Why is democracy inherently superior?

Or, should people have the right to self governance?

I’m not trying to suggest that I have a better alternative to democracy. I don’t. Compared to most of the alternatives we’ve seen so far I like democracy. It has it’s problems, but then again every government does. Monarchies lead to corruption of the rulers, communism doesn’t work very well on an economic level, fundamentalism sets your maximum science rate to 50%, etc.

That being said, a lot of people (no, I don’t have a cite - this is just my impression) seem to believe that Democracy is the only morally justifiable form of government. I don’t see why.

Certainly a government needs to support various basic human rights - freedom of speech for example - which a democracy helps to maintain. However, I don’t see why people should inherently have the right to self governance. Certainly people should have the right to have their opinions heard by the government, but in some (ok, a lot) of cases it would be a good idea for the government to just be able to say “No, you’re being stupid. We’ll do this our way”. People tend to be rather short-sighted, so removing some element of control from the population can lead to better long term policies.

As I said, I’m not trying to argue that Democracy is a bad thing, I’m simply saying that it isn’t neccesarily the best - just the best that we’ve thought of so far.

Democracy guarantees no minority rights. You need a constitution, IMO, though some Britons may disagree with that. Nor would I want to see the Supreme Court influenced by the need to be re-elected. I think that a constitutional republic is far superior to a democracy–it has democratic protections, but also eschews democratic abuses.

I have a theory on this matter… and I’m the first to concede that there are a squillion ancillory arguements which can be attached to my theory which can either strengthen or weaken it’s merit… but here goes…

The word “democracy” it seems to me nowadays is one which is bandied about a bit too flippantly without giving credit to the “Golden Ideals” (as I call them) which should ALSO be recognised…

The world’s most stable societies share some common “ideals” - ideals which inarguably represent things which exist in the “noble” end of the human emotional spectrum - and here they are…

(1) A commitment to legislated property rights…

(2) A commitment to true freedom of the press and the right of dissent…

(3) A commitment to respecting civil rights - across all genders and religions…

(4) A commitment to eradicating corruption and black market activity…

(5) A commitment to making every new generation even MORE highly educated than the last…

(6) A commitment by a given population in it’s entirety to uphold the rule of law…

It seems to me that a few forms of governance, other than just the English Westminster system, or the American model, are capable of achieving those goals… so long as all of those points are upheld, and are enshrined in a given countries’ constitution as being one’s which should be defended, then I rather think you’d get a stable society 9 times out of 10.

Democracy may not be the “best” way to govern, but it is a clear and easy way to ensure a mandate of the public, and thus solidify the power of your government. That is why I think it’s been so successful.

We can do better, but it won’t be anytime soon.

I believe you may be proposing a sort of technocracy, which I’m not in favor of. I think democracy still wins out in that comparison.

BTW, you may want to clarify whether or not you wish to include republics in the definition of democracy.

By “democracy”, I’m going to assume some sort of republican, representative-democracy, US-sorta thing. Strictly speaking, I don’t know of any pure democracies off-hand.

True democracy is inherently no better at a dictatorship when it comes to preserving rights, guaranteeing happiness, and the like. A true democracy allows 51% of the people to spit on the other 49% if they so choose, while a dictatorship can be wonderful, if the dictator is extremely smart and benevolent.

However, using the general principles of democracy, and basing your government on some guarantee of certain rights for the populace, has a pretty good track record. Dictatorships, theocracies, and such have performed abyssmally. Also, it’s not just that “democracies” work well, while the other forms of government work at lesser shades of “good”. Pretty much everything but democracy has proved a spectacular failure in the long run.

So why should be people inherently have the right to self-governance? Seems pretty self-evident to me. Why shouldn’t I have the right to force you to clean my car? Why should you have any say in the means by which I determine whether or not you should go to prison? The underlying principle here is that each person should be able to determine what’s in his own self-interest. Democracy allows that, to the greatest extent possible, better than all other forms. It’s also the only form that allows the people to insitute changes if changes need to be made.

Any questions?

I think a constitutional democratic republic is better than a pure democracy.

I personally believe that democracy breeds mediocrity. I don’t have a better solution though. All I can come up with is mediocre at best.

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

The electoral college in the US was created at least in part to prevent the problems this causes. Informed and intelligent people would discuss the presidency, and consider the opinion of the uneducated masses, but not be bound by it. Of course it’s different now and the idiots rule. (For example GWB…)

One thing that sometimes pisses me off:

There seem to be political reasons for hammering in the dichotomy “democracy” - “dictatorship” as a chategorization of states, supposed to always be pertinent. The problem is that having only these 2 chategories defines about 99.9 % of all societies that has ever existed as “dictatorships” and 0.1 % as democracies (incidently including all societies we happen to be living in).

