Home > Decent Democracy > Vol 2: On Democracy > Democracy


To preserve life and humanity will require an organized effort, to one degree or another, between those that share this intention.

Our broad choice of organization is between democracy, where everyone is encouraged to participate in the decision making, and dictatorship, where a small group attempt to make the decisions for everyone.

Defence of Democracy

Though there are plenty of theories about how some form of dictatorship would be very efficient, these theories can only ever work in the imagination.

In practice all “social control” theories must propose that A. the majority of people cannot be trusted to make decisions, B. therefore they must be controlled and C. by a theory about how to manipulate them (for their own good). Without these propositions it is impossible to argue in favour of dictatorship.

But, any such theory, no matter how it is construed, must always hinge on a selection of a minority of “trustable” people, call them the "guardians", who understand ABC and can be entrusted to carry out the theory. However, can this ever be achieved?

It is crucial to ask this question before even considering the details of the theory, i.e. what responsibilities the guardians would have, how they would maintain control, and what other jobs would exist to maintain society. For, if no trustworthy guardians could ever be selected, what they, and everyone else, are supposed to do is completely irrelevant.

In order to choose our guardians we can either select at random or with some criteria and process.

Given that in order to justify the need for guardians we must presume the majority of people are untrustworthy, we cannot select at random, as the likely result would be more untrustworthy people than trustworthy ones. [1]

So, if we cannot select at random, we must select based on some criteria and process designed to identify the trustworthy minority among the untrustworthy majority. However, with little elaboration we must conclude that this is impossible. For, whatever the criteria and process might be, its success must invariably depend on the selection of still yet another group of trustworthy people to carry out the selection, and decide who the deciders will be. But for this “deciding the deciders group” we arrive at the same impasse as for the guardians to begin with, requiring yet another group to decide who these deciders of the deciders will be, but we encounter yet again the same problem for this group, and so on indefinitely.

We are obliged to conclude that a society that is on the whole untrustworthy can never select from among itself a cast of trustworthy people to govern it. And so any society that chooses to invest the majority of power in a few, must always find itself ruled by corrupt and/or incompetent people, until either this ruling cast destroys society or the majority decide upon and achieved another organizational structure, regardless of the opinions of the present rulers. [2].



The only way out of this impasse is to assume that society is in general trustworthy.

Now, this does not prove society is in fact trustworthy. However, just as I, likewise, cannot prove to myself that my own senses and reasoning is trustworthy — since if my reasoning and senses are flawed they are as likely to conclude they are sound as not, and so I simply must trust myself on the whole to make any decision at all — to live within society and strive for any coherent social action at all requires a basic trust in society as a whole. [5]

Though again, this does not mean every single person, institution, or proposal can be trusted, or even usually trustworthy people trusted all the time in everything, [6], it means decisions can be made without impasse, from the everyday risk of walking past someone without assuming they wills attack me, to participating in discussions and spreading ideas under the assumption that the best will be retained and used more often than not for good rather than evil, to the idea that everyone should be able to participate in the decisions concerning society.

However, though there is no functional alternative to corrupt despotism, practising democracy is far from simple, made all the more difficult by centralization. For, with the centralization of power, the decision process is far easier to manipulate and far harder for the average person to participate in; since people are far from the decision making process, they can at best be represented by a few representatives; but, when so few are selected to make decisions and their decisions so difficult to observe, we must be in constant vigilance for either the infiltration of untrustworthy people, whom we may assume will be drawn to centralized power as flies to a light, as well as the corruption of previously trustworthy people – and in either case they can often easily modify the centralized political process to remove democracy. [7]

But, regardless of whether centralized democracy could work and whether existing centralized democracies actually are democratic (or to what degree), if democracy were to be decentralized it would likely function far better, as people would be in more immediate contact with who they are deciding with and what they are deciding upon. Considering also that centralization is at the heart of most if not all of our environmental and social problems, as discussed in Vol 1, decentralizing economically would allow a significant reduction in environmental destruction as well as allow a decentralized democracy to flourish.

But to decentralize politically would be difficult to achieve through a centralized government and economic system. Though centralized structures should not be ignored and should be encouraged to support good decisions, and though the idea of centralized government may be at odds with decentralization, we should not presume everyone within centralized government values the power of their institution over the survival of humanity and life as we know it. Nor should these structures be simply eliminated as even in a decentralized society, where the great majority of goods and decisions are made locally, there will still exist some issues that can only be solved through a centralized body – such as watching over nuclear waste and like matters. The important ingredient in a decentralized democracy is that any centralized institution is not more powerful than the local communities that constitute it and allow it to exist in the first place (that any centralized institution can be dissolved at any moment by the communities that support it, without any difficulty or practical means of resistance from the centralized institution in question). And though in some situations physically modifying the centralized economic structures out of decentralized consent may be necessary, every effort should be made to avoid conflict, and if regime change is necessary to depose a tyranny then only the social and material structures of tyranny be destroyed without the intent to kill anyone. For a tyrant, without a social fabric conditioned to carry out their wishes, is only a fool.

But for local political bodies to take on more responsibility, such as for food, energy, and living arrangement, requires autonomy in these areas. For, if a community depends on a centralized economic process for vital needs, then the community must abdicate political responsibility to an equally centralized political body that can manage these processes, and forthwith be at the mercy of them insofar as this is the case.


copyright 2006 - 2020 Eerik Wissenz