What’s so great about democracy anyway?

Much has been said about the vices and virtues of democracy. Democracy said Benjamin Franklin is two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner. Lord Acton warned that democracy is susceptible to a ‘tyranny of the majority’. Winston Churchill told us that democracy is actually the worst form of government… except for every other form that has been tried. Then, not without irony, he also said that the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter. H.L. Mencken described democracy as the theory that people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

These quotes speak to the majoritarian dimension of democracy and the reality that even in the best-of-functioning systems 49% of the people can remain unhappy. To be sure, in most modern democracies even a less-than-majority popular vote can carry an election, due to the peculiarities of electoral systems. Democracy, in other words, is a system to ensure that some people get what they want; it is not a system to allow everyone to do so.

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Disillusionment in politics?

Name one Australian politician that doesn’t believe in the concept of rationalist central planning? This seems fundamental to the political class. Nowhere in the world is such a simplistic vision of political-economic reality even so much as challenged.

I would have expected the very notion to be ridiculed by an enlightened intellectual class. To be kind I would call it suspicious—infantile and conceited would be less so. Or is it a genuine delusion—who knows? To pretend that there is any argument to be made by rationalists is pointless. To be clear, this criticism applies to actors across the full ideological spectrum—left and right (as meaningless as that characterisation may have become).

One might surmise that the quality of the political-economic debate in Australia—and elsewhere in the world—is currently quite low. There has been much cause for disillusionment in this space of late—yet this more essential point is completely ignored. Properly understood, this undermines the legitimacy of so much of the state.