You might think that in democracies, elected politicians would support more power for the voters because more power for voters is more democracy, but many do not support that, why?
I do not doubt the democratic values of the vast majority of elected politicians, at least those in stable, reasonably well-run democracies. For example, in Central and Northern Europe, several English-speaking countries and a few others.
Why then so many elected politicians oppose direct democracy?
Here are some of the arguments I will give if I am an elected politician to oppose direct democracy:
“Some issues are too complicated for ordinary people to grasp”.
“People need leaders. Leaders are people with special qualities. To select good leaders you need a good pool of practising leaders. It seems logical to select the best leaders from among the elected representatives”.
“If the voters directly made important political, economic or social decisions there is a grave danger that the rich, lobbies, influential commentators, demagogues, etc., will fool the average voter; the results would be catastrophic”.
“To get people to decide directly on so many important issues will take a long time. This will cause decision paralysis. Just imagine how long it will take for most ordinary persons to understand so many issues”.
“Most voters elect us because they do not want the responsibility of making concrete decisions”.
“The average voter, perhaps most, lacks the formal education necessary to understand many issues. They will not be able to vote intelligently”.
“People will easily fall prey to demagogues; democracy will die quickly”.
“We have been elected to govern because it is not practical for the people to govern themselves”.
“History shows all peoples needed leaders, people with special knowledge and vision to lead, especially at critical times. Great nations always had great leaders”.
“People may be intelligent enough to vote for me but not intelligent enough to grasp issues”.
There is one argument elected politicians will never make but is one of the most important, or the most important;
“If the people start to decide by themselves then, us, the elected politicians, become less important. If we become less important, our status, our income, our special prerogatives (privileges) will disappear, our incomes while we are in politics will drop and we will not find as many high-paying and prestigious positions in private industry, foundations, academia, the media, etc., once we leave politics. We are not making these arguments up front because they are in bad taste”.
The reality shows that the most advanced society in the Ancient World, the Greek city-states, they were not monarchies, theocracies, oligarchies, dictatorships, or even representative democracies; they were direct democracies.
Likewise, in the Modern World, the best governed country overall is another direct democracy; Switzerland, although it is not yet quite as direct as the Greek city-states.
This shows no great visionary leaders are needed to have the greatest societies. “All is needed” is ordinary people making the key decisions and controlling the decisions made by those who lead.
In Greece they were so direct that the people decided all major issues and also governed.
Switzerland has, however, one key element of direct democracy; the people make major decisions and directly control the decisions made by the elected representatives.
It is time to, at least, do what the Swiss do; do not do away with elected politicians, let them demonstrate their vision and leadership qualities, let them propose where they want to take us. We just want to decide if we want to go.
Good leaders will persuade us to follow them; why object to us formally saying we will follow by approving what they propose?
We want our elected politicians to propose new laws, joining international organisations, change the constitution, a new tax law, spending millions on high speed trains, having a space program, having universal health care, having gay marriage, immigration laws, building a new school, building the Olympic stadium, and on and on.
We can also tell our politicians direct democracy will lighten their responsibility. Who does not want a little less responsibility? Tell your elected representatives you want to take on some of their responsibilities, that you are ready to do it for free!
You can also tell them that millions of eyes see more than hundreds of eyes, we just need an orderly way to organize the seeing.
Tell them also that us, ordinary citizens, are far from the “corridors of power”. This gives us a healthy distance from certain interests, pressures and benefits.
But the Swiss had to work very hard, like every other democratic people, to have democracy. You will have to work hard too. Direct democracy will not “cascade down”. If, on top of that, the political parties in your country are not even internal democracies, then you can forget about your elected politicians ever wanting direct democracy.
Even after you have direct democracy you may have to fight to keep it. The Swiss had to when, in the 1940s, elected politicians were given special powers during Second World. The politicians enjoyed the added “responsibility” and did not want to back to direct democracy. Fortunately, ordinary Swiss decided they wanted it back and forced a national referendum on it. It passed, but just by a hair; barely over 50% of voters wanted direct democracy back!
Conclusion: Elected representatives will not bring direct democracy to your village, town, city, region or country; you will have to push for it. Now is the time to push.
Thanks for your comments.