Most people will know the common definition of democracy:- “Government of the people, by the people, for the people”. What they may not realise is that the above definition applies only to the DIRECT form of democracy as used in Ancient Greece, and that this form of democracy is not the one that is almost universally in operation today. What we do have, in fact, is something termed a REPRESENTATIVE democracy, and an equivalent definition for this would be:- “Government of the people, by some of the people (representatives), for the people”
The requirement for a representative system is dictated purely by numbers. It is just not possible to get 2 million people or more into a government assembly to debate the matters at hand. The actual number of representatives will vary from country to country, depending on the size of it’s population and the number of representatives decided on by it’s constitution. As a general rule, however, a ratio of 60,000 to 100,000 of the voting population will elect 1 representative to the governing assembly.
This single difference alone, although a restriction in itself, would still enable a reasonably democratic process to function, as long as the participants were of the same altruistic nature as the ancient Greeks seem to have been, (see Politicians), and government was carried out in a spirit of cooperation, as was done then. If either or both of these provisos are absent, then the picture looks radically different.
For those wishing to exert influence to gain an advantage, the election of representatives provides a convenient opportunity to do so. For some more detailed information of what is possible, and what actually still happens regularly around the world, see The Ballot. But in many cases propaganda is used in one form or another to reach the voters directly. A new development is propaganda directed at children who are not yet of voting age. See Schooling.
The next point of influence would be the governing assembly itself, where voting that directly affects the running of a country takes place. Even with a representative system, if each member were voting according to his conscience, and in accordance with his best interpretation of the views of his electors, the task of exerting influence would be difficult. Unfortunately, the system handed down to us makes it much easier, for the representatives are already divided into political parties, one of which has a (small) majority over the other(s) and forms the Government. The remainder are the Opposition.
This indicates that far from the spirit of cooperation needed to maintain the democratic process, there is, on the contrary, a state of opposition. There are many quotations to confirm this fact, but we will use here just one:-
“There are always battles in politics, that’s how conflicts are resolved.”
Clare Short, International Development Secretary, Labour Government, UK
The ancient Greeks, however, were able to manage without competition, and there is no apparent requirement for it in a democratic process. It forms, however, an inherent part of all ‘democratic’ governments today, so where did it come from?
Parties evolved through the struggle of contending groups to grasp control of the apparatus of government. This struggle for power generally took place within legislatures. Formed initially to advise monarchs, by the 17th and 18th centuries many legislative bodies had begun to claim independent power bases and privileges of their own.
An early model of the modern party system developed in Britain in the 18th century, shaped around the efforts of the Whig and Tory parties to control government jobs and political influence. A party system also developed in the United States in the decade following ratification of the Constitution of the United States in 1788, pitting members of the Federalist Party against members of the Democratic-Republican Party.
As the British and American governmental systems are the models for most other governments around the world, the use of party systems is almost universal
We see that one of the provisos for effective democracy does not in fact exist, which immediately raises the question:- “If not Democracy, what then?”. Before addressing that question it would be pertinent to look at the other proviso, to see if that is fulfilled.
Members of a political party have a divided loyalty:- on the one hand to their electorate, and on the other to the party that paid for their campaign expenses and provided all the support necessary for the election. All may go well until there is a conflict of loyalties. At this point the representative must decide whether to vote for his party or not. The fact that most do, (to abstain or vote against the party is very unusual), is a clear indication that representatives elected to governing bodies are not altruistic. With this, the second proviso has also been removed.
Note that political parties demand loyalty of their elected members, and enforce it where possible if signs of wavering are shown. See The Whip
Now consider the following:-
The framers of the U.S. Constitution made no provision in the governmental structure for the functioning of political parties because they believed that parties were a source of corruption and an impediment to the freedom of people to judge issues on their merits.
Political Parties in the United States. Microsoft Encarta
In both Britain and the United States, competition between political parties undermined traditional conceptions of politics rooted in classical and Christian notions of virtue and public service. According to this tradition, political leaders should act according to a model of virtue that involved placing the common good above the interests of a fraction of the society. Leaders acting to benefit only themselves or a narrow portion of the society were considered corrupt. However, party competition required public figures to act upon a contrary set of assumptions: (1) that politics “naturally” involves conflict and division, and (2) that its true goals are to secure the economic interests and political influence of groups divided along lines of class, ethnicity, race, and religion.
Political Parties. Microsoft Encarta
If we now compare the foregoing excerpts with a more complete definition of democracy:- “government by all the people, direct or representative; form of society ignoring hereditary class distinctions and tolerating minority views”, we see that the goals of political parties are not consistent with democratic ideals.
The logical conclusion is that political parties and democracy are mutually exclusive, ie.-
Where there are political parties, democracy cannot exist.
It would help at this point to revise our common definition to suit what we actually find in government.
“Government of the people, by some of the people (representatives), for the some of people (groups)”
would be a better fit, but this is the definition of an Oligarchy. See Types of Government.
There are further significant differences which affect the quality of government rather than the type. Athenian democracy shared authority by choosing most government officials from the citizenry through a lottery and imposing term limits. Only the most sensitive positions in military and financial affairs were filled by election. In modern governments, however, government officials are appointed by the chief executive, which throws the door wide open to opportunity for patronage and nepotism. See Corruption for more detail.
