Was Aristotle right when he said "democracy inevitably degenerates into despotism"? Why?
His conclusion covered in that post, however, is this: “Yet possibly these objections are to a great extent met by our old answer, that if the people are not utterly degraded, although individually they may be worse judges than those who have special knowledge — as a body they are as good or better.”
It’s tentative, but this is really the basis for a functional democracy. In the same vein, Thomas Jefferson famously said: "An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people," which is really a variation on the same themes that Aristotle opines about regarding democracy.
The greatest argument against democracy, therefore, is an ignorant and ‘utterly degraded’ electorate. And, unfortunately, we have seen strong evidence of this in far-right populism around the globe, rather profoundly in the MAGA movement in the U.S., and in the blindly unquestioning support of murderous dictators like Putin by a majority (roughly 70%) of the Russian people. We are living through a period where exactly what Aristotle and Jefferson warned us about is taking place.
My 2 cents.
Comment from David Daniel
"Very educational. But it doesn't really address my question. What is the argument against democracy? Is there one to be had? It is obvious to me that our current democracy has been degraded in a way that Aristotle predicted but is this, in itself, an adequate argument against undertaking the project of democracy.?
I suppose it can be said that many have predicted the failure of democracy but, if it does fail it will be the failure of the participants who make it so. Does that mean that it was a bad idea in the first place? Does that mean that we are not socially and politically evolved enough to run a democracy? Have we just failed at this run through and it should be tried again? Or are we all just better off to live in our misery and let someone else make the decisions for us?"
Good points and here is how I would address them…
1. The problems we are having with democracy (and which indeed were predicted) are not an inherent flaw of democracy itself. They are, rather, a problem of implementing democracy without paying attention to the ongoing education of citizens and moral evolution of a given culture. Without attention to and investment in education and moral maturity, democracy will ultimately fail.
2. In our current landscape, the biggest challenge has been implementing democracy in concert with capitalism. Despite neoliberal rhetoric to the contrary, democracy and capitalism are fundamentally at odds with each other, and that tension has currently resolved in favor of empowering the owner-shareholder class, rather than the worker-consumer class. Why? Well because the very “education” and information available to most of society — and the perpetuation of many cultural institutions — arrives via a mass media that is completely subjugated to the profit motive. And these de facto sources of plutocratic influence are intensively engaged in distorting information and education to deceive and manipulate the voting public to vote against their own best interests, and support self-serving plutocratic agendas instead.
3.We could say that a “perfect” democracy is as romantic an ideal as a benevolent dictatorship, that is true. But IMO a democracy will inherently be more agile, responsive, resilient, and ultimately successful…IF (and only if) other forces don’t interfere with it. Currently, those with the highest concentrations of political, social, and material capital have far too much influence over executive governance, legislation, elections, education, advertising, mass media, and persuasive information in the world’s democracies. We essentially have subjugated democratic institutions to “crony capitalism.” If we could diffuse material concentrations of wealth and political concentrations of influence, democratic institutions could easily begin to recover on their own.
4. How can we know any of these assumptions are valid? Because of research by folks like Elinor Ostrom and the broader examples of successful left-anarchist societies. Ostrom documented countless organically-arising examples of what she called “common pool resource management” all around the globe. In these examples, there was no government involvement, and no property ownership, but instead self-directed, democratic or consensus resource management of common natural resources by small communities. Likewise, the examples of left-anarchist societies (List of anarchist communities) that deliberately diffused political and economic power, and again made all decisions democratically or via consensus, show us that democracy can thrive when it is not corroded and corrupted by the profit motive and generational accumulations/concentrations of capital.
My 2 cents.
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