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August 05, 2003

Democracy: The Fundamental Features and Flaws
Niyayesh Afshordi  [info|posts]

So now (almost) everybody thinks that democracy is an ideal form of government. But what makes democracy so special?

According to Hajir, history has not recorded a more reasonable way to govern the people. Of course, hearing this from a pro-democracy advocate is not a surprise. You would hear similar things from a communist or an Islamist about their favorite governments. However, all of them would agree that lessons of history are there to be improved upon, and not to stick to (although they may not agree on what those lessons are). So can we improve upon the democtratic experience, without simply copying it?

One may argue that democracy is the most stable form of government. This is sensible as the majority has a legitimate way of enforcing their demands which reduces the chances of violent dissidence. It also has a natural (but not necessarily optimum) way of correcting itself through periodic elections, which can keep the system away from the verge of instability. However, we all know lots of democracies that have ended in chaos or dictatorships (Starting with Greek democracy, up to Hitler's election and on). So, it appears that democracy does not guarantee stability, although it certainly helps it.

We often say that in a democracy people can vote for what they want. However, the fact is:
In a democracy, people may vote for who they want, but (most of the time) not for what they want.
This is my central point.
I may know that I want to feed my children well, but I don't know if Mr. X is more qualified to make it possible or Mr. Y. Of course a more educated person is more qualified to make the distinction. However, in every society, most of the people are more influenced by the propaganda, than by their educated wisdom.
You may say that if you are not satisfied with your candidate, you can vote him out at the next election. Well, next time you will have the same dilemma between Mr. Y and Mr. Z.

Here is my idea:
May be our governments should work based on referendums, rather than elections.
May be all our officials should be elected/ promoted based on their performance, rather than their popularity.

anonymous at August 5, 2003 04:47 AM [permalink]:

Whatever the solution is, the beginning should be from the people, I don't think there is lazer copier invented to copy democracy yet, Marxism was improved in an industrialized society while our societies are thrown into it.

Whatever the solution is seeking paradigms are needed , wisdom is needed ,because those so-called region oriented solutions were transferred into fundamental, arrogant solutions . Look at National Socialism of Iraq !!! or Maoism in China!! and the direction they are going. We need to think about the paradigms .. what was the mission of an intellectual, an engineer or a designer ...

Whatever the solution is refering to our culture, to our roots,to our origins is needed.. we cannot deny our religious identity. our multicultural identity.. and we benefit much from extending it, rather than denying it..

And one last thing,
Whatever the solution is , we can not deny that we ourselves are also a part of the problem and we cannot , we may not think to the problem , but we have to think in the problem.. to feel it , to share the pain , to suffer but not to surrender , but to seek.

Saoshyant at August 5, 2003 05:50 AM [permalink]:
Democracy is supposed to mean the rule of the people and by the people. The history of democratic government shows that this idea has meant different things at different times. However, there are certain features that seem to have remained the same. Of these features two are the basics: elections and representation. Beginning with the one of the first instances, which is viewed as the one, the Athenian democracy is to be mentioned. First, this is a democracy based on the idea of a constitution. Constitution was set in place in the form of a number of basic laws that detailed the way decision makers had to be elected, the way the process of decision making had to be conducted, and the way decision makers could be held accountable by a court system if they failed to abide by the basic laws and/or violated them intentionally. From a very early stage, the idea of constitutionalism as system of rules that would detail how decision-makers are elected (electoralism), how decision-making process is to be (parliamentarianism), and how decision makers should be held accountable (judicialism) were built into the idea of the first democracy. Some issues of importance, however, were always subjected to referendum, for example the question of War against Persia because everybody had to vote as everybody was eventually supposed to take part in the war. However, the Athenian democracy was not "liberal". Liberalism was the idea that came into being during the Enlightenment. The philosophers of the Enlightenment had different views of humanity and they all cited the Athenian democracy one way or the other. However, not all of them were truly liberal by today's standards either. By liberalism, at least today, we tend to understand a system of democratic governance that is most inclusive and/or pluralist. Pluralism is to be fully reflected in the electoralism, parliamentarianism, and judicialism to make the system fully representative of the people and by virtue of that make it a system that is truly governed, one way or the other, by the people. Therefore, if women or people of colour or any minority, or those who are poorer, are not allowed to fully participate in the electoral process as equal voters with all other ethnic, gender, or economic segments of the society and be equally represent, we do not recognize that system a truly democratic system. But remeber that all these ideas are "liberal" and they have developed through a great deal of struggle through the past 250 years. In fact, many Westerners refused to accept that a fully inclusive and liberal democratic is a pre-condition for democratic "due process". In fact, many of them believed the blacks or women can be free, but they cannot be equal. Hence, they cannot have the right to vote or be elected. Furthermore, a democratic state is not held liberal if its constitution does not allow for all parties with all types of ideologies compete. A religious democracy, by this definition, is paradoxical simply because it is explicitly non-liberal. Nonetheless, it depends how much and how far that religious democracy can remain non-liberal as there are many other competing narratives of a religious democratic state. Iran presently exemplifies a struggle in that direction. Conservatives say that the fundamental principles of Iran's constitution are non-liberal and thus are not open to negotiation. Reformists say that they are not sacred and are open to interpretation and discussion. In the end, one ["Toooo long!" editors say, "Here: click to read the whole thing!"]
Saoshyant at August 5, 2003 06:01 AM [permalink]:

