Is representative democracy another oxymoron?

OK, representative democracy is light years ahead of any dictatorship or authoritarian regime, of one person, one party or one religion.

Representative democracy satisfies a basic human desire; ordinary people should be the ones deciding who rules. Not the “divine” king, the prophet, the priest, a self-appointed leader, a religion or a political party.

But representative democracy has some shortcomings. The mayor one is that it is not representative enough. We know this from multiple surveys.

Abraham Lincoln at the Gettysburg address summarized well what democracy should be about:

“government of the people, by the people, for the people”.

Ancient Greek democracy was that:

“government of the people, by the people, for the people”.

Unfortunately, the concept of “people” for the Greeks left out women and slaves. But I am sure that if Greek democracy had survived, Greeks would have figured out centuries ago that slavery was wrong and that women must vote.

The Greek Stoics, a very important school of thought, were the first humans anywhere to condemn slavery. Stoicism started 2400 years ago within Greek democracy.

As for women, even earlier, Plato states they are equal to men.

Slavery survived all over the World for many centuries in many human societies. Even in modern democracies until very recently. So it seems the shortcomings of Greek democracy were not unique.

All major religions accepted slavery and the back seat role for women, for more the 2200 years after the collapse of Greek democracy. Some current religions still look the other way on slavery and are explicitly against women’s equality.

Women started to have the right to vote late in the 19th century. In some surprising places, like France, women could not vote until 1944, 1944, that’s right. In Switzerland, the most democratic modern country, women had to wait till 1971!

Now that we have left behind the shortcomings on slavery and women of ancient Greek democracy, and of modern democracies too. it is time to catch with  Ancient Greek democracy in other areas.

Yes, we have to catch up. The Ancient Greeks were closer to fulfill Abraham Lincoln’s words about democracy.

Let us look at the first part: “government of the people.. “.

Representative democracy, even Swiss semi-direct democracy is behind the Greeks in this regard.

Let ur look at how that happens.

Representative democracy is “government of the people” to the extent that the a number of elected representatives are common people. Unfortunately in many representative democracies, many those elected are not common people.

For the most part, elected politicians come from above average socio economic levels. Furthermore, once they are elected, most of them become even better off and in so doing they dis distance themselves even more.

In part this happens because elected politicians are often very well paid, and have all sorts of costly benefits payed by ordinary taxpayers.

Also interesting is that most taxpayer make a lot less money and have a lot less benefits than the politicians they elect.

Difficult to see how this is “government of the people”.

We also know political campaigns in most representative democracies require a lot of money.  Often that money comes from rich individuals, corporation and various lobbies. Logically, those elected, even if they are common people, end up representing non-common people and their interests. This means elected representatives are nos as representative as they should.

Those are not the only problems.

To be a candidate it is almost essential to belong to a political party. This means that those who become candidates are people promoted and controlled by the professionals who run the parties. Only those who belong to political parties can get elected.

So, the “government of the people” affirmation is not happening and has to be corrected.

To correct it ordinary people like you will have to actively fight for it. It is not going to be corrected by current politicians, their parties and the lobbies because they are the establishment. Establishments to not like change.

In the next post I will look at the second part of what Lincoln said: “government by the people”.

Your comments, for or against 2 I see are welcomed.

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