Western politicians love to extol the virtues of democracy. It's the best system of government there could be, they claim. "Demahcracy" – as Americans like to pronounce it – delivers the freedom, justice and good government, which all human beings need. And those who enjoy its blessings have an obligation to export it to the rest of the world.
But the voters seem not to agree. At the recent European elections, well less than half of those eligible to vote did so. Even at the last British general election in June 2001, only 60 per cent of eligible voters turned out.
What I'm going to tell you today is that low election turn-outs aren't just a blip. They're a sign of failure of the system. For democracy has failed. I'm going to tell you why. And I'm going to speculate on what might come next.
I'll begin by looking at human societies in the round. By society, I here mean both the voluntary and the political. I identify four approaches, which we human beings have so far tried in structuring societies: autocracy, oligarchy, equal suffrage, shareholding.
Autocracy is the original of the state. The chieftain rules, the rest are ruled over. Now, autocracy is a fine way to run a society, if you happen to be the autocrat, or if you get on well with him. But, unless the autocrat is a great man, with an impartial sense of justice and a strong will to keep to it, it doesn't do much for anyone else.
Oligarchy is an evolution of autocracy, in which the chieftain is replaced by a committee. It leads towards the traditional three-class structure of political society: rulers, enforcers and urks. Oligarchy, like autocracy, doesn't do much for the urks, unless the rulers are enlightened. Which is rare.
The Athenians tried, back in the late 6th century BC, a new system, which came to be called democracy. The ideal underpinning this new system was equal suffrage – one man, one vote. That didn't include the women or the slaves, though.
The fourth model, shareholding, is much newer. So much so, that only voluntary societies have yet tried it, never political ones. Shareholding is like equal suffrage, in that people vote. But individuals' votes in the shareholding model are not equal. Under shareholding, your say is in proportion to your contribution.
Next I ask, what is government for? Before about 400 years ago – excepting ancient Athens – the answer would have been, government is for the benefit of the rulers. Government, back then, existed to enable the political class to rule effectively over the urks.
Out of the Renaissance and Enlightenment, though, there grew a different view. In this view, government is for the public good. That is, as John Locke identified, the good of every individual (criminals excepted), as far as it can be achieved by common rules of law. Government – good government – is for the benefit of the governed, not of the rulers.
As long as criminals exist, good people will always be at a disadvantage against them. Those who abstain from violence, theft and fraud are always liable to become victims of the rogues that use them. So there is benefit for good people in co-operating to defend themselves against rogues. There is also benefit for good people in having a basic code of simple rules to avoid inconveniencing others, and a just mechanism for resolving disputes. Hence the positive value of government – so long as it is on good people's side.
What, then, should a good government – a real government – do? One, it should provide a means of resolving disputes fairly, and of bringing about compensation for actual harms. That is to say, civil law. Two, it should provide defence and sanctions against rogues. In other words, police and criminal law. Three, as long as external aggressors exist, it should defend against their aggressions. That is to say, military defence. These three, and only these three, are the valid functions of government.
A real government will be uncompromisingly on the side of good people. It will be a government of good people, by good people, for good people. A good government will serve and defend its subscribers; it will never rule over them to their harm. So, a good government deserves respect and obedience.
On the other hand, a government that directs itself to the harm of good people is not a good government. It's a rogue government. A rogue government is a criminal gang masquerading as a government.
Next, what actually is democracy? And why should enlightened people have thought that democracy could deliver good government?
The word democracy comes from the ancient Greek. It means power (kratos) to the municipality (demos). A common interpretation of this is "power to the people.” But it doesn't mean power to individuals, to people in the plural, but to "the people" in the singular. Built into the very word democracy is an assumption that one size fits all. That people in a democratic society all form a single community. That they are sufficiently alike, and have sufficiently common aims and aspirations, that they can be treated as a unit.
As to its mechanics, modern democracy is a mixture of oligarchy and suffrage. An oligarchy, the parliament, rules day to day. Those in the parliament decide to what policies the state will apply its powers of violence, theft and propaganda. But, every few years, the voters can, in theory at least, call the rulers to account in an election. Modern democracy, in essence, uses equal suffrage to decide who will be the next oligarchy.
At first sight, there is much to recommend this mixture of oligarchy and suffrage. For it reflects a tested way to run a voluntary society. An oligarchy, the committee, runs the society day to day. But the members, at the annual general meeting, can call them to account through suffrage. This system works well, as long as the members of the society have, to a reasonable degree, a common purpose. Which, in a voluntary society, usually remains true. The dis-satisfied simply leave.
