Living argument against democracy

After the collapse of most Western monarchies, democracy got to be seen as the best political system imaginable, perhaps the only decent one possible. But this adulation didn’t start yesterday.

Franchise has been steadily expanding in all Western countries, with democratically elected institutions acquiring more and more power. It has got to a point when no argument about, and especially against, democracy seems to be imaginable.

Well, not as far as I am concerned. I can start and finish a credible argument against democracy with two short words: Joe Biden.

A political system can be judged on many criteria, but surely the most important one is its record in elevating to government those fit to govern. And, comparing unchecked democracy with even absolute monarchy, I’m not convinced the former emerges the clear winner.

Actually, the extreme, absolute form of monarchy hasn’t existed anywhere in the West for the best part of three centuries, longer in England. Democracy, on the other hand, has been absolute everywhere in the West for at least a century.

Still, even allowing for an impure comparison between a system long since extinct and one well-nigh dominant, monarchy more than holds its own. The usual argument against it is that there’s no guarantee that hereditary succession won’t throw up an incompetent monarch.

True. In this world we aren’t blessed with perfect systems. T.S. Eliot pointed this out in poetic form when he decried “dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good”.

However, while thanking people for pointing out the woeful imperfection of monarchy, one can still take exception to the implication that democracy is conspicuously better in that respect. That’s when it helps to utter the two words I mentioned: Joe Biden.

Moreover, I’d suggest that a man who is from early childhood trained to govern by the best minds of his time stands a better chance of getting good at it than someone who has to learn on the job. Especially if he happens to be a chap who became a professional politician soon after graduating from a provincial law school.

Joe Biden is such a man. He graduated 76th in his class of 85 at Syracuse University. Part of the reason for such a low ranking was a paper he wrote, or rather plagiarised, from a law review article.

That wasn’t a one-off lapse: when Biden first stood in a presidential election in 1988, he similarly ripped off a speech by Neil Kinnock, who himself couldn’t be easily confused with Demosthenes or Cicero.

Biden’s career in the Senate was marked mainly by soporific speeches that even Obama, himself not the sharpest chisel in the box, found crushingly boring. He also liked to wear his Catholicism on his sleeve, while voting with remarkable consistency for every anti-Catholic measure (such as public financing for abortions).

That such a man could eventually be elected president in his dotage is a poor advertisement for democracy. Even in his prime, Biden didn’t come within a million miles of the level expected from the Leader of The Free World.

But he is well beyond his prime now. Two brain aneurisms and malignant tachycardia Biden has suffered have severely hampered his cognitive ability, which wasn’t of sterling quality to begin with.

Take it from me – all old men suffer some decline. Yet much depends on their starting point. An intelligent man with an IQ of 160 may lose a quarter of his top level and still end up with an IQ of 120, way above average. The same decline in a man with an IQ of 100 will produce an idiot.

I don’t know what Biden’s IQ was before he went gaga, but hardly a day goes by without him coming across as a confused man who doesn’t quite realise where and what he is, nor recognise the people around him.

He can’t even read the teleprompter fluently and, whenever he has to say a few words off the cuff, he sounds incoherent and pathetic. At his press conference the other day, instead of answering a question, he assumed a praying position by bowing his head down on his hands.

Joe Biden is incompetent at even running the routine business of quotidian governance. When a crisis arrives, he becomes what Americans call a clear and present danger.

All this was already evident during his campaign. And yet the electorate put him into the White House where he manifestly doesn’t belong.

Why? All sorts of spurious reasons, the principal one being that he wasn’t Trump.

Now, for all my reservations about the previous president, I doubt he would have handled the current situation in Afghanistan in Biden’s craven and inept way. That too was predictable, but the electorate wasn’t sufficiently smart to predict anything.

Nor is it just an American problem. In fact, I can’t think offhand of many great Western statesmen in my lifetime. Adenauer, perhaps. Thatcher, with a few reservations. Reagan, maybe, with even more reservations. De Gaulle? Fine, I’ll give you that. Anyone else? Well, you get my point.