I forgot to add that in the reason why Athenian democracy cannot be described as liberal is mainly lack of universal suffrage (women were not considered as citizens) and the existence of slavery. Just free men who were born in Athens were able to be elected to vote. At some points in the Athenian history, free men could become slaves if they could not pay a debt and/or would go bankrupt in their trade.

anonymous at August 5, 2003 07:02 AM [permalink]:

It seems soashiant is not only a teacher, but a preacher...looking for some tribun or Minbar to teach us democracy.... Let's paint him a bit !
Your excellency teacher.... answer me humbly these questions....
1. Why such a democratic system in Athens dare to kill Socrates ?Or maybe that was a price for a democratice system ?
2.What is the role of Electral College. the pseudo-elected instituition that sensors the possible alternatives of election.. and the number of it's members are divided in such a way that the new england members are a lot more than the New immigrant accepted can your model defend these instituitions or they are just exceptions.?
3.If democracy is process-oriented, so how could Mc-cartism go in such a democtratic system like America ! or maybe Mac-cartism is something you defend ... then why should I be against fundamentalism ?

Come on teacher ...teach us more ....

Ali at August 5, 2003 08:17 AM [permalink]:

The Problem is Who can realize the performance of people for official works and based on what criteria. Every Solution makes its problems ,too. Finally, The problem of preventing dictatorship is considered in condition of operating of supposed system, not in the condition of someone or something disorders the other words if the system of democracy dominates in a country, it will not lead it to chaos or dictatorship. It's better to say your question in this form that if democracy can keep itself safe from change or damage? I think it needs at least some Psuedo divine laws that noone could change them, even if all people or their attornies want to change them, which itself can contradict with the basic idea of democracy.It's the greatest danger that threaten democracy in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and so on.

anonymous at August 5, 2003 08:53 AM [permalink]:

Dear Ali..
I am not looking for an ideaologic projection of a divine existence or divine leader in the earth.At least since I am Shite , and iranian ... I don't expect to have a projection of an absent imam in the earth . So this is my story.....
What can protect democracy from danger? Well , I think nothing but just social conciousness and freedom for the opposition to question the legitimacy . freedom for those who do not agree with your system as well.
We haven't explored freedom in pluralism , we have explored corporate identity only by absolute monarchy and not by a sort of cooperation , integration and freedom to criticise, at least we have lost our historical memory about it... that is why we ask each other who should rule the system then ..

The only thing I need to add as a lesson I learned lately is that a so-called democracy is also a hidden coalition between non-elected side of a ruling system - company, army , capitals. and the elected side of the society ... this coalition came to existence by magnacarta treaty between barons ( feudals ) and King ( state) in England and then after Armada war ( which a feudal-tradesman ) state of spain was defeated by bunaceers ... this democratic model was transferred to a coalition between tradesmen ( pirates ) and state... thieves covered themselves in the name of trading companies.( eastern indian Company and stock exchange and ..and .. and ...) By the way Oliver Cromwell was not that smart to make a coalition or save the profits of the bunaceers , that was why his religious republic, the first of it's own in the world faild after 25 years.

