Is Democracy Rule of the People?

The very etymology of the word suggests that democracy is the rule of the people. Democracy has even been called “self-rule” and the decisions of democratic governments are often considered the will of the people. All that is ideological nonsense.

To be a ruler is to have the authority and power to inflict violence on a group of people, called the ruled. Rulers use this right to threaten the ruled with violence in an effort to control their behaviour. This threat of violence may be extended on a case-by-case basis or codified into laws.

Thus we can see that the idea of self-rule is absurd. There is no reason to compel oneself to do anything through threat of violence. We already have direct control over ourselves. In a sense one could say that everyone always rules himself, but that is a useless statement and says nothing about whether one is also ruled by others. Nor is it appropriate to call it “self-rule” if the rulers share some feature such as ethnicity, language, or nationality with the ruled.

Do the people actually rule in a democracy? Certainly not in a representative system. Under such a system, it is the government and not the people who rules. The rulers are the presidents, ministers, and other officials. The people are the ruled, not the rulers. A particular member of the ruled class, let’s call her Alice, may have the right to vote, but that certainly doesn’t make her a ruler.

All she can do is choose between a small number of viable candidates. Often there are actually only two candidates that have a realistic chance of winning (and sometimes even just one). Let’s say she can choose between Carl the conservative and Sandra the socialist. But what if she believes in capitalism (and hence doesn’t want to vote for Sandra), but is in favour of gay marriage and abortion being legal (which Carl opposes)? All she can do is vote for the lesser evil.

By casting a vote, she presumably makes it ever so slightly more probable that one particular party will rule over her, rather than another. In fact, the chances of her vote actually mattering are infinitesimally small. The only case where her vote could change something is if the result of the election is down to a single vote.

As Lew Rockwell puts it(archived link since the original link is now dead), “Your vote doesn’t count, unless the election is decided by one vote, and you have far more chance of being killed on the way to the polls than that happening.”

However, even allowing for the astronomically remote possibility of Alice’s vote mattering, it doesn’t mean that Alice becomes a ruler. Even if the party or candidate she favours comes into power thanks to her one extra vote, she still doesn’t gain any right to use or threaten violence or to pass laws. She also doesn’t gain that power by proxy.

Let’s say she has helped elect President Carl into office. Before the election, Carl gave a list of promises about what he would do if he were elected. However, Alice has no power whatever over Carl now that he’s elected. Carl can renege on any and all of his promises and Alice has no recourse against him. Carl can pass laws that Alice finds repugnant, he can create new taxes that Alice disagrees with, but that she is still forced to pay. He may even start a war that puts Alice’s very life in danger. There is nothing she can do to stop him.

Therefore, it is clear that Carl is not a representative of Alice. A representative is someone who is compelled to act in your interest. Alice would have to be insane to hire a lawyer to represent her under the condition that the lawyer may charge what he wants for his services, may decide to render his services in any way he sees fit and regardless of any prior agreements, cannot be fired, and will continue to represent her for a period of four years. Such a lawyer would not be a representative at all, and neither is any politician.

The one pathetic little bit of power Alice holds over Carl is her ability to vote for another candidate in the next election. And then she once again finds herself in the position of her vote being insignificant and having no way of knowing what a candidate will do once elected.

We can clearly see that Alice belongs squarely in the group of the ruled and that she in no way can be said to be in the group of the rulers. But what about the people as a whole? If Alice alone isn’t a ruler, can the people as a collective be the rulers? No. Groups have no existence of their own, they are merely collections of individuals. There is no the people. There are only people.

The notion that democracy is rule of the people has no factual basis. It’s ideological propaganda designed to get people to believe in the absurd notion that somehow they are responsible for what the state is doing to them. It is the grown-up version of the playground bully’s taunt: “Stop hitting yourself.”

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