Speaking specifically of American presidents in my lifetime, I can’t think of anyone who could be described as a statesman without fulsome generosity. Yet in the 17th century, during the period as long as my lifetime, France had Richelieu, Mazarin and Colbert – outstanding statesmen every one of them.

And that was during the reign of two absolute monarchs, Louis XIII and Louis XIV. Moreover, if you insisted, I could perhaps name a few others during the same period, who each stood head and shoulders above any modern politician, as far as human material is concerned. Manny Macron, anyone?

The idea that democracy doesn’t depend as much on individual brilliance doesn’t quite wash. It may not need statesmen of Colbert’s standard, but it’s certainly vulnerable to chronic and, what’s worse, ideologised idiots like Biden. If you don’t believe me, ask those Afghanis at Kabul airport. Or, better still, the families of the 13 US soldiers brought home in coffins.

The greatest political thinkers from Plato and Aristotle onwards, all the way to Burke, De Maistre and Tocqueville, were well aware of the congenital drawback of democracy. They knew that, to be successful, democracy heavily depends on a highly educated and limited electorate.

In Athens, the required quorum was only about 5,000 men. And both great Athenians suggested that this was not only the minimum acceptable but also the maximum desirable number of active participants in a democracy. Burke believed that only 5,000 Britons were qualified to vote in his day. Anything more, and democracy turns into mob rule (“deviant constitution”, as Aristotle described it).

And a mob made up mainly of functionally illiterate philistines can’t vote intelligently and responsibly. Bono publico? They don’t even know how their own bono could be served best.

It’s worse than just having nincompoops at the helm. For, after several generations of democracy run riot, a certain type of politician evolves, one who knows how to get elected but neither has a clue how to run a government nor gives this matter much thought until he has to. By then it’s too late.

Then the vicious circle closes: an unqualified electorate cultivates unqualified leaders, who in turn condition the electorate to remain unqualified. Rather than merely producing the Bidens of this world, this vicious circle practically guarantees that first mostly and then only Bidens will spin out. It’s only by an increasingly rare accident that this circle is ever broken.

So do our politicians and political scientists spend sleepless nights trying to think of wise and just ways to limit democracy and counterbalance it with other mechanisms of power? Quite the contrary.

Instead they talk about expanding the franchise even further, to include 16-year-old children, though not yet their pets (canine Americans?). And their public pronouncements are full of sycophantic praises of “the people”, who are invariably commended for their goodness and sagacity.

Are you surprised that a Joe Biden comes out at the other end? I am not.


22 thoughts on “Living argument against democracy”

  1. Biden is not, in all probability, a democratically elected leader. But aside from that, I quite see your point. People talk of politicians as if they are some alien species, if only they were.

    1. Electoral fraud has been an essential element of democracy since at least the days of Themistocles (fraudulently ostracised in 471 BC). Biden is therefore a democratically elected leader in accordance with democratic tradition!
      But we readers of Plato and Aristotle know that any political system is to be judged by its outcomes, and a political system that produces such leaders as the USA has had from Clinton onwards, and the UK has had from Major onwards, is an obvious failure. Aristotle would have analysed our current political systems as a combination of demagoguery and tyranny, too weak to survive external attack.

      1. When I’m asked to name my favourite British PM, I always name George Canning, who was PM for 118 days in 1827. What recommends him is both the depth of his thought and the brevity of his tenure.

  2. It has been rightly said that democracy turns on a soundly educated and informed electorate.
    Several countries have, during the last century, expanded the voting franchise by reducing the minimum voting age from 21 to 18 years of age.
    This can be problematic, not just because of physiology of developing grey matter. Life experience as well comes into play.
    At the time when the minimum voting age was 21 years, many youngsters left school in their mid teens, and entered the workforce, alongside adults. Thus they would be exposed to the workaday world, for several years, before casting their first ballot.
    Slight digression, the drop in voting age has come at a time when youngsters are spending more time at school; thus a rather reduced window of exposure to adult life with still developing grey matter.
    This can, make for a perfect political storm.