I think this narration of history also enlightened you that democracy is not translated as sovereignty of people , but a sort of compromise between non-elected side of the country and elected side.. you see it is about distribution of power as well...That is the core idea of reform as well, we can deny neither the non-elected side nor the elected side of the society , so let's make a space for them to confront each other and grow up... those who are against non-elected sectors of the society are not necessarily porjecting people's right but they might be looking or expecting other non-elected sides of the society to overcome.. why clergies? let them be technocrats , let them be oil dealers, or whoever .... you see ,the discussion is not that easy!
Wow I talked too much !

Since I am not the teacher, this is soashyant's job - I mean it , don't laugh- then let me leave you with these questions :

What can differentiate between freedom and anarchy?

What can differentiate between systematic suppression and technocratic order ?


Saoshyant at August 5, 2003 10:18 AM [permalink]:
Well, I concede that my contribution is rather preaching. But one thing that has to be mentioned in any debate is how some notion is perceived today as opposed to yesterday. Very good questions Anonymous: 1) The Athenian democracy underwent three major overhauls during its existence. The trial and execution of Socrates happened almost 70 years before one of the major constitutional amendments that limited the interference of the clergy in the Athenian affairs. I have mentioned earlier that the Athenian democracy was not liberal; hence many of the substantial decisions were subjected to the worldviews of the decision makers. The system was not based on a bill of rights and freedoms. Hence, the then Athenian polytheist ideology informed much of the debate in the Socratic constitutional challenge. The question was basically, at the core, was who has the final authority to interpret the core issues? How much the elected officials had to give weight to the contributions of the Athenian clergy? Hence, Socrates was rather a victim of the non-liberal system of Athens which is also by today's standards undemocratic. 2) The point about Cromwell was well made. The historical citation was rather confused in the application of a historically bound notion-practice (if you want to use Habermas's language). Democracy is a notion-practice. At the time of Cromwell two important aspects of the British system were changing: Parliamentarianism and Jursitocracy. Everyone knows that the Judges were extremely corrupt and the Parliament, which was partly filled by the Lords appointed by the King was not truly democratic (I will not get to the point that many men did not even have the right to vote because they had no property, or women were in fact regarded to be property themselves). Hence, your theory concerning conspiracy between elected and non-elected one, which is in fact not yours and is the theory of Professor Maurice Duverge (French Political Sociologist) can be true about many 20 Century democracies. 3) Frantz Neuman, German Political Philosopher of mid-20th Century, warns us that a democracy will definitely exhibit the worldlife features of the society in which it is practiced. In a volume edited by Herbert Marcuse, he mentions that a combination of proportional representation and constitutional court system should prevent the populists from hijacking democratic system. Nonetheless, this requires the system to become sufficiently liberal, which is subscribed to the idea of basic rights and freedoms. I will cite some examples: the Supreme Court of the United States ordered President Eisenhower to find a way of enforcing the law and send black kids to school even though many Public educational systems refused to accept them. President Eisenhower did so, of course after consulting with the Supreme Court, by sending the US Army to escort the black kids. How come such an important development did not take place right after the civil war? I would say it is, as what Neuman says, because the society's elite and masses tend to intersubjectively interpret bills of rights according to their own worldviews: black can be free (after a bloody war that was also fought along economic fault lines of industrialization), but are not equal (practised up until WWII); then, blacks are equal but we, Americans, are not sure how much, so we establish a segregated system; No, the Supreme Court said: if the politicians say that we are not ready to pass a law to prot ["Toooo long!" editors say, "Here: click to read the whole thing!"]
anonymous at August 5, 2003 12:03 PM [permalink]:
Papa do preach! I asked for a day release to read your comment ! It seems you see liberalism as a sort of solution, while I am very skeptical about it. Back to the points you mentioned….. I start from the answers …. 1. You mentioned that the main debate in Socrates Age was who has the right to interpret the core issue ? Don’t you think this debate is still continued even in so-called liberal societies, Who has the right to distribute this liberal cake with that iron lady as a medallion in the middle, the one who can convince us more ( showman ) , or the one who has more money ( Capitalist ) or a network who has both (Media Emperors ), otherwise why should I invest in media industry and telecommunication ? 2. Well I don’t name the coalition between elected side and non-elected side as a conspiracy theory, I look at it as sort of coalition . that is all, it can be useful and it can be dreadful as well…And I haven’t seen any substitution for such a coalition yet, even the most revolutionary groups replaced the feudal with government, king with supreme leader , the soviet empire story Ja ? 3. I think you refer to the idea of liberalism with an enlightenment approach , to free the society from darkness of religion , tradition and culture…. But you do know that freedom has a direction…. As love ( Symposium dialog) so what is the direction of this liberation? To let the capital flow more…. Freedom by market ? You see not only the direction , but also the method is discussable and it had offered problems upto now…. And by the way, a science-fiction question … I do think that the idea of liberalism has crumbled the day we have named chimpanzees or gorillas as the lost loop of evolution…and the they we make talking robots… and intelligent ones…. Human as a consumable idol will be broken … I just wanted to remind you that even in Liberalism there is a sort of system of belief … which we cannot deny! It seems we are back to the question ….Is democracy enough to salvate us ? It seems no….. at least you would like to add a sort of prefix named liberal to it ,well I am not convinced that a prefix like … liberalism or even , even socialism could help us reach the solution .. they were great results of our effort toward salvation , to have a better life … but they are not enough ! That is why Hermeneutics become important and useful for me …. Can we narrate religious , theocratic democracy not as a reductive pattern , not as a model against liberal , social democracy but to extend those patterns ?…when I referred to the religious, ethical origins or the system of belief beyond liberalism …. I didn’t want to confuse you but I wanted to show you how our belief ( as a sort of origin for these methods) play a substantial role for us …. So why not confront it? We have escaped , ignored , attacked, omitted or changed our system of beliefs , while we unconsciously, maybe not professional enough have tried to interpret the natural , infrastructural beliefs we had …. So why not look at theocratic democracy as a space for exploring new horizons .. not against social democracy many Christian democracy labeled parties do such in Germany as conservatives… but to accomplish it , to complement it ? Well…. I do think the problem is not with the Persian or Iranian Identitiy …the problem is with the direction of that identity …they are imposed to be narrated as reductive and stable rather than productive and integrative patterns of unification …. And that ["Toooo long!" editors say, "Here: click to read the whole thing!"]
Niayesh at August 5, 2003 12:18 PM [permalink]:

