Save Democracy From The People?

Duly Noted by George Handlery

Decades ago, growing up, some matters were self evident. One of was that freedom means that we are allowed to do what is not proscribed by law. To be valid, laws had to express the consent of the community to which they applied.

It was also understood that, for the sake of efficiency, the people does not govern itself directly but assigns the task to elected representatives.

Nowadays, that representative democracy is being questioned. Why the doubts? Indirect democracy has betrayed its wards. Several parties became elitist clubs. They may contest elections, however their programs are interchangeable.

Elites have more in common than the platforms that emphasize differences care to admit. Regarding the fundamentals, the elites that run parties are of the same mind. Their common denominator; not the people are sovereign but the government run by those with a right to be elected. The claim is supported by the conviction that certain characteristics must be met to be able to govern. The criteria are formal education and a set of personal values that distinguish the mass from those born to lead. That is bolstered by the tenet that the people, being merely a mass, are incapable to rule themselves. Thereby, democracy is not “popular government” but rule by the qualified with the consent of the governed. This is completed by a Leninisque belief. It doubts “numerical” majorities and derives legitimacy from the “quality” of those that act for the numerical majority.

The hardening of the stance of our elites is apparent and it is not accidental. Earlier, problems were remote from the subject’s daily experience. Newly, traits unfold that upset the apple-cart. That puts the political class is on the defensive.

Due to better education and access to uncontrolled information, the once docile discover that privileges given to non-contributing groups are ultimately charged against the account of the dumbly passive. Furthermore, hiding costs as the state’s deficit becomes unconvincing. Folks realize that, one day, the deficit will have to be repaid –or the state goes bankrupt, in which case the savings of all will be wiped out.

Lastly, there is migration and its consequences. The trend is visible and universally felt. From the beach to the schools, the appropriated shelters, the criminal terror, tell that an invasion is on and that multiculturalism means tolerance for them and submission for us. The result politicizes the passive -30% of the AfD vote came from non-voters- who once assumed that those on top “know what they are doing”.

Certain rules made by the insiders that determined how the political game was played, are being scrutinized. It used to be that the barefooted had a right to approve but no moral right to disapprove. That old style democracy meant that the people had a right to choose between the approved branches of their elite. It lacked the moral right to determine whether someone from “outside” the power elite could be mandated to rule. “Democratic tutelage” might be a term to describe the matter. Naturally, the “democratic” here applies in a special way, to be understood as “democratic” in Soviet style “People’s Democracy”.

The elites running nation states have found a ruse for preserving power, and to make the challenging the governors difficult. In Europe’s case, the ploy involves “European institutions”. Singing solo on the Union scene is freed from the unpleasantness of elections. Also, the supranational body, devoid of a popular mandate, is beyond the control of member states, and has no supervisory organ. A bureaucracy results whose personnel lacks accountability and which is shrouded by self-generated slogans that used to make any scrutiny morally suspect.

National member states are mostly governed by the likes of those that run “Brussels”. Thus wanting to “take the country back” –as in Brexit- from the super-state, is rare. The challenge comes from a neglected source: the practice of direct democracy.

Referendums and initiatives allow the governed to exercise two important rights that control structures that handle day-to-day matters. Certain products of politics must be submitted to the people, while the citizenry has the right to force legislatures to take up topics and also lets them legislate directly. The best example of combining direct and indirect democracy is Switzerland. Wrongly, due to established clichés and her size, this is nevertheless an important country about which even her neighbors know little.

If the idea of directly exercised people’s power sounds attractive, then there are further traits to bolster your “like”. We are talking about a tested practice. Not accidentally, the method of self government, articulated in the 13th century, has worked well. Switzerland is a global leader with a competitive economic system, the highest earned GDP, personal income, and health care. Add the ability to stay out of the calamities –such as world wars- by which Europeans delight to self destruct.

“It sounds good and it even works” is supported by the facts. Is that the reason why the system that consults its people is now under attack? The charge is that popular sovereignty brings the wrong results. Therefore, the political class demands changes.

Elites hold that parliament should control the text of referendums. The edited text should also carry the recommendation of government to approve or reject the proposition. More: the number of signatures needed to submit an item to the vote (2-4 times a yr) should be raised. Meanwhile, much is done to prevent the implementation of decisions through the executive branch.

In a way the political class is right. The direct vote does undermine the power elite’s authority and can negate its decisions. Just imagine, what the results would be if Europe’s peoples could decide on their EU membership the way it is currently run. The Swiss could vote on the matter and shockingly, they chose not to join. (Encircled by the Union they suffer consequences.) Hungary is about to organize a referendum whether to accept a quota of migrants assigned to her by Brussels. Given last year’s experience with the same set of migrants, the result is not in doubt. The rest of the Visegràd 4, also reluctant to jeopardize their identity and newly regained independence, are closely watching the outcome and the EU’s reaction.

Revealing news emerged while writing this paragraph. Two years ago, an initiative had determined that Switzerland shall control and limit immigration. The ruling officialdom encouraged Brussels to reject the measure, refuse to negotiate, and to threaten a ruinous boycott if the law is applied. Just now, a parliamentary committee has determined that the execution of the popular decision shall be devoid of its key elements. Beyond that, the lawmakers consider to surrender sovereignty to the EU –of which the country is not even a member. The way to do that is to subordinate, in exchange for market access, national laws to Union ordinances. Further, EU courts are to adjudicate disputes between it and national decisions. Evolving EU rules are to apply to Switzerland even if they conflict with national law. Oddly, the kowtow to become a tribute paying fiefdom comes when EU centralism is under attack.

The foregoing makes one to recommend that the practice of institutionalized direct democracy be put on the conservative agenda. A political renewal is unfolding in Europe and in the USA. It expresses a grass-roots uprising against “professional leaders”. The substantive changes proposed, and the advocated redefinition of the institutional order, are extensive.

The adjustment deserves the term “fundamental reform”. It is, at least that much if not a “revolution”. The political class’ discernible inability to identify challenges beyond the limits of their PC “box”, and its reluctance to take measures to protect its people, is generally felt. The result of misgovernment ignores the people’s will, while it has also destroyed the trust in the governing class. This tells that an era is ending and that a new epoch, with an evolutionary redefinition of democracy and freedom, might be dawning. To manage it, an across-the-border organization of like minded movements appears to be not only possible but also essential.


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