The Illusion of Democracy

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From people’s rule to a broken social contract

It is ironic, considering democracy’s pitiful state worldwide that, in accordance to its etymology, it literally means “common people’s rule” or, more simply, “people’s power.” The English term democracy and the 14th-century French word democratie come from the Greek demokratia via the Latin democratia. The Greek radical demos means “common people,” and kratos means “rule, or power.” How did we manage to pervert such a laudable notion of power to the people and diametrically turn it into a global system of rule at large under the principles of oligarchy and plutocracy? Everywhere we look, from east to west and north to south, plutocrats and oligarchs are firmly in charge: puppet masters of the political class. They have transformed democracy into a parody of itself and a toxic form of government. The social contract implied in a democratic form of governance is broken.

At the start of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s The Social Contract, written in 1762 and one of the inspirations for the French revolution 27 years later, the Enlightenment philosopher wrote: “Men are born free, yet everywhere are in chain.” The key argument of The Social Contract is that only those governments that function with the express “consent of the governed” have a legitimate right to exist. Further, Rousseau introduced the fundamental and revolutionary notion of sovereignty of the people, as opposed to sovereignty of the state or the rulers. For Rousseau, the only legitimate form of political authority is the one agreed upon by all the people in a social contract with full respect of everyone’s natural birthrights to equality, freedom and individual liberty.

The electoral process is an essential part of “the consent of the governed” defined by Rousseau. In almost all of the so-called democratic countries, however, the important act of voting to elect the people’s representatives has become an exercise in futility. Today politicians, who still have the audacity to call themselves public servants, are the obedient executors of the trans-national global corporate elite. These politicians are actors who are cast to perform in opaque screenplays written by top corporate power brokers and marketed to the public like products. In this sad state of affairs that passes for democracy, citizens have become blind consumers of  products, which are political figureheads working  for global corporate interests. For any organism to remain healthy, it must be able to excrete. The same applies to our collective social body, but instead of regularly eliminating our political residue and flushing it away, we recycle it.

Neoliberal corporate imperialism: a global one-party system

Mark Twain wrote: “If voting made any difference, they wouldn’t let us do it.” This quote from the gilded age has never been more accurate than it is today. A vote implies real choice, and we have none. From France to Brazil, the United Kingdom, Germany, India and of course the United States — all of which pass for great democracies — political choices have become largely reduced to two electable political parties with different names to accommodate the local cultural flavors. This comforting idea of an option between left and right that spices up democracies’ voting menus is a farce. For example, in France, the so-called socialist Francois Hollande and his right-wing predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy are both docile servants of neoliberal and imperial policies dictated from elsewhere. Both, Sarkozy and Hollande, are proponents of austerity measures imposed by financial institutions (IMF, World Bank, etc.), and also imperialist actions such as rejoining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and intervening militarily in Libya (Sarkozy) and Mali (Hollande).

The United Kingdom offers the example of the phony difference between Labor, the party of warmonger in Iraq and Afghanistan, Tony Blair, and Tory, the party of warmonger in Libya, Afghanistan and Syria, David Cameron. This observation extends, of course, to the fake choice between Democrats and Republicans in the United States: the names change periodically, but the neoliberal imperialist policies remain the same. In reality, the pseudo two-party system accommodates a one-party power structure that is financed and ruled by the same people everywhere and serves identical interests. This fake two-party system maintains the appearance of democracy by giving people the impression that voting matters. If voting makes no difference, then what can be done?

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Power to the people: challenging unelected global-governance institutions

Although there is rampant dissatisfaction with politicians globally, few people are willing to admit that democracy is broken or take direct action to create a new system. According to an October 2014 poll, only six percent of US voters think that their Congress is doing a good job, and 65 percent rate its performance as being poor or very poor. Even more telling of the popular sense of an assumed general political corruption, 63 percent of US voters think that most members of Congress are willing to sell their votes for either cash or campaign contributions. In France, President Hollande’s approval rating has crashed to 13 percent: the lowest for any president since the early 1960s. Despite France’s revolutionary history, the country’s constitution gives its president the power to remain in office until the full term of his five-year mandate and, if necessary, to rule by decree.