The simple idea that I proposed for the government is to consider the officials as agents instead of representatives. The officials can be promoted or demoted (not discarded) based on people's approval of their actions. This could be done at all levels and not just the highest level. The model is very similar to the way an efficient company improves itself, which is through the opinions of its clients. A manager with a lot of satisfied clients gets a promotion, and vice versa.

The celeberated models and ideals of democracy that Saoshyant, so passionately, talks about do certainly go a long way in improving a democratic system. However, they suffer from the same fundamental flaw, that people cannot predict what an official will do when in office.

BHS at August 5, 2003 05:22 PM [permalink]:

In your model, Niayesh, how do agents become agents in the first place? Don't we need elections for that?

Hamid Ahmadi at August 5, 2003 06:24 PM [permalink]:

I think people tend to miss the point. Or maybe I'm just looking from a different angle. ‎

Life has taught to me be suspect of things that are popular. Either they are fundamentally ‎flawed from the start or they become flawed the more they become mainstream. ‎

You guys talk about by the "people" for the "people", like we all want the same thing. My ‎friend works in Plant Parenthood and they are trying to push the local and state ‎politicians to promote "Plan B" (Im not going to get into it here), and as much as the ‎politicians like the idea they are not willing to publicly support it because the general ‎population does not want to hear about sex-related topics from their congressmen. ‎

So its not that people suck... its the majority that sucks! and so does democracy.‎

Of course having said all this, I should also say that I have always voted in every election ‎that I could, legally. There just has to be a better way. ‎

Niayesh at August 5, 2003 06:31 PM [permalink]:

I guess it could be as simple as a job application. Entering the system at the lowest level doesn't need to be difficult. What should be difficult though, is rising in the system, which requires a good approval rating at each level.

