Democracy and the voters
A republican form of government
G J Boris Allan
Table of Contents
1 Foreword >
2 The natures of democratic control >
3 The right to decide >
4 Who are the voters? >
5 Equality, the elite, and constitutional questions >
6 Afterword >

1 Foreword

Be nice to America. Or we’ll bring democracy to your country.
— Bumper sticker/fridge magnet/etc.
It is in the nature of too many political ideologies that dogma is dominant and subtlety is subordinate, so that a refined view is generally lacking and we are presented with a crude choice between that seen as good and that seen as bad or evil. Ideological accounts of allies often highlight the good, disregard the bad, and deny the evil – whereas ideological accounts of adversaries often highlight the evil, amplify the bad, and ignore the good.
For example, rebellious colonists in British America highlighted the evil of “the merciless Indian Savages, whose known Rule of Warfare, is an undistinguished Destruction, of all Ages, Sexes, and Conditions” (US Declaration of Independence, 1776). The colonists conveniently ignored the valuable aid and succour given by those “savages” to early colonists, and obviously they omitted to mention atrocities inflicted on indigenous people by colonists in all the Americas from 1492 onwards. The rebels against the British monarch were worried about their future, and in justifying their rebellion they used any means necessary to promote their case.
Present-day US Americans live in a society with many pressures, with many feelings of anxiety, and with many worried people. A natural human reaction is to compensate for these negative feelings by people's positive feelings of reassurance that they live in the best country in the world – a country they feel the rest of the world envies. Though emphasizing the negative (such as fear and anxiety) can win elections, it also helps to use the positive (such as superiority to other countries) – Ronald Reagan and his allies were adept promoters of the positive: “Under this President’s strong and principled leadership, America is back with pride, patriotism, and prosperity. We’re number one, and there's a lot of idiots who don't know that.” (George H W Bush, 2 November 1984)
Some reactions to the negative are not so positive, and some sound very defensive – where the best form of defence is attack. New York City had lost its bid to host the 2012 Olympics, a definite surprise to its inhabitants, and a Democratic mayoral candidate (Anthony Weiner) was at his pandering best, because “We don't need the reassurance from the International Olympic Committee or anyone else that New York is a world-class city.” (The Los Angeles Times, 7 July 2005). Then came the attack: “We don't need to put New York on the map. It's already the center of the universe.” As is well known, all babies think they are the centre of their universe, so how could they all be so wrong, when the true centre of everybody's universe is New York? This is the same Anthony Weiner who later resigned from the House of Representatives in 2011 due to inappropriate behaviour (“I take full responsibility for my actions. The picture was of me, and I sent it.”)
Slaves were a numerical majority in many states before the US civil war, but slaves were not the effective (vote-wielding) majority. Freed slaves were still a numerical majority in many states after the civil war, but freed slaves were never a vote-wielding majority – they were denied the vote and other civil rights by intimidation, and by the rule of unfair laws. Did a worthwhile democracy arrive in the USA:
As we have seen, though it is difficult for anybody to define what is democracy, the idea of the USA being a democracy is very important to many US Americans who feel democracy is a good thing, and thus living in a democracy makes them feel good about themselves. Feeling good extends to other aspects: they may think that the USA is the world's largest democracy (though it is India), or that the USA is the world's oldest democracy (and then it all depends on what you mean by democracy). Moreover there is the question: was the US republic ever meant to be a democracy?
For US Americans, to talk about exporting democracy (as if democracy were a US American invention) reinforces positive feelings about their own society. For many US Americans, to believe that democracy is a US invention explains the obvious – that is, why US society is best and superior to others.

2 The natures of democratic control

When discussing countries, the positive is often allied with the word “democracy” by politicians and ideologues from dominant countries (people who like to think they come from a democracy). References to democracy in the public sphere tend to be ideological, with the essence of democracy being unclear. Ideologues use the hallowed label in promoting their causes in order to minimize dissent, hoping to make those who disagree with their “democratic” cause seem in favour of dictatorship. In this ideology there is no nuance, no true discussion, no appreciation of the rich variety of life, because to disagree (we are told) is to be against democracy; and how can one be against democracy or (by some miraculous connection) be against freedom? The nature of the connection between democracy and freedom is never made clear.