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In our current supra-national world order, however, to focus popular dissatisfaction on interchangeable figureheads such as Francois Hollande, Barack Obama, David Cameron, Narendra Modi, Dilma Rousseff, Angela Merkel, etc., is a largely counterproductive undertaking. All are expendable. Instead, the global public opinion should contest the legitimacy of unelected global-governance institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, United Nations, World Trade Organization (WTO), and other powerful non-governmental organizations, think tanks, and consortia like the World Economic Forum. These institutions dictate global policies, draft secret treaties such as the trans-pacific partnership agreement (TPP) concerning billions of people, and largely constitute the global elite. Such global institutions would have to be elected by the world citizenry for global governance to be viewed as being remotely democratic.

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All revolutions need revolution

“Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy; it is absolutely essential to it” wrote Howard Zinn. People worldwide are fed up with their politicians, and they are protesting. Yet, as if most are suffering from a collective Stockholm syndrome, they are not sufficiently pro-active to rid themselves of their abusers by all means necessary. Voting was meant to be a sacrosanct civic duty in a democracy, but it has become the unconscious action of sleepwalkers.

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In 1789, toppling the monarchy was a tall order in France. The intellectual inspiration for this revolution came from the works of Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot and Montesquieu, who can be viewed as the founding fathers of modern democracy.  If the veneer of the Enlightenment philosophers’ discourse has survived time, the spirit of it has been gutted out. The elite of corporate global governance have trampled the social contract. People who had gained their freedom during 200 years are everywhere back in chains. Although an increasing number of people realize that a drastic systemic change is imperative, few are willing to admit that nothing short of a global revolution can challenge the entrenched plutocratic world order.

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In the aftermath of such a revolution, or ideally before it, we must redefine the parameters of what should guarantee representative governance in real democracy with common people’s rule. Real democracy works best on a small scale. In ancient Greece, for example, democracy worked because its scale was limited to small communities in which citizens personally knew their politicians. Today, pushes for autonomy in regions such as Catalonia and Scotland represent the aspirations of people for smaller governance and their reactions against globalization and the threat to their cultural identities. On the other hand, global problems such as pollution, the squandering of limited resources, climate change and the current mass extinction, must be dealt with globally to have any impact. Therefore a type of direct democracy is also needed to deal with global issues; this could consist, for example, of global referendums on critical issues. The current systems of supposed democratic governance are corrupt and decayed; after we demolish them and reconstruct democracy for our times, it might finally, for us, become true to its name.

Editor’s Note: For more on this topic, read Gilbert Mercier’s The Orwellian Empire, available as a paperback from Amazon. Photograph one by Filippo Minelli; illustration three and seven by Donkey Hotey; photograph two by Dvidshub ; five by Tommi Godwin; six from IMF archive; eight from the World Economic Forum archive; nine by Nico Hogg; ten by Chris Goldberg; and eleven by Sara Semelka.

 

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16 Responses to The Illusion of Democracy

  1. +11 Vote -1 Vote +1Brent Crocker
    October 27, 2014 at 7:25 pm

    Direct Democracy is the cure.

  2. +9 Vote -1 Vote +1Norman Trabulsy Jr
    October 27, 2014 at 8:18 pm

    Mr. Mercier,

    I fully expect that this isn’t just an article. It must be the beginning of a plan of action. I cannot find anything which you have written about here that I do not completely agree with. To achieve democracy, there are things that need to be regained, things that need to be destroyed, and things that need to be built. If we truly wish to see democracy flourish, in the sense that it means that we actually have a say in how we are governed, then we must take those first few steps.

    First, we need to become engaged again. I say again, for I suspect that the most astute people have seen the pointlessness of wasting our time in the meaningless acts that we are allowed as citizens, other than taking to the streets.

    What must be regained:

    1.Our jobs must be to help educate people, one issue at a time. A long journey, but you at News Junkie Post obviously believe this, are doing your part, and are making headway.

    2. We must build trust again. Trust has been destroyed in many ways throughout the world, between peoples everywhere. All relationships are based on trust. Democracy, to thrive, must be based on trust. Another long journey.

    What must be destroyed:

    1. Our current global for-profit banking system. See Ellen Brown wonderful writings to understand how public banks can change our world.

    2. Transnational corporations, and the idea of corporate personhood. Read some of Vandana Shivas work to learn about Monsanto, for instance, and the evils that they are spreading throughout the globe.

