Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Democracy Does Not Equal Freedom

While I was away in an oven posing as a country, I read an article on the BBC which briefly threatened to be the most enlightened they have ever featured.

Detailing the childhood experience of Isaiah Berlin in post-revolution Russia as a preamble, it hinted that equating democracy with freedom might be a flawed way of thinking.
We believe that freedom and democracy are inseparable, so that when a dictator is toppled the result is not only a more accountable type of government but also greater liberty throughout society.

This belief forms the justification of the repeated attempts by Western governments to export their own political model to countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. In this simple and seemingly compelling story, freedom and democracy are a package that can be delivered anywhere in the world.
At this point, many will be nodding their heads in agreement - it is, after all, what we are told by western politicians on a regular basis - but it's quite wrong to believe that.
An older generation of thinkers recognised that freedom and democracy don't always go hand in hand. The 19th Century liberal John Stuart Mill was a life-long campaigner for greater democracy, but he also worried that personal liberty would shrink once governments could claim to express the will of the majority.

Born in 1872 and dying in 1970 at the age of 98, Mill's godson Bertrand Russell agreed and shocked many people when he observed that while Britain after World War II was a more democratic society than the one he'd grown up in, it was also in some ways less free. For Russell, as for Mill, liberty was one thing, democracy another. It's a deeply unfashionable view, but I think essentially correct.
The article meanders after that and fails to nail the fact that democracy has made us less free in our own country, instead focussing on other countries where tyranny is more easily recognisable to BBC readers.

It's a theme which had already been discussed at length in Democracy and the Fall of The West by Craig Smith and Tom Miers (who you can read regularly on the blogroll to your right).

In their book, they describe how democracy actively works against freedom by its very nature. Instead of government working for the interests of the entire nation, the system of democracy encourages - or, you could say, nudges - politicians into working only for a section of society which will deliver them 51% (or often less) of any particular vote.

Democracy destroys altruism in governance and replaces it with naked self-interest backed up by a tyranny of the majority. Rooted in this flawed system is the huge machine of lobbyists, vested interest groups and emotional rabble-rousing which is inflicting the illiberal policy we rail against here by turning that tyranny into one of a minority arrogantly posing as a majority.

It leads to the most heavily-funded being listened to, and those who have no understanding of politics - or power to get involved - being completely excluded. It's why working classes in the UK are routinely ignored by forensic party machines who often don't even bother leafletting where turnout is low, and therefore why Westminster has no interest in framing policy to protect their meagre enjoyments.

The bullying of lifestyles detailed on these pages branches directly from a democratic system which is geared towards those who have the ability to shout loudest, often funded by the government itself because of their snobbish prejudices.

As Smith and Miers note:
"The power of the state has re-grown at the expense of the liberty of the individual. Far from underpinning our freedoms, Democracy is in fact undermining them. It has unshackled the coercive power of the state ..."
A perfect example of this is described in Chris Snowdon's book The Art of Suppression. Myron T Herrick was Governor of Ohio when targeted by alcohol prohibitionists in 1906.
Herrick was a successful and popular Republican politician with a majority of 113,000 and ample campaign funds. His only mistake was to have trampled on a local option bill proposed by the Anti-Saloon League.

[The Anti-Saloon League] held hundreds of dry rallies in favour of his opponent - the Democrats had sensibly nominated a bone dry candidate - and scurrilously accused Herrick of being in the pocket of the drinks industry.

[The AntiSaloon League] directed tens of thousands of floating voters from the church pews to the polling station and the unfortunate Governor was overwhelmed.

Herrick's defeat [...] was a bleak warning to wet politicians that it was safest to drink in private and support prohibition in public.

This unprincipled, if practical, fudging culminated in the disastrous farce of wet politicians lining up to vote for national Prohibition.
A more modern illustration can be seen in the unceremonial - and orchestrated - destruction of John Reid prior to the UK smoking ban. ASH still gloat about it.
In Spring 2004, following publication of the Wanless review the DH began a public health white paper consultation on action to improve people’s health. March 2004 had seen the extremely successful implementation of comprehensive smokefree legislation in the Republic of Ireland, but the Minister for Health John Reid made very clear at the launch of the consultation that he was against the introduction of smokefree legislation in England and still favoured the voluntary approach. Legislation had been in the Wanless review so it had to be discussed as part of the consultation process, but it looked like Reid would ensure that it was not in the final recommendations. Fortunately, he overreached himself. At a public meeting with journalists present he said, “I just do not think that the worst problem on our sink estates by any means is smoking but that it is an obsession of the middle classes. What enjoyment does a 21 year old mother of three living in a council sink estate get? The only enjoyment sometimes they have is to have a cigarette.”

