Kevin Drum on the purpose of democracy


When people tell me “this is a Republic, not a democracy,” my first question is who they think is entitled to rule over them.

I like the following observation by Kevin Drum of Mother Jones:

It’s true that humans are hairless primates who naturally gravitate to a hierarchical society, but there’s little evidence that “most humans” prefer non-democratic societies.  There’s loads of evidence that powerful elites prefer elite-driven societies, and have gone to great lengths throughout history to maintain them against the masses. Whether the masses themselves ever thought this was a good arrangement is pretty much impossible to say.

Of course, once the technologies of communication, transportation, and weaponry became cheaper and more democratized, it turned out the masses were surprisingly hostile to elite rule and weren’t afraid to show it.  So perhaps it’s not so impossible to say after all.

In fact, most humans throughout history probably haven’t favored “meritocratic” rule, but mostly had no practical way to show it except in small, usually failed rebellions.  The Industrial Revolution changed all that, and suddenly the toiling masses had the technology to make a decent showing against their overlords.  Given a real option, it turned out they nearly all preferred some form of democracy after all.

Which brings us to the real purpose of democracy: to rein in the rich and powerful.  Without democracy, societies very quickly turn into the Stanford Prison Experiment.  With it, that mostly doesn’t happen. 

That’s a huge benefit, even without counting free speech, fair trials, and all the other gewgaws of democracy. It is, so far, the only known social construct that reliably keeps powerful elites from becoming complete jackasses.  That’s pretty handy.

via Mother Jones.

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One Response to “Kevin Drum on the purpose of democracy”

  1. thetinfoilhatsociety Says:

    Except for the fact that, in the 1700’s, when entrepreneurs invented the water mill, and power loom, they destroyed a basically democratic, decentralized economy along with a career guild and way of life. The guilds ensured that inferior quality products were not unleashed on the public, and also at the same time ensured living wages for its members. Quality of clothing declined; the cloth may be cheaper but it’s nowhere near the quality of hand woven. As a weaver I can attest to this. NOTHING commercially produced rivals the hand spun and hand woven silks of Asia just as a for instance.

    After, when the economy was destroyed and lives were too, the few benefited at the expense of the many, because employment became a quasi slavery in which everything you had came from the company, who made sure to never pay you enough to actually get ahead and out of debt to the company. And instead of working with the natural rhythms of the seasons, and the days, and making your own schedule, you are answerable to someone else’s demands and needs rather than your own.

    The biggest negative of monarchy or lord/peasant relationship was the obligation to provide soldiers in times of war. Pretty much otherwise, people were self motivated, and public pressure by their own neighbors kept the peace and moral standards. That and the church, though the church had been destroyed by the 1580’s. Corrupt or not, it ensured the little people had a voice, a meal, and a place to go if needed.

    I wish people understood better the history of the industrial revolution; it has its roots in the late 1400’s Europe and the pissing contests between nations. You need money to run a war, after all.

    The Industrial Revolution didn’t make lives better for anyone except those at the top. Mortality increased from all causes, mainly related to malnutrition and overwork. I would argue that the industrial revolution is possibly the worst thing to ever happen to us as a people. And the supposed “democracy” we have as a result is a poor trade for autonomy in one’s daily life and lack of need for monetary exchange for absolutely everything in one’s life.


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