    3.Money must be taken out of politics. No it is not impossible and we can never have democracy without publicly funded campaigns and elections. Public servants and politicians proven to have taken bribes should be treated in the same way as serial murderers. The people must demand this, because the current political system is rife with corrupt politicians who don’t want it to change.

    4. The entire neoliberal way of thinking needs to deconstructed, and its adherents need to be shown up for the callous, intellectual failures that they are.

    What must be built:

    1. A modern day utilization of 21st century technology that replaces the archaic modes of determining issues, taking polls, and voting. We can bank online, but we still rely on representatives who are completely removed from the will of the people. Ok, Mr. Mercier. Either tell me I’m naive, or help me build upon and criticize some of my ideas. I have hundreds, as many of us do. We have to start somewhere.

    I feel we can both agree that our current state of “democracy” is in terminal decline and no longer worthy of the title. If you didn’t believe this, you wouldn’t have written your splendid article. Today’s “democracy” is rotten to the core and needs total revamping. The vast majority of the world’s population is getting totally screwed, consistently. What will it take to bring the 10%- 20% of us together? Do you agree that’s what it will take to get a critical mass going in the right direction?

    Mr. Mercier, I appreciate, more than you can know, that you have the soul, wisdom, talent and courage to take on this issue and write The Illusion of Democracy.

    Now, What are we gonna do about it?

    Norman Trabulsy Jr.

    • Gilbert Mercier
      +7 Vote -1 Vote +1Gilbert Mercier
      October 28, 2014 at 6:52 am

      Dear Norman,

      Thank you for your kind words.

      Indeed, my analysis is meant to be a diagnostic of the global illness that affects and perverts what should be the greatest possible form of governance: democracy.

      It is imperative, for our species’ survival, that we go through a major systemic change. My analysis is, in many ways, the opening salvo of what should be a global honest and intelligent discussion about governance.

      As you pointed out, once enough people worldwide come to understand our arguments and join our side, this will reach a critical mass. Meanwhile, we must work on defining the principles of what should be a real democratic system in the global era.

  3. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Richard
    October 27, 2014 at 10:11 pm

    This is the issue of our time.

    Am I right in understanding your implied point that democracy is the preferred form of governance (micro and macro) if it could only be made to work for the interests of the many as opposed to the few?

    • Gilbert Mercier
      +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Gilbert Mercier
      October 28, 2014 at 7:19 am

      Indeed, Richard. You are absolutely correct.

  4. +5 Vote -1 Vote +1Dr Democracy
    October 28, 2014 at 10:15 am

    If you can Bank on line you can vote on line. Direct Democracy is the real Democracy, the rest is just a dog and pony show!

  5. -4 Vote -1 Vote +1usurykills
    October 28, 2014 at 12:09 pm

    The consent of the governed is not possible. How can we consent to murder and theft (in the name of the many?) I never had any of the powers government claims I granted to them. Impossible.

    Democracy is tyranny. We need anarchy. No government. No laws. Without government, there are no corporations, only associations.

    There is only one moral law. It is found in every civilization throughout the ages — the golden rule. We need no other compass. All the rest of the “laws” are really just a patchwork of excuses.

    As for money, it is useful but “interest” (properly known as usury) is immoral and deadly to civilization.

  6. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1Robert O'Leary
    October 28, 2014 at 8:40 pm

    The convention of states movement under Article V in the U.S. is worthwhile to look into. We could look at what Iceland did to let go their leadership and bankers and draft a new constitution. We could look at Germany’s crowd-sourced approach to drafting a constitution. Lastly, we can look at the Thrive Movement’s suggestions for changing the world together. The illusion of duality has been used against us most recently on purpose by the Illuminati and Bilderberg. If we feel we have a champion in the fight, we do not bother to fight for ourselves. This and the fluoride in our environment, and even the frequencies coming out of our HDTV’s make us docile and less proactive to organize and take action.

  7. -8 Vote -1 Vote +1Graham Bruce Fletcher
    October 29, 2014 at 6:32 am

    Unfortunately the great majority of the demographic would not be unable to understand your argument, and the consequences of allowing the masses to determine how they should be governed would be disaster. People would choose to receive greater rewards for less effort, thus destroying the economy, and seek greater individual freedom without responsibility, destroying society.

    The intelligentsia are no more popular than plutocrats, oligarchs, warlords and aristocrats. There is neither hope nor justification for the government of the people by the people, as more than 80% of them do not have the capacity, nor the will to make long-tern decisions for the benefit of humanity. We are selfish and lazy, by and large.

