Is It Really a Democracy What We Call “Democracy” Today?
Updated: Dec 11, 2020
As of today, almost everyone knows that the word “democracy” comes from two Greek words that is believed to mean “people” (δήμος/demos) and “rule” (κράτος/cratos) and that it has been used to denote a form of government in which the “people” (δήμος/demos) have the authority to choose their governing legislation. However, does the word δήμος/demos really mean “people”? Well… Not exactly.
Here is an episode that I still remember from my early childhood in Siberia:
“Look at them! What kind of people are they?” said an annoyed old man looking at the crowd storming a liquor store some five minutes before its closure...
«Where do you see the people here? It’s not the people! It’s just human garbage,” bitterly replied an old woman, obviously looking like a former political prisoner, and spat at her feet...
In fact, in ancient Greek poleis (city-states) the word δήμος/demos really meant not the whole population but only and exclusively the group of people who enjoyed the privilege of having political rights. The criteria for belonging to such a group in various states of Ancient Greece were slightly different from each other but, in any case, δήμος/demos did not include all the free citizens (not to mention slaves) but only those who could be considered decent, responsible and competent men.
To those of you who would like to go into further details on the topic, I would strongly recommend to read the two Ancient Greek books that are still applicable to this day. I mean The Republic by Plato and Politics by Aristotle. Despite the fact that both ancient political philosophers held different views towards democracy, they agreed that “the power of the mob” (later defined by Polybius as “ochlocracy”) could result in chaos, collapse of state systems and inevitable establishment of severe tyranny.
By the way, the Ancient Greek word ὄχλος/ochlos which is usually translated as “mob” or “crowd”, in certain context can also be translated as “rabble” or “plebs”.
So, what is the difference between democracy and ochlocracy?
To put it short, one can say that:
DEMOCRACY in the ancient Greek and Roman meaning is the political system in which decisions are made with the participation of responsible and more or less competent citizens (Plato, by the way, considered it the worst form of government),
OCHLOCRACY is the political system under which ALL subjects of the state take part in decision-making (or rather believe that they take part in it).
Accordingly, if a state can boast the universal suffrage, it means that it has established NOT democratic, but ochlocratic order.
In all modern "democratic" countries, and in most countries with dictatorship, there is universal and equal suffrage, in one form or another. Consequently, the word "democracy" is applicable to them only in quotation marks, because, in fact, those countries are not democratic ochlocratic ones.
There is something else that is worth mentioning here:
Professor Michael J. Sodaro of Columbian College of Arts and Sciences and the author of quite popular textbook Comparative Politics: A Global Introduction, defined three conditions under which a society can be considered democratic:
(1) The presence of democratic institutions, such as elected parliament, elected president, independent court system, etc. (as of today, all the above institutions formally exist in almost all countries of the world).
(2) The presence of democratic traditions in society (accordingly, one cannot talk of democracy in countries such as, for example, Burkina Faso, Cambodia or Russia).
(3) The existence of mechanisms that make democratic institutions functional; these mechanisms include but are not limited o the freedom of speech, freedom of public discussion and independent media. Obviously, there can be no talk of democracy in such countries as the contemporary USA, Canada, Great Britain, Germany, and France, where people are losing their jobs even for expressing their personal opinions on Facebook and other social media platforms.
As a former professor, I am taking the liberty of adding one more condition to the above:
(4) The existence of a sufficiently high living standard which allows working citizens to have enough time and energy to get involved in politics. Indeed, there is no democracy on an empty stomach when working people have to take two or more jobs to be able to pay their basic bills. Unfortunately, as of today, the majority of working people in such countries as the USA, Canada, Great Britain, Germany and France simply cannot afford any involvement in politics. Accordingly, once again one cannot talk of democracy under such economic conditions.
Basing on the above, it is quite clear that what we call “democracy” today is not really democracy.
Now let us take a quick look at how and when did the ochlocratic system of government begin to take shape in Europe and in other countries of European backgrounds (I hope everyone knows that democracy originated in Europe).
The first country to introduce universal and equal suffrage was France, where it was enacted (although for men only) in 1792, more than two years after the French Revolution of 1789. That enaction, however, was immediately followed by the era of mass "revolutionary" terror, which stopped only after the counter-revolutionary coup of July 27, 1794.
Under the influence of the French Revolution, during the period that began in the mid-19th century and ended in the mid-20th century, universal and equal suffrage was introduced in almost all countries of Europe and North America, marking the official transition from democracy to ochlocracy. Prior to that, in most more or less democratic countries, there were certain requirements, only by satisfying which, a person could participate in the election of government bodies, thereby proving that he was a fairly responsible citizen, competent in at least some areas of life. In most cases, these requirements were limited to property qualification or ownership of real estate of a certain value.
Of course, we all know that the degree of personal wealth and prosperity is not always the best criterion to define that a person is worthy to participate in the elections, but it was at least some kind of social filter.
Today we can see that , unfortunately, the majority of population of our countries consists of the people who ... (no, we will not call them "fools" or "simpletons")... who have no or little knowledge in the spheres of politics and economy and are often guided by greed, envy and unrealistic expectations. Because such people are majority, their voices prevail under the conditions of universal suffrage, whereas the voices of intelligent, responsible and competent citizens are in the minority. As a result, we get "the power of the mob" which, in turn, paves the road to what the Russian historian Mark Solonin defined as "the dictatorship of scoundrels", and it goes without saying that such a dictatorship does not bring anything good - neither to the responsible citizens, nor to the mobs. It leads only to the collapse of civilization, chaos and wretched lifestyle.
Let me add at the end that MAYBE (although I'm not sure about it) universal and equal suffrage could be effective in some small countries where the level of education and culture of the majority of the population is high enough so that that majority could qualify as "responsible and relatively competent". However, in view of the current education systems dominated by the left-wing radicals, it's hard to even dream of such societies.
Here the question arises: if there is a problem, then how can it be rectified?
The answer is difficult and could be rather unpleasant.
Someone might advise to offer a small financial “compensation” for not participating in the elections. E.g., a citizen is given a choice: either to vote or to take a cheque for…$1000. I bet more than 60% will choose cash.
Someone else might also suggest a military coup under the leadership of a personality similar to Carl Mannerheim, Joseph Pilsudsky, Syngman Rhee or Augusto Pinochet. But I would refrain from commenting this variant keeping in mind the “freedom of speech and expression” in my country.