Direct democracy is better; why is it that “the norm” is representative democracy, not direct democracy?

First a reminder; this blog is not about bringing direct democracy to countries that are not even representative democracies; the countries totalitarian with regimes, where one person, one clique, one party, one religion holds political power will have to overthrow their regimes, or wait until such regimes collapse.

The blog deals with representative democracies because in most of them there is enough freedom for the people to demand, and get, direct democracy

But, why don’t the people of stable representative democracies demand direct democracy if direct democracy is a better system? Why direct democracy has not already replaced representative democracy?

There are many reasons; many voters in representative democracies do not know direct democracy exists, or they believe it is “mob rule”,  or that “representative democracy is real democracy”, that “direct democracy will not work in our country because it is too big”, “it does not fit with our culture”, “most voters are too ignorant to decide complex issues”, “so much voting will become too expensive”, “we can not be voting all the time”, “we pay politicians to decide”, etc.

I believe the major reason is that most people do not know about direct democracy, or have wrong information.

You might think; how come is it possible that with internet, with global media, not enough people do not have good information about direct democracy?

We could say it is lack of “advertising”. As with any product, ideas need promotion so that people know about them. You will agree that if the advertising budget for orange juices was comparable to the budget of Coke or Pepsi, millions would ditch Coke and Pepsi and drink orange juice, but they don’t.

I am not saying Coke or Pepsi are “bad” products because they are not “healthy”. I believe they are ok products, but effective, massive advertising keeps them in people’s minds and when they are thirsty, Coke or Pepsi pop into their heads, instead of “natural fruit juice”, or “water” and “they put their money where their mind is.”

Something similar happens with direct democracy; most of what we read see and hear about democracy tell us representative democracy is the “real thing”, but it is not.

Why does it happen?

Because most media are owned by people who feel comfortable with representative democracy, they know it is far better than non-democratic regimes. Representative democracy permits gradual change and adaptation to reality, to social and economic changes. By doing that it helps prevent violent uprisings who would threaten them.

The Achilles’ Heel of representative democracy is that the people who own the media and other elites have too much influence over the elected politicians.

This causes gradual, and very dangerous distancing, of the politicians, the laws, the regulations, the policies, from the concerns of most citizens. In representative democracy the people do not have the instruments of direct democracy, they can not do much about the distancing, except becoming angry or alienated, or both.

This goes on until things get bad enough and the unthinkable happens, as it did in Germany’s Weimar representative democracy when it ceased to be representative. The Trump phenomenon is not the problem, it is the Symptom US democracy is out of touch with about half of America. Getting rid of Trump without fixing the root problem,  will make it worse.

The people who own the media are content with representative democracy. To them direct democracy represents a threat because they will lose political influence; it is a lot easier to nudge a few politicians to vote this or that way than the voters.

While most media are free in representative democracies from political interference, it does not mean they are neutral.

We also have “publicly owned” media.

Private and public media in representative democracies will not make much effort to inform people about direct democracy; both feel comfortable dealing only with politicians. On the other hand, politicians depend on private and public media to win elections and reelections.

This situation ensures most of the public will hear, read or see little about direct democracy.

Most of academia also feels comfortable with representative democracy; it is a lot easier to deal just with politicians to get research money, with no challenges from organisers of a referendum. But even if most of academia published a lot about direct democracy, most people do not read academic papers. Without the support of mass media such papers never reach most citizens.

If most people have factual information about direct democracy, they will want direct democracy, no question about it.

How do I know? Because in the only country with a long track record of direct democracy, Switzerland, the vast majority of the Swiss support direct democracy decade after decade. They could do away with it if they wanted to; all they have to do is organise a referendum and the people would decide.

We also know direct democracy is better because the Swiss had representative democracy; they got rid of it almost 2 centuries ago and never looked back.

The US, and other countries would not be involved in so many crazy wars, where their vital interests were not really at stake, if the people doing the fighting and the dying, the voters, not the politicians, decided to go to war.

There are many reasons to push representative democracies to become direct democracies, but only you can do the pushing.

Victor Lopez



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