This led to a media firestorm, dominating the news agenda for days, in which Reid came under attack by the media as much as by the health lobby. In the middle of it we launched our MORI poll results showing that 80% of the public supported a law to make
all enclosed workplaces smokefree. John Reid, who had refused to meet us until then, finally agreed to meet. The group that went to see him included all the major medical and public health organisations and health charities, making clear that the whole of the health community was as one on this issue. It was clear when we met him that he had been forced to concede that legislation had to be on the agenda, the issue was now what the legislation would contain.
Despite valiantly defending those who couldn't speak for themselves, Reid - just like Merrick before him - was browbeaten into submission by the system created by democracy, and freedoms were lost in favour of tyranny fostered by a highly-paid, intensely vocal minority.

This is the problem we face in the UK, and elsewhere, in the 21st century. Talk to any reasonable man or woman in the street and they will tell you they have no objection to smoking and non-smoking bars; that minimum alcohol pricing is a pretty lame idea; and that McDonald's and Coca-Cola are benign products over which there has been far too much fuss.

And if you can find anyone, but anyone, in a supermarket queue who doesn't think hiding tobacco displays is truly laughable you'll be doing very well.

Yet democracy has created these disconnects between what the public want and what over-thinking - and sometimes bullied - politicians end up promoting.

Yes, I know it's depressing, but just wait till I tell you how this system has now led to government intentionally attempting to bypass your conscious mind to implement policy. Since democracy now means they don't really need to consult you anymore, why the need to even let you mull over what they are doing 'for your own good', eh?

Tune in again soon, why don't you?


Smoking Scot said...

There's a guy by the name of Ron Paul who's living this stuff.

Dick_Puddlecote said...

Indeed. He's one of the few pointing out that democracy doesn't work if you have corporatism influencing legislation on the one hand, and quangoes, fake charities and vested interests doing so on the other.

It makes me laugh whenever reading some ignoramus on comments sections defending illiberal legislation on the basis that it's a result of 'democracy'. If they only knew how they are exhibiting their lack of understanding, they'd blush electric pink.

Jay said...

I love this post. Excellent and well said. Waiting for the next with bated breath...

*passes out*


Tony said...

Excellent post DP. As I see it we are forever stuck in this dodgy 2 party state (Lib Dems don't really count, they certainly won't after the next election lol.)

It's the same shit every election cycle, yet come next election cycle all the twats come out again and vote for the very same 2 party system that has enslaved them for years.

I don't think we'll ever shake this system of voting but I can't help thinking what would happen if we had a new party come into force (UKIP?) because all it is is either one set of arseholes or the other. Having said that no idea how UKIP would be as a major party but we are clutching at straws these days.

Christine Eubanks said...

"Yet democracy has created these disconnects between what the public want
and what over-thinking - and sometimes bullied - politicians end up

Maybe you're right, politicians keep on promoting then.I suggest democracy and freedom might be equal.

Xtine Eubank

Furor Teutonicus said...

XX [The AntiSaloon League] directed tens of thousands of floating voters
from the church pews to the polling station and the unfortunate Governor
was overwhelmed. XX

Aha! I was talking about something similar on a blog somewhere only at the beginning of this week.

This is how muslims here, get pubs closed down in "their areas", because "alcohol is incompatible with their "beliefs"" *

The problem being, the voting area is much larger than the pubs catchment area.

So, whilst a Berliner living five kilometers away from the pub will not bother his arse to go and vote for a pub he may have never set eyes on, or even heard of, the local muslim "communitys" are virtually whipping their fellow members to the polls.

Aye. It is "democcracy". Is theory not wonderfull?

* Strange, however, that more or less invariably, the pub buildings very soon after re-open as "Kebab houses", or "Water pipe cafés", or whatever turns that sort on. ALL of them guessed it laddie! Beers wines and spirits!

vapingpoint said...