One could also envisage various, rather independent, branches of the system that cross-check each other. This should keep the system from corruption. Of course, the same approval rating criteria should be applied to the agents at each branch.

anonymous at August 5, 2003 06:45 PM [permalink]:

Politions are agents and not representatives of the people in the third world .Don't worry. They don't need to be elected, indeed they are installed by superpowers and that installations are legitimized semiotically by a ritual named referrendum or election... Of course there are exceptions but only for the enlightened , mature nation ....

Hamid you are right ... the only thing is in your model there is no place for people.... then you are working just for a higher boss, as in a elite schools- or technical university we are trained to work for the higher ranks and we have learned to ignore the lower classes just because their IQ was lower or whatever !

It can work in a company, it can even work better in a military station or a class having you as their monitor.. but in society .well a colonized society would accept it as well I think or help me if I am wrong !

Please remember , we are not allowed to put ourselves higher than the others just because we can talk better, or calculate better or memorize better

BHS at August 5, 2003 07:00 PM [permalink]:

Well Niayesh, then I have to ask who would be the boss of this governing company. How would he/she/they be put into place? And would the boss be changed periodically? etc. etc.

Grand Vizier at August 5, 2003 07:03 PM [permalink]:

Let's face it. Democracy is an opium for the masses!

A Reader at August 5, 2003 07:20 PM [permalink]:

Niyayesh, the system you propose brings more instability! If we kick out an official right after he fails to satisfy his "customers", imagine what happens to all his plans. A president, for instance, needs four years to fulfill his promises and some of his promises may start to be fulfilled at the end of his term. The other issue is how to measure the satisfaction of people? There is no efficient way to take all opinions into account. Polls are not completely accurate. On the other hand it brings stress to the administration like a student who has to look forward for his grade everyday; while when the term is fixed, they have more confidence in their work.

You are right, democracy doesn't guarantee stability but no system does! Even the Islamic system of Madinah ended in civil wars before its fourth decade.

You said:

"May be all our officials should be elected/ promoted based on their performance, rather than their popularity."

This sounds good but the question is that: who is in the position to measure the performance of officials? and again we have no choice but to go back to "people" to ask them if they are satisfied with the performances or not. The point is that "experts" (who can truely measure the economical, educational, ... performance) can only provide their opinion to public (through the media, using freedom of speech) to inform the public, as an independent source, how their government is doing but at the end it must be people who decide.

Niayesh at August 6, 2003 01:12 AM [permalink]:

Hamid Ahmadi,
My opinion is that we don't ask people the right question. People can decide what their problems are. They cannot plausibly decide if somebody who they have never met can solve their problems or not.

If your promotion/demotion is based on your approval rating, then your boss is not a higher person in the hierarchy. Your bosses are the people who are influenced by your actions, no matter where in government you are.

After the system is established, the bosses are those who naturally rise in the hierarchy, based on their performance. As to how you want to initiate this system, frankly I don't have a clear cut answer. Probably the right answer depends on the conditions of the previous government and the kind of transition that is viable given the circumstances.
The good news is that since the system is designed to be stable, a range of initial conditions should end up with the intended result.
A boss falls down with his/her approval rating, or he/she may decide to retire/quit. Note that I am not talking about a simple approval of the character. For example, let's say a president institutes press freedom. If most of the people are happy with the way he implements it, he gains a point, otherwise he loses one. If his points go below the next person in the hierarchy, he/she will replace the president.

(Nameless Commenter),
I specifically mentioned that we WOULDN'T discard or kick out an official who loses his/her approval rating. He/she simply loses his rank in the government. That is he/she will have lower level (less important) assignments and the next person will get the higher level assignments. In fact, as far as I know, all the democtratic systems have an impeachment process which can end a president's term before his/her time. So, in this respect, what I am suggesting is a smoother process.
As to taking polls, I think an accuracy of 10% is good enough for each poll although you can argue on an exact limit. Taking polls become easier with the advance of technology and assuming that there are many of them, the net error will be small.
As to causing stress for an adminstration, I believe an adminstration can get used to and even adapt to constant and continious scrutiny, while an election every 4 years can be much more stressful. During my year in physics olympiad camp we had at least 30-40 physics exams. By the end of the year, taking an exam was much less stressful than what it used to be a year before, when we took exams a few times a year. In fact, exams can help you understand your deficiencies before it's too late.

