Some folks argue that a true democracy can only exist when citizens vote directly on policies. This form of government (direct democracy) emerged in the city state of Athens in ancient Greece where all adult males were eligible, and expected to meet, debate and vote directly on all laws. In today’s world it brings to mind Brexit and St. Albertans’ vote on the library.
The alternative is called representative democracy in which the sovereign power resides in the people and is exercised by representatives selected by them through periodically held free elections to govern according to the laws of that society.
Variations of the theme of this type were practiced in ancient Rome before the emergence of the Caesars. However, for most other advanced societies throughout the world, democracy faded and monarchical governments ruled until, in Europe (England and France excepted), they came crashing down in the early years of the 20th century. Most of Europe in 1918 became a governmental Humpty Dumpty.
Out of the collapse of monarchism in Europe came two competing visions of ‘government by the people’ – communism and fascism.
The former emerged from a political theory formulated in the reading room of the British Museum by Karl Marx in 1848. He advocated a society where all property was publicly owned and each person was to be paid according to their abilities and needs. This was to be accomplished by a societal war where the working class (proletariat) would take over the means of production from the ruling classes (bourgeoisie). Russia adopted communism as a form of government in 1917 after 350 years of Czarist rule.
The major competing force for governmental control in Europe was fascism – a form of authoritarian ultranationalism which was comprised of a one party system headed by a strong leader and a martial government made up of members of the party. It advocated national economic self-sufficiency with protectionism. It promoted private ownership but incorporated government intervention in the market process to protect against market failures. Italy adopted this form of government under Benito Mussolini in 1922 and it spread to Germany with the rise of Adolf Hitler in 1933.
European fascism was defeated in the Second World War and representative democracy has gradually emerged as the predominant form of government in the European Union. Fascism appears to be alive and well in Russia.
And now we have a problem in the U.S. Its president, Donald Trump, was elected on a populist platform where ‘the people’ were the good guys and the Washington Congress and press were ‘the elite’ and thus corrupt and self-serving. On his way to the White House, he passed the first requirement for election to his office – he was born in the U.S. (remember former president Barack Obama’s birth certificate?). Secondly he had achieved the American dream – he mastered the lifestyle of the rich. Thirdly, he removed morality from the field of political and judicial debate. Fourthly, and most importantly, he mastered the art of persuasion.
As for our upcoming federal election, I remain unpersuaded.
Alan Murdock is a local pediatrician.