Thursday, July 7, 2011

Democracy: What is it Good For?

As a reactionary, I've got no particular love of democracy, particularly of the unlimited suffrage model. However, I can't reasonably say: Absolutely Nothing.
Democracy actually is good at something.
Under many conditions in a nation that has undergone an industrial revolution and the attending revolution in military technology leading to the feasibility of mass conscripted armies, it has one thing going for it.
A vote is usually adequately predicts the outcome if a revolution were held on the subject. Hence the losing side does not have the reasonable expectation that they can do better through resort to arms. This doesn't mean they won't resort to arms, because after all, the will is at least as important as raw power in warfare, but it makes it much less likely, making the system more stable.

However, what happens when you extend the franchise such that military power becomes out of balance with effective political power (in this I'm not speaking of raw votes in an election, but rather the ability for a group to have its way or promote its interests)? It should be pretty clear that military power density in the US is considerably out of alignment with political power density---clearly the political power of the US resides not with rural white males. This takes from democracy its only real virtue and promises interesting times ahead, in the Chinese accursed sense.


Anonymous said...

Ah, so you endorse the Starship troopers/Swiss model of democracy. Results wise the Swiss model worked very well very a very long time.

Jehu said...

I wouldn't say I endorse it, but I do say that it is more stable because of the alignment of military power and political power than our present arrangement. I suppose in the world of practical politics, saying its less bad than the present status quo represents an endorsement of sorts.

Kalim Kassam said...

Ludwig von Mises was a broadly pro-democracy liberal (though his personal loyalty was always to his Emperor) and identified just this as the main 'feature' of democracy in his Notes & Recollections:

"Technical proposals for changes in the election system ... would be no solution. If the masses of people oppose an administration that was formed by a minority, it cannot indefinitely survive. If it refuses to yield to public opinion, it will be overthrown by revolution. The preferability of democracy consists in the fact that it facilitates a peaceful adjustment of the system of government and government personnel to the wishes of public opinion."

Unknown said...

Democracy is a tool, and should only be used by those who know how to use it. If Democracy starts producing undesirable externalities, it just tells how skilled the common population is in using this tool.

Jehu said...

Mises' observation holds only when democratic political power is well aligned to effective military power. If there's a coalition of, say, 60% with very low military power relative to the 40%, you've got an unstable situation on your hands. This is probably why universal manhood suffrage (i.e., adult males only) came in such lockstep with huge conscript armies. When armies were small relatively professional affairs, military power was much more concentrated in the population, as it is now in a post-draft US.