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6 Afterword

The present legislative stalemate in Congress regarding the US debt limit does not mean the US government is broken, it means the US government is working exactly as designed, exactly as socially engineered. The social engineers’ plan was made explicit in the Constitution of the United States of America, and the design was always flawed – it is the US constitution that is broken.
The most calamitous constitutional design flaw led to the US Civil War (in combination with other factors). The flaw was a failure of imagination to address a real problem (slavery) and – to use a common 2011 metaphor – to “kick the can down the road” by the short-term expedient of enshrining slavery in the constitution without explicitly mentioning its existence. The 3/5 rule in Article I Section 2 of the constitution increased the voting representation of slave-holding states by taking into account the number of slaves in a state. Those of European descent were “free persons”, there were Indians not taxed, leaving slaves to be termed “all other persons” (amended after the civil war).
Long before the civil war, this basis for representation caused disputes between free persons in Virginia. Because the Virginia constitution also had a 3/5th rule, those in the mountainous areas of Virginia (where there were few plantations and few slaves) felt they were under-represented in the Virginia legislature compared to slave-dense parts of the state. The argument over the existence of slaves was not so much about the morality of slavery, but about the morality of giving extra representation to plantation owners. After the civil war, the mountainous areas separated from the rest of Virginia to create the state of West Virginia. John Brown’s raid on the Federal Armoury in Harper’s Ferry was in a town that became part of West Virginia, and perhaps he chose that particular armoury because he felt the local populace would be more receptive.
Many of the free persons who voted for and against the original US constitution were probably in agreement with sentiments expressed in the 1776 US Declaration of Independence (“we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor”), and they were proud of what they had managed to achieve in the fight for independence. They were proud of their new country, and – as free persons – they might have believed in the constitution’s grandiose claim in the preamble that “We, the People” (that is, free persons who could vote on the constitution) wanted to:
… to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity …
There again, they might have ignored the high ideals as being preamble froth.
John Jay was probably in tune with the majority of free persons in the USA who could vote when he pointed out just how similar, and very blessed, were these free persons whose bounty came from Providence (Federalist 2, see above3) :
... and who, by their joint counsels, arms, and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have nobly established general liberty and independence.
If we take this smug view (not uncommon at the time) and combine it with the fear of external threats from the British then we can see why many regarded the US population as being one unified people (“We the people”). With groups such as tea-party fellow-travellers exercising disproportionate influence on aspects of the ideological debate prior to the 2012 campaigns for US President, perhaps we could have “We the interest groups”.
Many social engineers believed, though there might be disagreements, that essentially people were unified. Others were more pessimistic, and their pessimism is reflected in contemporary worries by strident groups and individuals about government in Washington and the remoteness of individuals from control over that government:
We are not like the people of England, one people compactly settled on a small island, with a great city filled with frugal merchants, serving as a common centre of liberty and union. We are dispersed, and it is impracticable for any but the few to assemble in one place. The few must be watched, checked, and often resisted. Tyranny has ever shown a predilection to be in close amity with them, or the one man. Drive it from kings and it flies to senators, to decemviri, to dictators, to tribunes, to popular leaders, to military chiefs, etc. [My emphasis.]
— The Federal Farmer, “WILL THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES BE GENUINELY REPRESENTATIVE? (PART 2)” Antifederalist 56, 3 Jan 1788.
In the same letter, the pseudonymous author notes what he foresaw as an important design flaw: if elected representatives had small constituencies then the legislators were accessible, whereas with larger constituences and relatively fewer legislators per person “among the few, the abuse of power may often operate to the private emolument of those who abuse it.” Abuse was not acting in the interests of those represented, but acting in the financial interests of legislators.
The power of financial interests over the interests of human people was made more legitimate by the US Supreme Court decision in 1886 that corporations were people, as far equal protection under the laws was concerned. The idea of equal protection under the laws remedied other original design flaws, and was a recent innovation following the US civil war (14th Amendment, 1868). Mitt Romney reminded us not to forget that “Corporations are people, my friend” because “Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people” – though we are not sure which people benefit most from any company:
In the case of Enron and some other companies that were in trouble post-2007, it seems clear that the principal beneficiaries were senior management and not the owners. Furthermore, after the collapses of the companies, it seems as if senior management lost less than the owners, workers, or clients – partly to be redressed by litigation. So, if everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people, which people benefit from US corporations? – the answer is not so simple as some would have us believe.
When we are told that increasing taxes on the rich would stifle “wealth creation”, about whose wealth are we talking?

References