As you said, in the end, these would be the people who decide if they like what politicians have done to their lives. That is the decision that this system is based on.

infamouse at August 8, 2003 05:33 PM [permalink]:

In a democracy, people may vote for who they want, but (most of the time) not for what they want.
Actually, this isn't true. Usually, people vote for those candidates whose values correspond with their own. In other words, when you pick a Republican, you pick him or her because you agree with the party platform or his own particular words. So, yes, you do vote for who you want and what you want. Indeed, most states offer referendums on specific issues and recall elections such as what is happening in California right now. In order to have an influence on your elected representative, voters can form different organizations to lobby their reps, give money, write letters, make sure they vote, etc. The system you seem to advocate is incredibly destabilizing. Frankly, unmediated democracy or direct democracy would be disasterous. Opinion polls are a poor way to govern a country. There is no way to poll every citizen on the performance of a particular elected official. If one official steps out of line and votes his or her conscience, and enough people disagree, then they can say so and express it through the ballot box or their checkbooks. But this person shouldn't be automatically demoted. That is rule by the mob.

There are quite often non-democratic structures in the US Constitution. The Supreme Court is full of unelected representatives who serve for life. The electoral college is mainly meant for national cohesion. Say 90% of the people on the coasts where the population is more dense choose a Democrat and and 90% of the interior of the country choose a Republican. The electoral college ensures that just a few large states do not determine the fate of an election. This ensures that even the smallest state is important. Otherwise, politicians would not bother with primaries in New Hampshire or Iowa. They wouldn't even bother visiting them. They would solely visit Texas, Florida, NY and California.

I may know that I want to feed my children well, but I don't know if Mr. X is more qualified to make it possible or Mr. Y.
I don't totally understand this statement. It is your responsibility to feed your child, not the government's. If people need help feeding their children due to poverty or some sort of handicap, then they can lobby the government, especially their elected reps, for more aid. There are plenty of private organizations that provide aid as well. If you are unsure about which candidate is more qualified for the position, whose beliefs reflect your own, it's your responsibility to find out more about this individual.

M. Simon at August 8, 2003 07:49 PM [permalink]:

Democracy is only half the equation. The othe half is limits on government (even by the majority) to protect the rights of the individual.

In the end though it is only eternal vigilance by the people that can protect liberty. Liberty is not free. It is not a state of nature. Despotism is the normal state of nature.

Alan K. Henderson at August 9, 2003 04:08 AM [permalink]:

Several goals must be met in drafting a constitution. First, government must be structured so that power is dispersed - different branches governing different spheres (e.g. exectuive, legislative, and judicial powers) - and that formal "checks and blannces" are in place to hold each branch accountable to the others.

Second, the constitution must explicitly state that all individuals are equally protected by and equally subject to the law.

Third, specific basic rights must be protected. Constitutions serve to explicitly define powers, duties and restrictions on government. Since they are extremely difficult to amend, they must not explicitly define powers, duties and restrictions on citizens. Rights therefore should not be stated directly ("the citizen has the right to do such-and-such") but in terms of what government may not do (Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of a religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...)

As to determining what rights to protect, one can examine the various constitutions that exist (the European Constitution - which is being systematically fisked by Rye Beer ( - offers lessons in what not to do). Also worth examining are the Federalist and Anti-Federalist papers, which document the arguments of two conflicting factions involved in the formation of the United States.

The blogosphere, of course, has plenty of discussion on liberty, Samizdata ( offering some of the best. One of my own contributions is a July 9 post titled, "A Statement Of Individual Rights." Happy exploring!

