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Athens the first Democracy

If you look for it you will actually find references to earlier so called democracies in Sumer and India (notably Vaishali where the Buddha set up shop). Look more closely, however, and you will find they were, at best, Republics, not Democracies. A Republic is one step up from an Oligarchy or Plutocracy in that the ruled get to elect their rulers and thus, allegedly, indicate their consent to being ruled. This is NOTHING to do with Democracy. (Remember: it is Plato's REPUBLIC which is the model for Republicans and Platonists generally and it is a model set up in opposition to Democracy)

Democracy isn't about delegating or handing over your authority to "debate and decide" to someone else. It's about getting stuck in yourself, taking the responsibility and decisions which being a free and equal citizen ought to be about. If you can't face that degree of involvment and prefer to let someone else do your political thinking for you, that is - or can be - your free choice. It might even be a sensible and practical choice. But don't let anyone fool you into believing that it is also a choice for Democracy.

Those who support the Republican model most strongly would not dissent from this opinion. They are amongst the few who understand what real Democracy is and they sincerely believe that the inevitability of "mob rule" makes real Democracy a dangerous option. Read, for example, Edward Griffin's stuff at his "Freedom Force International" website and you will get an impassioned (though, in my view, somewhat naive) tirade against "collectivism" - which he believes to be the logical and political opposite of "individualism" and thus, he argues, consequently, always favours authoritarianism even though it might be genuinely democratic authoritarianism. For example, if we were to put the legalisation of cannabis to a referendum today, the majority might well support the existing authoritarian position and vote to maintain the current law.

This objection is valid - the democratic majority might - as I've said elsewhere - make decisions just as stupid and authoritarian as any tyrant. But his solution is invalid. He thinks all the protection we need is essentially enshrined in the American constitution. The mere fact that America is in its current Police State proves that no piece of paper can provide appropriate protection against the attacks on liberty which an unscrupulous ruling elite are prepared to impose.

My view is this. First, you cannot "limit" what a body of people may decide to do to each other by any artificial means whether it be constitutional devices like "separation of powers" or control by referenda. The attempt to do that is the root failure of all political systems to date. All it does is to force clever priests, politicians or police to find new loopholes which permit the particular form of abuse they wish to practice.

Second, given the absence of any real obstacles to the abuse of power, as the Athenians were the first to realise, the only safe thing to do is make sure that ALL of it is shared equally among all those who might one day be affected by it. Automatically, this gives all those who hold power (i.e. all of us) a vested interest in ensuring that it cannot be abused, because, if it can, we might, one day, be the victim of that abuse.

This entails the truly democratic system similar to the Athenian model I described in Chap 7 Part 1. However, although we cannot build unbreachable "protections" for individual liberty into such a system, there is nothing to stop us proposing the voluntary adoption - by We The People - of a set of protections designed to overcome the kind of legitimate objections which Griffin has. In other words, Griffin (and Libertarian Republicans generally) has understood the "threat" of democracy but failed to perceive that, if it chooses to do so, Democracy can also provide the only credible protections against such threats.

Almost certainly his failure to appreciate the possibilities of unlimited democracy stems from his rational analysis of the current behaviour of the "free press" in the Western World who, indisputably, work diligently in support of the existing Platonist order. He fears that democratic decisions influenced by such media interests could produce results as unedifying as the existing system. This too is a valid objection but becoming less so by the day - as this medium (the web) takes over from the old medium. And, as he knows, and many commercial companies know to their chagrin, the inherently egalitarian nature of the web means that money and political authority do not buy you much influence here.

As the debate and decision making - in our next attempt at true Democracy - will be web based, there is, in my view, no serious long term problem with the existing media.

The kind of protections I would expect to have no trouble achieving a supporting consensus certainly include those which Griffin would endorse as protections offered by his Republican model. Such as Free Expression, Free Association, Privacy, Anonymity, Free Trade and so on. I am less confident that we will be able to persuade people to accept the need for Consensus rather than mere Majority rule and similarly nervous about the prospects for the protection and promotion of dissidence. We will have to cross those bridges when we come to them.

Thus, I cannot guarantee a democratic protection against occasional illiberal authoritarian decisions being made by a prejudiced and mindless majority on this issue or that. But provided the Democracy is genuinely unconstrained, then one major consequence is that none of its decisions are set in stone and bad ones can, eventually, be changed. As long, therefore, as we can get society to agree to preserve free expression, we can always at least continue to persuade, and, at the end of the day, if you can't persuade a majority to agree with you, then unless you're prepared and able to use coercive tactics or defend yourself against their attacks, you'd better give in or move!

Meanwhile what Griffin's model fails even to attempt to do is the devolution of power to the ground floor. He has a "creed of freedom" but no corresponding "creed of shared power".

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