In a recent post, Niayesh Afshordi proposed a couple of changes to improve upon the experience of democracy, followed by a somewhat heated discussion in the comments to the post. To motivate his proposal, Afshordi has a quick look at two `fundamental flaws' of democracy. He then proposes to run the country on a model of government similar to that of a company by promoting or demoting people's agents, rather than representatives, through referenda, rather than elections.
Since historic experiences are hardly, if at all, repeatable, arguing for or against any such proposal could only be done through critical comparison of somewhat distanced events of the human history. There is one thread, however, that connects these events, that is, the thread of cause and effect.
I think the problems of the older experiences of the human history had been the prime cause for any change that has occurred in the form of governance of the human society. Indeed, Afshordi starts by pointing out what he thinks is wrong with democracy before he puts forward his ideas. However, one missing piece in Afshordi's proposal is an analysis of the problems in our past experiences—the very problems to which democracy was introduced as a solution. In trying to go beyond the experience of democracy, one should be careful not to fall back into the old problems again. This guideline is, I believe, the most important element of any attempt at new ideas, further underlined by the fact that changes of this sort are meant to happen at the scale of a society and thus affect many lives in the present generation and many more to come.
In the following I outline a few such problems, accompanied by a short commentary partly in regard with Afshordi's proposed `improvements' on democracy.
Infringement of the Rights of the Individual
What attracts many people to the more democratic countries, beside the lures of economy that are somewhat irrelevant to the form of the government, is the simple fact that they feel relieved of all the restrictions on their personal lives in their countries of origin. Yes, there are still restrictions of sorts in any country; but the size of what is left to the decision of each individual in our very populated societies has a critical value below which the natural course of one's life is so restrained that the only fix for it is an eruption of some kind.
Infringement of the Rights of the Minority
Contrary to what Afshordi says in a comment, democracy is not the rule of the mob. In a soceity ruled by the mob, the rights of the minority are infringed just as severely as the rights of the individual are in a dictatorship. A cornerstone of any democracy is that the rights of the minorities, including the freedom of speech and the press, are guaranteed by the law. The suffering of various minorities throughout our history and right now, from religious to sexual, is one dark spot that must remain only in history books.
Unchallenged or Permanent Power
The main problem addressed by a democracy is the problem of the unchallenged power that is usually given or forcibly taken by a person, a group or even a popular movement. The occasions of the same happening in a democracy, which are used in Afshrodi's post to argue that the democratic government is unstable, are rare. Although very important and in need of a proper fix (also look at Soashyant long comment), this kind of instability is in my view far better than the kind of stability that comes with other forms of government, including that proposed by Afshordi—the inherently stable situation of the latter is, I think, one in which a few people hold a permanent grip on the power. In short, in a democracy unchallenged power remains as an anomaly while it is in the very structure of other forms of government so far conceived.
I believe that a most valuable lesson to learn from the history of politics is that although a necessity for the order of things, government is not the key solution to prosperity and flourish of a people. Most of the times, governments with their unchecked and vast authorities have been and still are the biggest obstacle to the success, economic or otherwise, of a society. The rejection of totalitarianism, that is, the idea that the government should be in charge of every detailed aspect of social life, is in the spirit of the democratic experience. Democracy leaves individuals, groups, and people in effect, on their own to decide for what is best for them in their lives and for their future.