Most people know little about direct democracy; sometimes it seems there is a conspiracy of silence, and perhaps of criticism too, but it is clear to me; direct democracy is the next logical improvement for representative democracy.
It is crucial to look at the United States now because it is the most important representative democracy and because representative democracy is in crisis all over. If the US switches, the rest of representative democracies will follow, just like nations followed the US Constitution after the US was founded. Including the Swiss; the ones who now set the pace for direct democracy.
Today, representative democracy has problems. Even countries, like those in Scandinavia, Canada and others, who are among the most stable, seem to be falling, like the US, into a state of increased polarisation and intolerance. I believe such developments are the inevitable result of representative democracy; representative democracy gives politicians too much power.
One effect of so much power is that politicians fight bitterly to win; exaggerations, lies, demagoguery, airing of personal issues, practically everything is used to win by trashing rivals. Naturally, this causes polarisation of politicians, voters and the media. The result is that society submerges itself in a sea of many irrational emotions incompatible with democracy. Democracy needs reason, rational argument, respect.
Once in power, politicians in representative democracies can not resist using their excessive power to push their agendas, often without considering the will of the people on very important issues.
In representative democracies, the people can vote the current politicians out of office but they will end up with another set of politicians with as much power as those who preceded them. In a representative democracy, no matter who governs, the people always lack power to make sure politicians govern in tune with the voters.
If American representative democracy continues deteriorating, in other representative democracies will be very difficult to stop the deterioration of their democracy too.
How will representative democracy’s deterioration will end? No one knows, but in the 30s Germany’s representative democracy deteriorated to the point Germans stopped believing in it; Hitler was the result. We can denounce Hitler as a monster, but it was the breaking down of representative democracy that brought Hitler to power.
As you may know, most Americans already have little respect for their politicians in Washington.
Why the US did not become a direct democracy at the very beginning? Why the American Founding Fathers did not opt for direct democracy? They knew of direct democracy, but seems they felt ordinary people were not up to the task.
I do not know if it was because the American Founding Fathers were wealthy people, perhaps at heart, aristocrats. Somehow, they felt the people needed “leaders”, people to represent them; presumably, people formally “educated”, property owners, university graduates; people like the Founding Fathers themselves.
Although the American Founding Fathers did not establish a direct democracy, what they did was a tremendous improvement over rule by autocratic kings, dictators, hereditary aristocrats, “noble” families or “holy” men. But it was not a significant improvement over the democracy the United Kingdom already had at that time.
Americans rebelled against the UK because the democratically elected parliament in Westminster raised their taxes, not because they felt oppressed by the British king. They did not rebel for lack of freedom either; they rebelled because they objected to taxation without representation.
The American Founding Fathers did not really believe in “government by the people”. In the US, like in the UK, the people do not govern. Perhaps the Founding fathers believed, like the politicians in the UK, the average American voter of the time was not ready for direct democracy, or perhaps it was the Founding Fathers that they were not ready, or perhaps both.
But is very interesting one of the Fathers of the American Constitution, James Madison, who became the fourth President of the United States, considered by many as “The Father of the American Constitution”, considered direct democracy, but decided against it.
It is surprising he decided against it. He felt “factions” were the problem, but he wrote: “Factions they can dissolve if the public is given time and space to consider long-term interests rather than short-term gratification”. In other words, the people could be able to decide, no need for political leaders deciding for them.
To Madison, “factions” were “groups of people who have special interests that are in direct contrast to the rights of others.”
By “factions” Madison also meant “impetuous mobs.” Mob means: “a large crowd of people, especially one that is disorderly and intent on causing trouble or violence”.
After he wrote that under certain conditions the people could govern themselves, he could have thought: “what mechanisms can we put in place so that the people are given enough time and space to vote on issues taking into account their short term and long term interests”?, but he didn’t.
Perhaps he tried to, but could not think of such mechanism to achieve those goals, to make it possible for the people to directly decide, calmly, rationally, keeping in mind their short term and long term interests.
It is also interesting Madison ignored ancient Greek democracies, because they were able to establish the mechanisms Madison sought. It is interesting too, and surprising that today, Madison’s successors ignore Switzerland’s direct democracy and its proven and unmatched track record for over 150 years.
It is possible his mind, and the minds of the other Founding Fathers, were too set on the idea that people were capable of of voting to elect those who would decide for them, but not capable decide by themselves, policies and laws.