Thank you. This post has helped me unravel some confusion I have been suffering about the strange way democracy seems NOT to be anything like I expected it should be. It's comforting to know my disappointment is not just that I'm imagining something because I'm old and grumpy, but noticing something that is really true. My best education comes from other people's blogs!

Jeff Wood said...

Aye, VP, being on the wrong end of two firearms bans and a smoking ban gave me a clue that democracy is irrelevant, and what is essential is liberty (with attendant personal responsibility).

The chaps who framed the US Constitution over 200 years ago knew this stuff backwards. Ironic that so much of what animated them, was first articulated in depth in Britain.

Now, Britain slips more and more quickly into a high tech, PC version of the old East Germany.

John Davidson said...

Thru out history armed conflict was the means to restoring freedom and destroying despotism. Todays despots require the same answer.
Economic collapse may be the the more explicit reason for revolution but revolution is whats required unless the powers to be learn quickly there mistakes in social engineering. But I highly doubt such will happen.
Waits with gun ready for the day...............

John Davidson said...

How would Herr Simon Chapman react if in his bunker writing propaganda when the revolutionists for freedom came for him!
While armed conflict is a long wide debate when such times come they happen in quick succession over nite and spread like wildfire as those being subjected to cruel and unusual punishment arise the world over. Tobacco control is not an isolated incident its a global problem and should be dealt with in a global revolution for freedom.

John Davidson said...

Hate mail and cyber trolls: the view from inside public health
Yes Dick ole Simon has his sights on you too!
Gerard's sentiments are shared by UK blogger "Big" Dick Puddlecote, who sounds like he might be a Beatrix Potter villian. According to Dick, I'm a "swivel eyed loon ... a sociologist who has posed as health expert for the past 30 years."
The pro-tobacco people also have a way with words. And the growing momentum toward plain packaging has made their heads spin like Linda Blair in the green projectile vomit scene in The Exorcist.
According to the tobacco lobbyists, I am "the Worst Public Health Person In The World ... the perfect storm of a card-carrying public health person who is harmful to both public health science and the public's health." I am also "responsible for the most pointless deaths of his countrymen since the guy who ordered the army to Gallipoli".

truckerlyn said...

It's the same shit every election cycle, yet come next election cycle all the twats come out again and vote for the very same 2 party system that has enslaved them for years."
I had this debate with neighbours and others a month or so ago and it seems, from what they all said, that who many people vote for is hereditary! Virtually all were saying 'my parents always voted Labour/Conservative and they really believed in them, so they would turn in their grave if we voted any differently'.
I tried explaining that the Labour/Conservatives their parents voted for all those years ago are long gone and the parties we have now bear little, if any, resemblance to their forebears, but that, it seems, does not matter, the name is the same (more or less) and these people feel that to vote for anyone else would be disrespectful to their parents - especially the ones that have passed away!
How the heck we get them to start thinking for themselves and voting for what each party actually represents rather than just a party name, I have no idea. There is no room for sentiment in politics (someone once said) but it seems there is every inch of room for sentiment amongst voters!

WitteringsfromWitney said...

A most brilliant post if I may say so, DP. One question though: have not we allowed the disconnect to happen? Something I will discuss over at my place with a link to you.

Tony said...


The funny thing is in areas of England (usually the north) you hear that a place is a "Labour stronghold", meaning of course that it has been Labour for X amount of years (sometimes a generation or longer) and people will traditionally vote Labour. This is the kind of dangerous nonsense that helps keep the 2 party LabCon state firmly alive.

Edward Cline said...

I have wanted to slap silly every person I have ever heard
or read extol the virtues and value of "democracy." There are too
many instances of "democracy" being a one-time only chance to vote
for one's enslavement or servitude. The Italians did it, the Germans did it,
the Russians did it, the Argentines did it – with a little help from goon
squads and terror and democratic dissembling. The United States was founded as
an individual-rights-defending republic, not as a "democracy," Christian
or otherwise. Yet it's hammered into everyone's head that it's a
"democracy." The Founders abhorred democracy. They saw in history that
every democracy degenerated into a populist circus, and then into out-and-out tyranny.
They wrote a Constitution to ensure that democracy would not take root. Yet the
socialists, progressives, and totalitarians pressed on and assured everyone
that they were on the side of the "people." And when they acquired
power, it was "the people" who were asked to make sacrifices – of their
rights, of the property, of their lives.