Then, in the same kind of reasoning, the “democracy” is inherently always superior to the “dictatorship”, no matter any other factors.

Now the real problem is that in the real world, that amounts to us having more legitimacy than the other guy. Good ideas are put to serve shady purposes.

Boo Boo Foo’s list of elements of a stable society reminded me of P.J. O’Rourke’s list, which he attributes to Thomas Malthus (in Parliament of Whores and Eat the Rich). These are:

Property rights

oops - premature submission - my apologies

Boo Boo Foo’s list of elements of a stable society reminded me of P.J. O’Rourke’s list, which he attributes to Thomas Malthus (in Parliament of Whores and Eat the Rich). These are:

Property rights
Universal education
Responsible government
Rule of law

All of these are, essentially, present in what we call the developed world, more or less.

We also have this attitude in our culture that everyone is equal…that everyone should have equal rights under the law, that no one group of people is inherantly superior to or inferior to any other. “One man, one vote” democracy makes sense if you accept these premises. If you think that everyone is equally qualified to have an opinion, a government that rules based on the opinions of the majority is a good one to have, because there’s the assumption that if the majority of qualified people agree on a position, it’s probably a right one. And, if you go further and say that everyone should be entitled to certain basic rights, then you want to make sure that the government is limited and doesn’t get in the way of the exercise of these rights.

What Boo Boo Foo said. Good work Boo.

Oh but see, there is a huge difference between saying:

“Hey! We found out this neat thing that would benefit you too. We make it available to you, free of charge, and offer our support and knowledge”.

and saying:

“Hey! We found out this neat thing that you will use. And if you won’t do it yourselves we’ll make you use it. And while we’re at it we’ll just help ourselves to some of your stuff as thanks!”

Sometimes I do think that the “promotion” of democracy in the global political reality follows the latter pattern. Not always, sometimes. Present war is a good example.

Why is democracy better?

Well, it’s simple. Why else does the government have a right to rule the population? Under a monarchy, it’s because God said so. Under a dictatorship, it’s because you’ll get shot if you don’t agree.

Democratic involvement of the population is the only way for the government to be placed there by the people that they govern. It’s the only defensible “right” to govern, and the only way to ensure that the government is accountable to the populace.

It’s not perfect, but, as Tom Paine says, “Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness Positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices.” Anything that arises because of imperfection can hardly be expected to be perfect.


The United Kingdom does have a constitution, as it happens. It just happens to not be written down in a single document. Most people think it works better like this, because we can change it if we don’t like it. It’s not gospel, it’s just sensible.

Thats the problem from the US perspective. If it can be changed that easily, whats to prevent it from being changed to something you don’t like? In any event, the US has changed the Constitution many times. Nearly every Constitution has some method to change it.

Most Monarchies operated under the “you’ll be stabbed to death, otherwise” principle.

Only partly true. Most monarchies and dictatorships have in one way or the another (partly) attributed their legitimacy to the people, or the good they did for the people. In a sense they are also dependant on the people since they can be overthrown, and can in that sense be predicted to carry through the will of the people to a small extent. The “because you get shot if you don’t agree” part is extremely simplistic, and a misrepresentation.

On the other hand democracies may represent their people with varying degree. Take f. e. the United States where you have two political parties to chose from and about 50% of the population vote in the presidential election. Simplistic description sure. But still. Or take Spain where the head of state makes the country support a war that 90 % of the population opposes.

I’d still say democracy beats just about any other form of government pretty easily. But i’m not so sure that a poor democracy beats every benevolent dictatorship; And I am certainly against that any democracy should have a moral right / obligation to force democracy onto other countries with the use of arms.

Interesting that no one mentions those two other ‘items’ that have historically tended to come with ‘democracy’; namely ‘capitalism’ and ‘Christianity’ – must be pure coincidence, right ? :slight_smile:

I can’t believe this isn’t in here yet… maybe I just can’t read today?

Democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.
– Winston Churchill

Still, the OP is asking a very valid question. Should people have the right to self governance? Or is it right to force a people into democracy because we think it’s better? I’m not saying it’s not better… but hell, even if it IS better… shouldn’t a people have a right to choose against it? This is an important question because we are going to try and make Iraq a democracy and in doing so have made the assumptions that a) democracy is inherently better then any alternative and b) since we obviously know it is inherently better you must accept it and not bother yourself with coming up with your own government. I don’t want to dirty this thread with Iraqi banter but it really begs the question… is forcing democracy with the threat of death really a noble and honorable thing?