up far too much time in our lives, we started to talk about the real problems in the world. About the covid-19 pandemic, the black lives matter protests, identity politics and the 2020 election. For us Europeans the United States sometimes seems like a giant laboratory for culture and politics: insane experiments start of in the land of the free and eventually blow over the Atlantic ocean to the Old World and are accepted as normal.
Whilst discussing these political and cultural subjects I sensed a certain disgust coming from some of my classmates directed towards the general populace. Things were being said as:
“Referenda should be abolished, otherwise all the riff-raff will have too much say in politics” and “Before people vote they should take an IQ test. If you score lower than 100 you shouldn’t be able to vote”.
I was very shocked to hear such things from people who I thought were clever folk, from people that call themselves “democrats”. I was also shocked at the fact that almost all of my classmates seemed to agree on these statements and that none of them seemed to recognize how hypocritical they sounded. This attitude towards the populace is something that I discovered more and more in today’s society the more I looked at it. I saw it on tv, in the papers and even saw this sentiment in the general populace itself.
It seems as democratic feelings are ebbing away and are being replaced with a sort of snobbish elitism, where our political leaders are pseudo-aristocrats, where the populace doesn’t have any say in political decisions, because they are “too dumb” to understand them anyway. I am frightened about this attitude taking root into society and as a consequence dared to ask the question: are we still democrats?
What is a democracy?
To ask if we are still democrats, we have to first know what democracies are. So, what is a democracy? The word democracy is made up of two Greek words: δῆμος and Κρατος, meaning “people” and “power” respectively – here it can be said that the Greek word Κρατος is similar to the German word Macht.
Thus ideally a democracy is a political system where the people have the political power. This political system came from ancient Greece, where in 508 B.C. the Athenians introduced it for the first time. Of course the form of democracy that the ancient Athenians had, is a totally different from the system we have today. In Athens only adult men that finished their military training could vote. This democracy was a direct democracy. The Athenians didn’t vote on a person or party that was going to rule over them, but they voted on individual matters. It can be compared to current day referenda.
Democracies in our time are a bit different. First of all every citizen can vote. A second big difference between Athenian democracy and our democracy is that we have an indirect democracy. We vote on political parties and vote on political candidates to lead the nation. The people have power over the nation through parties and candidates that they vote for.
Something can be said for both of these systems. A direct democracy is per definition far more democratic because you as an individual can always cast out your vote the way you want to, instead of voting on a party that you agree with most of the time, but not always. A direct democracy is far less prone to corruption whilst there are no political parties or candidates to bribe.
An indirect democracy is far more convenient than a direct one. The ancient Athenians maybe had 40.000 citizens that were allowed to vote. A small number like that is easily manageable, but imagine if for every decision that has to be made the whole population has to vote. It would be a logistical nightmare every night to organise all these referenda.
Now that we know what a democracy is, we have to understand why it is important for citizens to vote. I have a lot of friends that tell me that voting is a big waste of time, because you’re just one voice in a sea of screams and your vote is not going to make the difference. This however is exactly the way of thinking that destroys a democracy and gives way to aristocracy or autocracy. A democracy only works when every citizen votes, because then we get a proper reflection of the wants and needs of every group in the population. If certain groups don’t vote, we don’t hear what they would want to see different in society. This leads to further alienation and distrust of these groups towards the government and eventually causes civil unrest.
This chaotic unrest that we sense in several democratic nations nowadays is in itself a cause – not the driving cause necessarily – of something that I coined “democratic elitism”. What this form of elitism is and why it is so dangerous for our democratic spirit, I will explain in the next paragraph.
A mighty oak stands in a meadow. It stands there proudly for the whole world to see. But a tragedy is about to take place; the soil of the meadow has been poisoned. The oak gets sick. The trunk is still intact, but the inner parts have rotted away.
Democratic elitism is the poison in our soil. What I mean by democratic elitism is the attitude of disgust that individuals harbor for the general public. These individuals, mostly found under “intellectuals” or the “well educated” say that politics should be left to those who are smart enough for it and should be kept away from the masses. They detest every form of direct democracy because it gives the ordinary man too much power. Democratic elitists will say that they adore democracy, that it is the best political system in the world, as long as the populace has the same ideological agenda as they have. They have a certain distrust for the fellow citizen. They lament: “if only we scholastics were the ones that were allowed to vote! We would usher in paradise! They, they don’t understand. These stupid farmers, these stupid city dwellers don’t know what is good for them. We know what is good, we have seen it in our books!”