    • +2 Vote -1 Vote +1deschutes maple
      November 3, 2014 at 5:35 am

      Where do you get your laughably pessimistic stats? Or the misanthropic assertion that “we are selfish and lazy”? On the contrary, humans are quite industrious. You go work almost any job in USA: those people are busting their ass, some working 60 hours/week. No, humans are not at all lazy, my depressed pessimistic friend. Further, while democracy is not without the flaws that the author points out, it is in fact working. People do indeed elect politicians. So you’re entirely wrong. Your problem is your negativity and lack of any faith that there is a better way. You will never achieve anything of any worth with such a defeatist, faithless, negative attitude. Thankfully you are only you, and there are many others who are ready to challenge the status quo and bring about meaningful change.

  8. +6 Vote -1 Vote +1John Jones
    October 29, 2014 at 2:47 pm

    Scary knowledge Graham. “We are selfish and lazy, by and large.” Anarchy is a ridiculous dream, but a political system where all leaders are elected, and unless they act on behalf of the citizens — not themselves or corporations — are liable to be immediate replaced, might work.

    Harper, for example, tilts justice to serve his needs. Common interests, or even the security of our country, don’t seem to concern him, yet when the Conservatives get in, so does he. I’m almost too old to be concerned for myself, but my 45-year-old daughter will be alive well into the desperate years brought on by criminals in our current government and big corporation greed. Sure hope enough of us grow cahoonas soon enough to quell the growing tide.

  9. +4 Vote -1 Vote +1Frank Lambert
    October 30, 2014 at 5:26 am

    Thank you Mr. Mercier for this brilliant, concise, and definitive essay on the truth about the real meaning of democracy and what is now generally perceived as “democracy” by the overwhelming majority of humanity.

    Talk about a “dumbed-down” electorate? Californians fell for the “top-two” propaganda several years ago, which meant that no matter how many candidates or political party candidates were on the Primary Ballot in June, only the “Top-Two” candidates receiving the most primary votes are on the ballot in November for the General Election.

    As a Green Party member, we knew back then that if this proposition passed, then alternative political parties would not have a chance to run for state office and be relegated to local level elections. A dream come true for the Republican/Democrat cabal.

  10. +7 Vote -1 Vote +1Eric Hollingsworth
    October 30, 2014 at 6:41 am

    Voting is the means by which the governed express their consent to be governed. If we wish to withhold our consent, then we must withhold our votes. As you say, their is no real choice, so their can be no real harm from not voting, but if abstinence succeeds in delegitimizing a government that not only doesn’t represent, but is becoming increasingly hostile to the people, then it can do some real good. Not voting is a passive, non-violent, individual statement that is immune to the provocations that are used to deflate the impacts of protests or strikes. It doesn’t require some hot-button issue that can be bandied about to divide the people; if all those who disapprove of Congress abstained from voting, the turnout would be around 20%.

    We should also take a cue from ancient democracies: Voting was only used in referenda (“direct democracy”) and to elect to offices that required specific skills; all other public officials were chosen by lot. What we call representative democracy was considered aristocracy or oligarchy, depending on whether candidates were drawn from the nobility or not. It should be clear by now that the ancients were absolutely correct.

    If you really want to change things, get out the Don’t Vote.

    • +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Norman Trabulsy Jr
      October 30, 2014 at 8:04 pm

      Eric,

      I appreciate the way you put your reasons for not voting. I agree. Not entirely dissimilar to George Carlin’s view on voting. George got so many things right, in such a beautifully irreverent manner.

  11. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1John Hendricks
    November 2, 2014 at 7:30 am

    An excellent commentary. I have not voted since 1998. It’s a complete waste of time.

  12. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Chico
    November 2, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    Beautifully argued, Gilbert! The people must be the government or tyranny will reign. Democracy can work, if it is high-consensus democracy, meaning the consensus level must be 75% or greater before any change is voted in. If that level of consensus can’t be reached, then we shouldn’t be doing it! Simple majority is the worst form of democracy and cannot work in an environment where sociopaths run rampant. Perfect disagreement lies at the 50% split, and guess how hard it is for organized sociopaths to manipulate us to that level and then decide which way the vote will swing? Not hard at all. They do it all the time, which is why we only have the illusion of democracy.

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