What IS Democracy?

When trying to define a word it is often best to begin with its etymology, its linguistic origin. The word Democracy is derived from two Greek words: Demos meaning "People", and Kratos meaning "Power". Autos means "Self" in Greek. So we have "Autocracy", or autos-kratos meaning "Power to the Self" or Dictatorship, and we have "Democracy", or demos-kratos meaning "Power to the People".

"Power to the People" means that "The People" decide the institutions and the laws which will govern them and their land.

This would be fine, if all of "The People" were of one mind. But they are not. There are always those who want to get the better of others, who want to increase their own wealth and standing by diminishing that of others. There are those who want to impose their will on others. There are people in business whose object is to maximize prices to their customers while minimizing the wages they pay their workers in order to maximize their own profits. There are those in developing countries whose families own all the best land, forcing others less fortunate to scrape a living from poor mountain soil. No, "The People" are not of one mind. Even when they may appear to be of one mind, in reality they may not be.

A reporter visits a country torn by civil war. Two tearful women on opposite sides in the conflict both clasp their hands in prayer and say "all we want is peace". Indeed they do. But each wants peace on her terms, on the terms of "her" side. They both want peace; they are fighting precisely because they disagree on the terms of peace.

The People are not of one mind. Indeed if they were, there would be no need for laws. Laws are necessary precisely in order to settle disagreements between people, to limit the extent to which people can harm or exploit one another.

If The People are not of one mind, then "Power to the People" becomes a technical and political impossibility, a contradiction in terms.

If we do not have Democracy, what then is the system of government which we believe to be Democracy?

The system of government in countries considering themselves "democracies" is in fact a "Majocracy", an invented word combining Majority with the Greek Kratos "Power to the Majority".

We are the Majority, therefore we are right. In a Majocracy masquerading as a Democracy, there is no moral right or wrong in law. We are the Majority, therefore we are right. No matter if the laws promulgated by the Majority are oppressive of and unjust to a minority or minorities; no matter if the laws promulgated by the Majority are financially irresponsible, promoting beneficial programs causing government to accumulate debt which future generations must pay off.

"Vote for a New Swimming Pool" the roadside signs proclaim. The Majority wants it, therefore it will be constructed. But what is actually happening here, in slow motion? The Majority wants a swimming pool because they would use it and enjoy it. The only problem is that they are not willing to pay the true cost of construction and maintenance. Therefore they resort to "Democracy" in order to compel by law those who cannot or do not want to swim, to subsidize their enjoyment.

A little recognized aspect of the US-sponsored invasion and subsequent (ongoing) occupation of Iraq is that it provides a most telling testimony to the dangers, pitfalls and the fallibility of democracy. For 34 years Saddam ruled Iraq for the benefit of the Sunni minority. They got all the privileges. The Shiite majority got little or nothing except not-too-occasional persecution. So when America "liberates" the country from Sunni-minority-dominated government and announces "democracy" which means "rule by the majority" - in the case of Iraq, the Shiite majority, it would seem natural to expect (a) the now-governing Shiite majority to turn the tables, and (b) for the Sunni minority to fear what might become of them. Who would fire, who in fact fired the first shot? The Shiites as revenge, or the Sunnis out of fear? Who can tell? But the first shot was fired, and the rest is on-going history. Majority Rule. The Majority is Always Right. Well. Not always.

"Democracy" is two wolves and a sheep deciding what they want for lunch.

Autocracy is Power to Self, or Dictatorship. We all know the disadvantages of that.

Democracy, Power to the People, we do not have, because it is an impossibility unless all the people were of one mind in which case laws would be unnecessary anyway.

Majocracy, or Power to the Majority, is an improvement on Autocracy. But is it the best we can do?

A law is not right or wrong simply because the Majority says it is so. Wrong, unjust and irresponsible laws are approved by majority-elected governments almost daily.

If there is a "right" and "wrong" in law irrespective of majority support, then we should seek to find it. What is right and wrong in law? What makes a law right or wrong? Strangely, given the widespread mistrust of and dissatisfaction with government, it is a question no one ever asks.

Strangely, and unfortunately. Because if we could define right and wrong in law, we might succeed in establishing throughout the world those idealistic, intangible concepts of peace, justice, and universal prosperity which presently seem so far beyond our reach.