I do not know why they thought that way, because it seems to me more difficult to assess the skills and character of a candidate to president, particularly his or her skills to lead the country through a great variety of challenges in the present and also for the long term, than to decide concrete issues such as raising or lowering taxes for individuals and business, whether to have universal health care, the size of the national debt or of the government deficit, declaring war, signing commercial treaties, etc. An all that is precisely what Swiss voters do since the 1800s, whenever they decide the issue is important to them.
If Madison believed then elected representatives were more capable than ordinary voters of for the long term, observing current politicians, in the US and other representative democracies, soon he would have doubts and would push to have direct democracy, to give people the opportunity to govern or, at the very least, be able to control or stop then policies and laws the elected representatives make.
I believe ordinary voters can make sounder decisions for the short and long terms because they are free of the need to take into consideration election or re-election. They are freer of the pressure of the lobbies as well.
Madison, the other Funding Fathers, and all those who support representative democracy, seem to believe those elected posses qualities of character ordinary people do not posses. History does not show that, with the politicians in charge, representative democracy is progressively losing credibility because politicians often make bad decisions, and also decisions against the will of the voters, even of the voters who elected them.
Representative democracy places politicians in a catch 22 situation; if they decide what is good for the long term of the country, the decision might be painful for voters in the short term; voters might decide to elect a rival politician who gives or promises them “candy” now.
Because representative democracy gives politicians too much power, too often they use power to give themselves even more power and privileges. They also use power to help those who support them, with money and other resources, to win elections.
So much power creates the systemic corruption of democracy we see, where the politicians often do not do what the people want. Not to mention the corruption related to money and influence.
It is time to bring to all representative democracies, direct democracy, the system that forces voters to grow up; to learn they are responsible for the life of the whole country, just like now they are responsible for their personal lives.
Once they assimilate this system of self responsibility, they know that sometimes they will have to prescribe themselves the bitter medications, like raising taxes or reducing the military budget, just two examples.
In a direct democracy, on all major issues, the people no longer blame the politicians because the people have the power to control them and to make sure they carry out the will of the people.
Politicians in representative democracies often are not able to do what the nation needs for fear of losing the next election. You see, in representative democracies, the implicit message to the people is: “Just vote for us and leave to us to look after your interests and the interests of the country”.
Quite logically, when the situation arises to give people bad news, such as raising taxes to pay for the deficit, the debt, pensions, etc., the politicians do not do that because the rival party often delivers the opposite message; “vote for us, we will reduce taxes, increase pensions, we are not like them, with us life will be wonderful”, etc. The end result is parties engage in electoral wars of beautiful promises and attacks to rivals, nothing about the “elephant in the room”. It is terrible for the long term, but by that time the current politicians have retired.
Judging from the political and economic management of Switzerland, compared to representative democracies, it is obvious the people make better decisions than the politicians, and the system does so in a more cooperative political environment. The system. by reducing the power of politicians, forces conservatives, progressives and others to cooperate. This drastically reduces division and polarisation.
I believe other countries can do what the Swiss do, perhaps even improve Swiss practices.
It is the time for American to execute Madison’s idea: “put in place mechanisms so that the people are given enough time and space to vote on issues taking into account their short term and long term interests”.
Bringing direct democracy to the US will revitalize all representative democracies; it would be another hugely positive contribution of America to humanity.
Direct democracy will also speed up the collapse of dictatorships. This is because the contrast between real government by the people and authoritarian-totalitarian government, is much stronger than the contrast between dictatorships and representative democracy.
All peoples want to control their destiny, it is as natural for them as for a person to control his or her life. Unfortunately, sometimes the peoples do not believe they are capable, that they need “leaders” to decide for them. Other times those in power do not let the people decide, or do all they can to discredit the idea that the people are able to decide.
The US is the most important representative democracy. That is why it is essential for the World Americans demand direct democracy at the national level now.
The Swiss found what the American Founding Fathers did so good they used the US Constitution to draft their own initial constitution. But in the 1800s, the Swiss added direct democracy to it.
They did it when they saw how their politicians mishandled another pandemic; are we now in a “cosmic coincidence” opportunity with the current pandemic?
The Swiss felt then it was time for the people to be in control. They kept representative democracy, but they inverted the power pyramid; the Swiss people have since the power to stop any policy or law drawn by the politicians. They can also instruct politicians to put in place the policies and laws the people want, including changes to the Constitution.
It is now the turn for Americans to look at the Swiss.
By the way, Swiss direct democracy, which they have in all levels of government, is quite different in crucial details from direct democracy as practised in some of the American states.