We have a habit in this country of promoting democracy and then disapproving of the outcome. In the last few decades this pattern has been repeated in places like Palestine, Egypt, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Iran, Iraq, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia.
Now some could argue that in some cases this isn’t democracy but the manipulation of democracy to serve a minority. After all, in a democracy the majority rules doesn’t it? But they conveniently ignore that in the U.S. with just 100 million out of about 222 million eligible citizens voting, elections are decided by a minority of only 23% of the citizenry in close contests. That’s hardly majority rule.
We are all indoctrinated from childhood to believe that democracy is fair and equitable. But by definition, it must always oppress a minority, and so it is really just the best system of governance we have. The only way to improve it is to register the entire population and get them to the polls. Yet even then the minority will be oppressed, albeit a larger one. To paraphrase Lincoln: we cannot satisfy all of the people all of the time.
Some have argued that 100% participation would only serve to elect people who are incompetent. They believe that what we have now is a core group of informed and involved voters and the rest of us are either ignorant, ill-informed, or so disconnected from the process that we can’t possibly make good decisions. No attempt is made to educate and reconnect the citizenry to the franchise of voting.
This is hardly an observation that favors socialism or anarchy. That so few of us vote may, in fact, contribute to the stability of our country. If we had 100% turnout in a close election for President, instead of 50 million people feeling disenfranchised we could have twice that many, enough to form a critical mass that could agitate against the process. Instead we have 120 million non-voters that are willing to go along with what the voters decide, and this may be a key factor in our stability. That complacency puts those whose candidates lose in a distinct minority, and may keep tempers and actions in check. “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain” may be key to our durability as a nation..
If democracy is a system that favors the “majority,” it must, by logical extension, be a system that also oppresses a minority. In reality, political systems fall into one of two categories:
- A system that oppresses most of the citizens
- A system that oppresses as few citizens as possible
The former is easy to recognize, and can be found in places like Myanmar, Uzbekistan and Zimbabwe. They tend to be oligarchies, monarchies, autocracies, plutocracies, or aristocracies. Socialism and Marxism, however well intended at first, have always descended into one of these. And anarchy, as much as those who espouse it would protest, ultimately results in citizens infringing on the rights of others.
Democracy, for better or worse, is the only system to fall into the latter category. For now, it looks like the best system we have. But let’s not delude ourselves into believing that it is perfect.