But there is at least one big difference between political societies, even democracies, and voluntary ones. For you can't leave a political society without physically uprooting yourself. And, as there is no liveable place on our planet unclaimed by one nation-state or another, you have to find another political society to live in. So, while you can live free from (say) flower-arranging or football, you can't today live free from politics.
Here's the ideal of modern democracy. If you can't be free from politics, at least you can have a say in it. In a democratic state, if you don't like what the government is doing, just hang on till the next election. Then vote for a different lot. The will of the people will triumph! The new lot will represent your views better. They will surely be better than the old! So any government that becomes rogue will be voted out of power, leading to good government for all.
But what kind of government has democracy actually brought about today in Britain? How good is the government of the New Labour faction that are currently in power?
Consider just a few of the things that New Labour and their cohorts have done, are doing, or are trying to do to us. In alphabetical order: Abolishing the presumption of innocence. Banning foxhunting. Banning smoking in public. Censoring broadcasts. Censoring the Internet. Compulsory ID cards. Creating almost 100 new "crimes" each year. Crusades against sugar and salt, and against under-age drinking. Curfews on under-16s. Ever increasing bureaucracy. Ever increasing taxes. More and more police. Randomly stopping foreigners on the London Underground. Re-distribution and wasting of our earned wealth. Signing up to treaties designed to damage the economy. Spying on us. Stealth taxes. Suppressing our pension prospects. Tapping our e-mails. Victimizing one-man companies. War in Iraq. Witch-hunting car drivers with creeping speed limits, speed cameras and congestion charges.
Consider also some of the good-sounding rationalizations they, and their apologists, offer for their acts. Again, in alphabetical order: Cracking down on illegal immigration. Fighting crime. Fighting money laundering. Fighting terrorism. Global warming. Health. Helping the needy. Law and order. Protecting children. Quality of the environment. Quality of life. Reducing inequality. Safety. Saving lives. Social justice. Sustainability. Weapons of mass destruction.
If there were only one or two such examples, we might perhaps give Blair and its minions the benefit of the doubt. But they are doing so many bad things to us, and covering their tracks with so much spin, that we must look beyond their rhetoric to their real intentions. Furthermore, many people are coming to understand that at least two of their rationalizations – global warming and Saddam's weapons of mass destruction – are complete frauds. And it is only a short step of the mind to thinking that the rest of their rationalizations may well be fraudulent too.
It is becoming plainer and plainer that Blair and New Labour are not on our side – that they don't care a damn about the good of good people. In Britain today, the government, the very organization which is supposed to defend good people against rogues, has been taken over by the rogues. New Labour are trampling all over our freedoms, our prosperity and our happiness. And they are doing it with total disregard for truth and honesty.
How did Blair and New Labour get their political power? In 2001, they won an election – a democratic election. And yet only 24 per cent of eligible voters voted for New Labour. 17 per cent voted for the Tories, 19 per cent for other parties, and the biggest group of all – 40 per cent, the silent majority – for Nobody. More than three-quarters of us did not want New Labour, or at least were not willing to give our assent to them. Yet New Labour have all but absolute power. And that's called the will of the people? That's democracy? That's the best governmental system on earth?
So, how do we get rid of New Labour, and vote in somebody better? Here, we find a major problem. The obvious semi-credible political alternative is the Tories. But for a decade and more, the Tories have signed up to almost the same agenda as New Labour; for example, heavy re-distribution of wealth, anti-car policies, more police, and fighting non-existent global warming and an all too existent war in Iraq. As to the third lot, they are greener-than-thou, and keener on re-distribution of wealth even than New Labour.
So those of us, who don't want these bad things, have nowhere to turn to. No wonder so many people have deserted the ballot box.
I cannot see any possibility of democracy bringing good government in Britain in the near future. And the pundits are starting to agree with me. For they think that Blair is almost certain, before the end of next year, to have been re-elected for a third term. Although many of us, probably even an absolute majority among us, hate Blair's guts.
These problems are not confined to Britain. In each democratic state, things are happening differently. But the overall result is much the same. In the USA, for example, Bush is a bullying warmonger, but Kerry would likely be even worse. No moral, thinking American can vote for either Bush or Kerry – only against the one they dislike more.
I have a confession to make. Three times in my life, I was foolish enough to vote; all three times, for the Tories. The first time, two days after my 18th birthday, I was too young and innocent to know what I was doing. The other times, in 1983 and 1987, I knew how evil Labour were. So I voted Tory, believing I was doing it in self-defence.
I know better now, of course. I know the Tories are evil too. I have become completely alienated from politics and from political society. I have lost all sense of fellowship with those that take part in mainstream politics. I feel no community at all with those that vote for political parties whose policies harm me.
And I have acquired contempt and loathing for all politicians. I have not voted since 1987, nor will I vote for any politician ever again.