Athenian democracy was open, or ‘transparent’, to use the modern term. There was little or no opportunity to gain advantage by stealth. Modern governments, in complete contrast, have many aspects that are cloaked in secrecy. This enables the ‘fait accompli’ to be instituted where advantageous to the governing party, enables espionage to be used – sometimes in illicit directions, such as in the Watergate Affair, which led to President Nixon’s downfall. Often, however, the objective of such action is covert involvement in the politics of another country.
Although the most precise definition of modern governments is an Oligarchy, under certain conditions this can change. Take for example the situation where the chief executive ignores the advice of his appointed officials and insists that his wishes will be followed. If there is insufficient political opposition, combined or otherwise, to counteract such actions, then the system becomes an Autocracy, and note:-
An autocracy is considered the opposite of a democratic or constitutional government.
Who is in control?
In a modern government, control is invested in the Chief Executive and the members of his/her advisory group, the Cabinet. The cabinet originated early in the 15th century as a council advising the king of England. In the 18th century, however, when the center of governmental power shifted from monarch to Parliament, the cabinet became the council of the most important minister in the government, the prime minister. From this organization developed the modern British cabinet, with the prime minister at the head, collectively responsible to Parliament.
The prime minister has the power appoint members to the cabinet, to move members of the cabinet from post to post, or to drop individuals from the cabinet entirely. If the cabinet loses a vote of confidence, or fails to carry its legislation in the Commons, it must resign or request a dissolution. Because of the strict party discipline, important decisions are often made not in Parliament, but beforehand in the less formal meetings of the cabinet and party.
Two key doctrines of cabinet government are collective and ministerial responsibility. Collective responsibility means that the cabinet acts unanimously, even when cabinet ministers do not all agree upon a subject. If an important decision is unacceptable to a particular cabinet member, it is expected that he or she will resign to signify dissent. Former cabinet ministers may retain their positions as members of Parliament.
Ministerial responsibility means that ministers are responsible for the work of their departments and answer to Parliament for the activities of their departments. The policy of departmental ministers must be consistent with that of the government as a whole. The ministers bear the responsibility for any failure of their department in terms of administration or policy.
The principal characteristics of European cabinets are the responsibility of the cabinet to the legislature, and the identification of the cabinet with the government. The prime minister or premier, and cabinet administer the country together as long as they have the confidence of the legislature. If a cabinet lacks either legislative or popular support, the government is said to fall, and the executive must form a new cabinet capable of winning the required support.
The cabinet as a governmental institution is not provided for in the U.S. Constitution. It developed as an advisory body out of the president’s need to consult the heads of the executive departments on matters of federal policy and on problems of administration. This cabinet is a consultative and advisory body only, and wields no executive authority.
Having looked at the theoretical side, how does it actually work in practice?
Much is dependent on the nature of the prime minister. A strong personality will dominate the cabinet, and the policy then ensuing is basically autocratic. Furthermore, if, as in the case of Margaret Thatcher, the prime minister also takes over the party organisation, another of the checks on power is automatically removed.
If the prime minister is willing to share power, however, then the following still applies:-
Collective responsibility, as defined in this context, with it’s requirement for unanimity, is essentially undemocratic.
If a cabinet member cannot find agreement with policy, in spite of all pressures, then he/she can be replaced with someone who will.
The cabinet defines party policy on all issues, and the remainder of the government is required to follow the party policy under threat of disciplinary action, also essentially undemocratic.
This would indicate that in most so-called ‘democratic’ systems, power is (or could be) mainly concentrated in the hands of one person only, the President or the Prime Minister, and the systems themselves are essentially autocratic.
At times, however, there are strong suspicions that the power so exerted is actually being directed by some person other than the executive. Take the following example:- (for the complete article, see Charge).
“The West’s anticipated military war against terrorism has begun. President George Bush has assembled a powerful coalition of First World countries united in their staunch defense of freedom and security. This coalition is aided by a number of obviously reluctant Third World countries who have divided loyalties and mixed feelings about helping the United States….”
“The Bush administration is now putting great pressure on Third World countries such as India to come on board the bandwagon; it sweetens its demands with debt-relief packages and trade offers such as the $8-billion (U.S.) emergency package for Argentina
(it came hours before that country endorsed a new round)
— or the decision to ease economic sanctions imposed against Pakistan for pursuing its nuclear-weapons program in 1998….”
by Maude Barlow
Wed. Oct. 10, 2001, Toronto Globe & Mail
But even there, we not finished. There also indications at times that even the US President is using his authority on behalf of others unknown.
Having established that altruism and politics only coexist in extremely rare cases, we must look to the other indicators that we have available. We know, for example, that politics is now competitive, in fact a battleground:-
“Parties evolved through the struggle of contending groups to grasp control of the apparatus of government. This struggle for power…”
and they haven’t stopped fighting since. We should be aware that the battle has already taken on dimensions that far exceed the boundaries of any one country. We should also be aware that much of the groundwork for a wider conflict has already been done. International lobbying and international pressure, visible or otherwise, are commonplace. An Opposition exists in almost every country, and the dearest wish of an Opposition is to become a Government. There are Trojan Horses everywhere!
Over the course of history, many have attempted world dominance, and failed. The chances for success now are better than they have ever been before. And if the attempt is made with patience and stealth, the chances of success are even higher.
The assumptions made above may in fact be too pessimistic, but to err on the side of optimism would be to fail. We should also assume that the attempt has already started. The Challenge has been made!