Most of the soulless professional politicians that live in ivory towers have been democratic elitists from the start. The most frightening thing is, to see this sentiment coming from big groups of the population.
Why am I so averse to this sentiment? Don’t these pseudo-aristocrats have a point? Is the general populace smart enough to vote? Can they think for themselves? Everything beautiful comes out of honesty and sincerity. We must be honest with ourselves, also about democracy. If these elitists are right, if the general populace is too dumb to vote, then the root of democracy, the axiom of this great political system is rotten. Because were do we draw the line? Should no one under an IQ of a 100 be allowed to vote? Or should it be 110? Should we make it illegal to vote for people who have less than half a million in the bank? Should we make it illegal to vote for people who do manual labor, who aren’t born of nobility, who are right wing? Can’t you see, you “intellectuals”, you “well educated” that this attitude gives way to aristocracy, that this will eventually lead to tyranny? Can’t you foresee that you’ll be the first to go to the gulag when the mighty oak of democracy has succumbed to its disease? Of course sometimes in a fit of anger I will think of the populace no more than numb NPCs that can only consume. But this is youthful arrogant thinking. Democratic elitism is a slippery slope towards aristocracy. Stop lying towards yourselves. Stop being hypocritical or throw of this snobbish attitude.
Polarization and elections
How could democratic elitism, this democratic hypocrisy have taken root in our society? Has it crept in here quietly a couple of years ago? Or was it here from the start?
I think that in every indirect democratic system there has always been a sense of elitism. This will never go away, because it’s in our nature to form hierarchies. Nonetheless there is something to be said for the fact that this tumor of democracy has grown in size the last years. One of the reason that could explain this exponential growth is polarization.
Ideological polarization between civilians is something that has only grown over the years. Right and left hate each other more then ever. Ideological echo chambers have formed due to the internet and group thinking has conquered the minds of civilians. Good examples of polarization are the last two presidential elections in the USA. Never in the history of United States have elections been so divisive and toxic. An election is no longer a festival of democracy, a proud reminder that our ancestors had to fight for the freedom to be a civilian, to be allowed to vote. No, the presidential elections are now battles to the death of two political camps that don’t trust each other anymore. If you are not a Democrat you are a Republican. There is no room for nuance, no room for thinking outside of this two party system. Both parties distrust each other. “If only we Democrats could vote”, the Democrats think. “If only we Republicans could vote”, the Republicans think. “Then democracy would really work”.
The evidence for this mindset can be seen throughout the four year reign of Trump. Democrats were constantly busy accusing Trump of being voted in office by the Russians, constantly trying impeach him, because they were so butthurt about the outcome of the 2016 election. The same with the Republicans; they couldn’t accept the loss of Trump and accused the Democrats of voter fraud, with the storming of the Capitol as result.
What this shows is that people can no longer accept their loss, they can no longer accept that an ideological opposite rules the nation. “If someone else wins, they must have cheated”, is the overall mindset. This ideological polarization only further increases democratic elitism and civil unrest.
Civilians have to recognize that they themselves are the most important players in the game called democracy and not political parties or candidates. Civilians have to stop letting themselves be used by ideologies or elitists. If they don’t, they will help bring down democracy and enchain themselves blinded by rhetoric.
So… are we still democrats? I think the world is at a split point. We can choose to change our mindset towards each other. We can choose to throw of this stinking blanket of cynicism regarding democratic systems, grow up and accept that democracy doesn’t always mean that your party, your preference wins. We can
choose to inform ourselves better about political candidates and come out of our ideological echo chambers. We are on the verge of slipping from democratic elitism into aristocracy and tyranny, not brought about by a revolution, but brought about by civilians being distrustful towards each other, being ignorant towards politics and not being able to cope with election losses.
Democracies are political systems that work from the bottom up. If the bottom doesn’t work, the system doesn’t work. It’s not up to a president or political leader to fix our problems. We, the ordinary people are responsible for the success and freedom of our nation. And that all starts with knowing why it’s important that every civilian is allowed to vote. If we succeed in this, then we can still call ourselves democrats.