Niayesh at August 9, 2003 05:52 AM [permalink]:

What is rather ironic is that many apparently liberal people seem to be deeply conservative, when it comes to the practice of democracy. The 20th century government systems, at the best, are valuable guidelines for the next generation of governments. Restricting the future generations to the same historical set of rules/practices (i.e. constitution) is a very undemocratic practice on its own.

In the next few entries, responding to individual commenters, I argue why I believe the system that I propose, given the right implementation, may be more democratic than the conventional systems.

Niayesh at August 9, 2003 07:00 AM [permalink]:

I certainly admit that a voter takes into consideration his/her demands when voting for a candidate. However, there are at least two reasons that makes it different from "what they want":
1-Most of the time, the only way you can judge a candidate is based on his/her interviews and ads. Occasionally, candidates have had past official roles but it is usually in a different post. In neither of these situations you can actually tell how the candidate is going to perform when in office, just based on what they say.
2-Most of the people do not agree with everything on a party's platform, especially if there are few of them. You may pick the candidate who has the closest agenda to your demands but it doesn't mean that you get what you want.

Both refrendums and recall elections are anomalies in most of the countries, including the US, and are in no way the norm (which is what I am advocating in a way). Lobbying the government, giving money, forming organizations, etc. are mostly instruments at the hands of the already powerful citizens or corporations.
The poor/less powerful (which is a larger majority in poor countries) can hardly find the time or money to support a political cause.
So, although it is possible, I argue that the conventional democratic exercises are not very efficient in fulfilling the demands of their citizens.

I agree that there could be unstable implementations of the system that I am advocating. However, every democracy is based on opinion polls. The main question is how and at what level one wants to use such poles. What I suggested was to poll the citizens who were influenced by an official's decision about those decisions, may be on a random basis. This is not only doable, but is already being done in many countries.

At the end of the day, democracy is the rule of mob. What I seek is to have all the people in this mob and not just rich/influential indivduals and corporations.

Niayesh at August 9, 2003 07:23 AM [permalink]:

Alan K. Henderson,
Although your comment is not directly relevant to my note, I happen to have an opinion about the general idea of having a constitution.

To me, it appears that writing a set of rules for future generations is as bad, if not worse, than setting a national religion. As the constitutions, as you mention, are very hard to ammend, possible deficiencies (nothing is perfect) are likely to linger on, becoming more and more prominent, for a long time. A more dangerous possibility is that the society gets used to these deficiencies after a long time and considers them to be the right way of doing things. Anyway, to me, a fluid set of rules that can change easily based on a democratic process seems much more reasonable than a rigid 20th century pseudo-religion (i.e. constitution) that you describe here.

Yashar at August 9, 2003 03:29 PM [permalink]:

I agree with Niayesh in that it is hard to influence the decisions of people in power after they've been elected even in a democratic govenrnment - although it's certainly easier than in authoritarian ones, i think. A good example is Blair joining the 'Coalition of the Willing' despite its unpopularity in Britain.

I don't think democracy (at least the modern version) is the rule of mob though. In modern(?=liberal) democracies the rule of majority doesn't mean it can strip the minority of their rights. The rule of mob might be a good name for what happened in Nazi Germany, knowing that they had the overwhelming majority of the population behind them and Hitler was elected to power. Nobody calls that democracy nowadays. I think M.Simon has an important point here. Modern democracy is about restraining the power of government and protecting the individual against it, as much as (maybe more than) it is about the majority chosing the ruler.

Yashar at August 10, 2003 07:50 PM [permalink]:

down with nationalism. with patriotism. with exclusivism.

Niayesh at August 11, 2003 10:26 PM [permalink]:

I think if a majority wants to isolate a minority, it will find the way, no matter what the rules say. It did not only happen in early twentieth century. The treatment of the Arab Americans in today's America is a modern example. One can even be stripped of his/her citizenship. I think the only way to avoid such incidences is to educate the majority (the mob) about the history, the facts, and the consequences of their actions.

As to the Nazi Germany, the prosecution of jews was just the symptom. The main problem was the shift of power from the majority to a minority with idiotic beliefs, i.e. the Nazi's. They used the government's propaganda machine to convince the majority about their beliefs (do you see the analogy with today's neo-cons?).

