Why direct democracy is so scarce?

The Ancient Greeks invented democracy. They practiced it in Ancient Athens and other Greek cities for decades.

It all started in 2528 years ago; an Athenian legislator, Cleisthenes, with the support of other Athenians, introduced democratic government in Athens. Greek democratic ideas precede this date.

To the Greeks, democracy meant “rule by the people”. What else could it mean? “Demos” in Greek means “people” and “kratos” means “rule”. It does not mean rule by elected politicians at all, even if the people elect them. Democracy means the people have the last say.

In Greek-style direct democracy, there are no professional politicians and no political parties, in this democracy the people elect other ordinary people as individuals. Those people return to private life, they may not even leave their regular jobs, once their mandate is over.

In its second version of direct-representative democracy, we have elected politicians and political parties. This is the Swiss-model. The people let elected politicians propose laws, budgets, etc.; the voters do not object to what the politicians want to do, then the politicians can carry out their decisions. If approximately 1% of the citizens decide that the all voters should decide, not just the politicians or the judges, then there is a referendum and the results of the referendum must be applied by the politicians.

This second version of direct-representative democracy is the key reason making Switzerland the best governed country in the World; more prosperity, more peace than anybody else around.

Today, most people in the representative democracies of the World are for more civil and other rights for ordinary citizens, for women, for minorities, etc., but do not claim for the right for all those people, and all other citizens to decide the laws that rule their lands, cities and towns; they let the politicians do that. This is not democracy, it is “elected aristocracy”.

It is surprising citizens do not demand real democracy; most voters are responsible, intelligent, common sense-people; they hold jobs useful to society; they behave responsibly; they are responsible parents, wives and husbands, they pay their mortgages and other loans on time; they look after their families, their homes, their money, etc.

We also know, from surveys, that the people of most representative democracies are not satisfied with the way the elected representatives run their towns, cities and countries.

I am not interested in dictatorships because they reduce their people to the level of not much more than working serfs. The people under dictatorships will have to get rid of their rulers to be free and set up a democracy, initially a representative democracy and later a direct democracy.

I often speak about direct democracy to people in stable representative democracies, such as Canada, where I live. I often get a very positive initial reaction; “yes, it makes sense to take away power from the politicians because they are not doing a good job”.

But the next step is more difficult; some are too busy, others fear direct democracy; they fear direct democracy might turn into “the dictatorship of the majority”. They are wrong; if I cannot trust the majority with direct democracy, how can I trust it with representative democracy?; we know crazy politicians of the Right and the Left can win elections if they are persuasive enough. Makes more sense to make sure no elected politician has much power, that the people keep the right to be the final decision makers anytime they decide to be. History shows that in deep crisis representative democracies can collapse into dictatorship. It is not possible for that to happen in a direct democracy because when the voters decide, they know their lives, and the lives of their children, are on the line; they decide with very level heads, not like politicians intoxicated with power.

One problem we have is that most people in positions of power and influence in representative democracy are not democrats, but they believe they are; they are aristocrats at heart; they believe a person with high academic credentials, or high business credentials, or elected to govern or appointed to a high position, is not an aristocrat because to them, aristocracy means you belong to the “aristocratic class”, that you are born into aristocracy. They seem unaware that by merit, not just by birth, you can become an aristocrat too, a member of the class that rules. That is what the academic or the business executive appointed to high positions becomes. It is also what happens to elected politicians do, they become aristocrats too.

In representative democracies, elected politicians and appointed officials are part of the aristocratic class while they are in their positions. If they continue as lobbyists, or in high public positions, they still are aristocrats, even if they left politics.

As members of the aristocracy, they work to advance their own interests and the interests of other aristocrats.

Such dynamic undermines the interests of ordinary voters. This causes the widespread disenchantment with (representative)democracy we see. It is not by chance, or by the character of the Swiss, that they are the nation that trusts its politicians the most, it is because of direct democracy. Swiss politicians carry the will of the people, they have no choice.

The vast majority of voters are ready to decide issues, not just vote to elect politicians. Let us get moving and push until direct democracy, the only real democracy, becomes reality at all levels; in your town, state, province and country.

Direct democracy is scarce because we do not believe we can make it work, but we can. We know that because the Ancient Greeks then, and the Swiss now, year after year, decade after decade, show humans are capable of direct democracy.

Victor Lopez

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