The End of Democracy?

The civil war in Bosnia and the emergence of Zhirinovsky show the naivete of "experts" who believed that the collapse of Soviet totalitarianism would lead to a "New World Order" and to the "End of History" through the global triumph of representative democracy as the only acceptable form of government.

There are at least three fundamental misconceptions in this reasoning:

Indeed, what is representation? It may mean three things. The first is to have properties that are characteristic of the group represented (feature representation). The second is to act as those represented would (behavior representation). The third is to represent the interests of the voters (interest representation).

If we look at each of these meanings, we see that they have serious flaws. Behavior representation would require a referendum on every serious issue. Interest representation is the present system that simply does not work. It seems to me that feature representation makes more sense than the other two. Such a system is very simple and costs almost nothing: representatives can be selected by a lottery, like jurors.

But do we need representation at all?

Our `representative democracy' in its present form is a system for the special interests to fight for the taxpayers' money. Alexander Tytler pointed out back in 1770, that such a system "cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can exist only until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury." Our founding fathers also understood the dangers of representative democracy. The division of power into three branches, thus making the state extraordinarily ineffective, was a necessary sacrifice designed to break and divide the power of elected officials.

Voting is not democracy: elections on the basis of manipulated images and 30-second sound bites, without proper information about the candidates and the issues, are meaningless and undemocratic. Democracy is the self-government of informed and concerned citizens. It is only possible in highly cultured free societies where people respect each other, the public institutions, and the rule of law. It is based on peaceful negotiations, cooperation, and compromise. Democracy will remain an unrealizable utopia until we substantially improve both "the people" and the political system. It is crucially important to ensure the active and informed participation of all citizens in the political process, and break the rule of special interests.

The solution should start with a reformed educational system that would teach people to think and would instill sound values in them. The present system is based on wrong values. It prevents participation by replacing ideas with money. It eliminates the best people from the political process.

We must restore political leadership. The political system should attract people with vision instead of power-hungry loose talkers with inflated egos. We need leaders, not fund-raisers. We need politicians who are not afraid to tell us the truth even if it hurts. We need people with knowledge and character in politics. Politicians must govern for the common good and must stop following the narrow interests of their electors.

How can this be done? The information revolution will change the political system automatically. The commercialization of computer networks will create a situation where everyone will be connected to everyone else with the ease of using a telephone today. In this environment ideas will be exchanged free of charge and with the speed of light. No government or special interest group can stop this process. It will lead to the collapse of representative democracy as it is known today.

Money will be eliminated from politics and replaced with this independent information system to present a broad range of political choices for every caring citizen. Participation will be open to all qualified persons. The electronic information system will provide forums to express ideas. Competing opinions will be freely publicized, criticized, and discussed. Paid political advertising, financial campaign contributions and political action committees will become obsolete.

Politicians will be selected in a free competition of ideas. Their power will be limited and decentralized. They will be accountable to the citizens. Success and status in society will not depend on political power. Representative democracy will be dead and the sooner it is replaced by the democracy of the information age the better it is for all of us.

Excerpted from How to Save Our Country, Copyright (c) 1993 by Miklos N. Szilagyi.

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