Anyway, my take on the situation is that as long as the systems of "checks and balances" are not good enough and a minority can fool the majority into some deceision, the conventional democracies are bound to fail, no matter what the constitution says.

Saoshyant at August 11, 2003 11:45 PM [permalink]:

Niyayesh, I am afraid you have to do a bit more research on this comparison, before falling into the trap of simplicities often offered by the Media. Despite the outbursts after Sep. 11, your analogy between Jews under Nazis and Arabs under the US is hard to buy. The conventional democracies have so far prevented the reoccurrence of another holocaust. The situation of Arabs in the United States is, by the same evidence, far better improved than the situation of the Jews under the Nazis. According to the US Census Arabs are amongst 6 of the major minorities that have a very high level of professional contribution in the American Society. Look at Edward Saeed, and compare it with the destiny of the Jewish intellectuals and scienctists under the Nazis. Also, a very, yes it is still true, strong lobby in the US Senate and the Congress outspokenly refer to themselves as "Arabists" and have strong relationship with their Arab constitutents, around the Great Lakes area specifically. Arabs are still very, very active in all aspects of life in the US democracy. Yes, there have been certain set backs, in terms of the possibility of using Martial Courts against terrorist suspects, but it remains to be seen. It is very historically inaccurate to compare the US democracy's treatment of Arabs with the treatment of the Jews under Nazis. I would be more than happy to agree with you if you had pointed to various ways the Majority in the South still screws the Black. Indeed, African Aemricans are still treated worse than Arab-Americans in many respects, look at the population of the Prisons, social welfare and unemployment... I really find your analogy far-feteched, Democracies are Bound to fail? Subscribing to a determinism that can be so easily challenged is a fallacy. What about South African democracy? What about the Swiss democracy? What about the Swedish demcoracy? which bound to fail?

Niayesh at August 12, 2003 02:55 AM [permalink]:

Well, I do live here in the States and I know how I'm being discriminated against by the government(I am not an Arab but still a Muslim), which in fact pre-dates Sept. 11th.
I know that hundreds of Arabs have been detained for months without any formal charge after Sept. 11th.
I know that non-citizens, or those stripped of their citizenships, can be held in places like Guantanamo Bay prison for an unlimited time and on unproven charges.

I know that tens of Muslim/Arab charities have been closed down, simply because of supporting
the fellow Palestininan Arabs.

I agree that this is not nearly as bad as the situation of jews in Hitler's Germany. However, what is happening here is in the same line, that is, violating the rights of individuals and minorities. The case of African Americans, of course, adds more to my point, although I believe in their case, it's more the popular culture that is at fault, rather than the government.

Finally, being a physicist, I am wise enough not to make such a general statement like "Democracies are bound to fail". My statement is :
" as long as the systems of "checks and balances" are not good enough and a minority can fool the majority into some deceision, the conventional democracies are bound to fail, no matter what the constitution says."
the point being that these are systems of "checks and balances" that control the power distribution in a government and not the constitution. At the end of the day, people/governments tend to neglect or re-interpret the parts of the constitution that they don't like.

Saoshyant at August 12, 2003 11:10 AM [permalink]:

Niayesh, your clarification at least makes your statement a verifiable proposition, and for that matter I think you could also better defend it by putting emphasis on "the conventional" segment of your proposition. As for the US, I think your argument concerning the fundamental flaws can work out better because the US overall exhibits an example of an overall "conservative" society, and by that token a "conventional democracy". I recall in some of the previous comments the electoral college system was duely mentioned as a flaw, which is definitely an attribute of an exclusivist non-liberal democratic model was cited. Your proposition, reaffirmed according to this criteria, amounts to a PhD thesis/research institute project that bridges between the normative and empirical, and at the same time intends to reform both: reforming a conservative society to become more inclusivist by means of reforming checks and balances systems that have become ossyfied and conventional at the same time. I wonder if we take Babak's formula and add to that your final comments on it, then there should be a double arrow between the problem and change and add a third lateral to that: competing solutions and connet them to the other two with double arrows. (I will respond to Niayesh's final comments to Babak's after a while becuase I want to see if he has any furhter comments/wants to add any in response).