Narrowsightedness on Democracy

The case for democracy is a moral one, not an economic one; but if democracies can’t handle responsible governance, either on economic or more general policy issues, then governance will gradually become less democratic, and the moral case will make little difference.

The above quote is from a The Economist blog post and illustrates what I believe to be an extreme case of narrowsightedness. A quick Google search on “the case for democracy” brought up the following quote: “The moral case for democracy is based on the apparent degree of fairness that it offers…”

I would very much like to hear what the author of that blog post has to say on such apparent democracies like the United Kingdom, Spain, or similar countries, which are decried not to be democracies by their republican fanatics but which offer a degree of fairness that is comparable to “the greatest democracies” on Earth (or in a singular form, “the greatest democracy/country”, as the US politicians love to call their land). Comparable, I say, though it would not be wrong to call them fairer than the United States.

So, does the author actually mean something more in line with the so-to-say republican fanatics that we see all around the place these days, or does he also accept the possibility of a fair monarchy/autocracy (Singapore anyone?) which does provide an “apparent degree of fairness” and a far more effective political governance (though it would be fair to say that no democracy can or should be effectively governed given that means that debate is being smothered somewhere along the line)?

What is the worst about this approach, however, is that the author has refused to accept that the same moral values might exist in a non-democratic society if the tradition and principles for it were there. Fairness of people does not need to mean governance by people.

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  1. It seems to me that the Economist quote is hinting that autocracy is okay if the people have “failed” at it. That is interesting coming from a magazine which believes in the magical markets as a way to solve all different kinds of problems.

    Democracy is the only market for policies. If one believes in the magic of markets, and to be fair, markets can be a useful tool, then a democratic country should have the best possible policies. Rational self-interest would guarantee that enough resources were shared to make the most people happy. The more input into an idea, the better.

    However, with a pure autocracy, you lose that input. Fortunately most autocratic countries develop internal methods to get inputs from the rest of society. And if people can express difference of opinion and have a good level of living, people will be go along with whatever government they have. This is what many keep glossing over in long-term dictatorships. Unfortunately dictatorships, by their own nature, feel threaten by freedom of expression.

    So in a way I agree with your conclusion coming from a different position.

  2. Mmm, again, it was not The Economist which said that but a blogger there which is quite a different thing.
    Anyways, your main point is wrong since you equate democracy with freedom — I would say that a democratic society can be more restricting than an autocratic one, for an autocracy does not necessarily need to be built on the loss of freedom (eg Cincinnatus). We can have an autocracy which creates more freedom for the people, and grants them better standards of living than a democratic system — and if we achieve this, people will no longer see the need for “all” freedoms and be happy with an autocratic system that serves their interests better.
    Granted, for this to be possible, people would need to be disinterested in rulership while still being as good as humanly possible at it; as well as be without the corrupting touch of greed. Nevertheless, that merely makes it difficult, not impossible.

    1. Damn, I must have lost the sentence where I said that it was the Economist’s writer.

      In any case, I didn’t talk about freedom in terms of democracy. The only freedom that I talked was that of speech, and autocratic societies have a problem with it. Could you please point out where I equated democracy with freedom?

      My main point was agreeing with you ๐Ÿ˜›

  3. “It seems to me that the Economist quote is hinting that autocracy is okay if the people have โ€œfailedโ€ at it. That is interesting coming from a magazine which believes in the magical markets as a way to solve all different kinds of problems.”

    This does hint that you took it to be the official position of the magazine (an article there) which it is not. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    And, as I said but which you refuse to belive: if an autocratic society services people on a high enough level then they can either leave the need for speech to be or the autocracy does not fear being overthrown and can allow freedom of speech.

    1. I already said that I mistyped that. What else do you want me to say about it? ๐Ÿ˜›

      And once again, I am agreeing with you except on what you say about freedom of speech. Autocracies understand that their power over people is shaky, so they are afraid of freedom of expression. So they suppress it.

      Now it is a fantasy that autocratic rulers would allow freedom of expression if they thought that they counted with popular support. It is that they doubt that they have popular support the reason why the end freedom of the press.

      Most dictatorships do develop an internal way of checking opinions and the needs from other people. The problem is when these begin to be ignored or when the communication is broken somehow. So even if a dictator can get away with some eccentric behavior and spending, they still have to listen to others if the system is going to survive.

      When you talk about how people are so well off that they don’t need freedom of expression, you are sounding a lot like an old-school Stalinist, Koit.

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