    1. The usual argument one hears is that, if people are old enough to die for their country, they are old enough to vote. That’s like saying that a lad who is old enough to play for a football team is also old enough to manage it.

  3. Like Van Eyck’s portraits, your choice of photos are not very flattering to the subject, Mr Boot, but certainly get to the heart of the matter

  4. Absolute disgrace. It seems that the magic ballot paper is suppose to usher in the millennium in their eyes. After the debacle in Afghanistan, people should just turn in their voter registration cards.

  5. Here in Oz, there is now no telling Conservative leader from lefty, all are cut from the same cowardly cloth, beholden to loud minorty groups with a totally compliant media as their footsoldiers. I heard an unconfirmed rumour that our premier (Alleged Conservative) is living with a man. If so, I’m not shocked, so far have the left dragged us. With Ardern, the antipodes are coast to coast “progressives”.

  6. “but hardly a day goes by without him coming across as a confused man who doesn’t quite realise where and what he is, nor recognise the people around him.”

    And those persons in authority at the highest levels of the Democratic party that persuaded Biden to run for the Presidency of course never saw any of this coming? Sure they saw it but convinced the man to run when he should not have. Evil!

  7. “…[T]he principal one being that he wasn’t Trump.” After four long years of anti-Trump reporting in our “free press”, this was a much larger factor than it should have been. People that I thought among the smartest I have ever met proudly joined the “Anyone but Trump” camp. Really? Anyone? Lenin? Idi Amin? That clever saying showed that they really had no argument against his policies; that any disagreement was personal, at best.

    I am not surprised “that a Joe Biden comes out at the other end” (which is where I think most politicians come from), but I am certainly disgusted by it.

    I did not expect Biden to make it this long. I assumed he was a shill, an electable placeholder put there as a front for the more extreme members of the party. I expected his death to be hastened by his own party in order to elevate Mrs. Harris to the top spot. (Shudder at the thought.)

    1. You’ve put your finger right on it. I too found few of Trump’s policies that I disagreed with. And I’m afraid I too find him a revolting man. However, politics these days is not about a search for absolutes – it’s about choosing the lesser of two evils, even if that means the evil of two lessers. Hence I do believe that anyone who chose Biden of those two isn’t qualified to vote, and shouldn’t be allowed to, ever again. As to Kamala becoming present, as a result of either Biden’s death or (more likely) the 25th Amendment being invoked, God save us. Biden, during one of his senior moments, has already referred to her as President Harris. Someone like her can cause enough irreversible damage in four years to put paid not only to America but also to the West as such.

  8. What an unholy mess American presidential politics is in! Worst of all, many other countries rather depend on American leadership.

  9. 20th century liberals introduced two, totally unsustainable, political measures:

    1) The welfare state – which requires generation on generation population growth in order to sustain it.

    2) The universal franchise – where more and more people will vote for a slice of someone else’s money; and a poor electorate producing poor politicians.

    I still do not believe that Biden won a free and fair election. The statistical anomalies, the desperation to challenge audits, the reversal of everything that used to be described as ‘bellwether’, the unexplained and unprecedented stoppage in vote counting…

    And so what if Trump wasn’t a nice guy? Or someone who hadn’t been to Ivy League/ Oxbridge, to be fed a diet of the latest Marxist/ Trotskyist – sorry (ahem) ‘progressive’ theories? Trump smashed ISIS in five months by removing the lawyers that stood in front of US special forces and telling them that their job was to destroy the caliphate – end of.

    Sometimes you need a coarse, Manhattan street hustler who knows how to apply ‘leverage’.

    1. Hear, hear! Trump’s coarseness is exactly what we needed in a world dominated by legacy or nepotistic elites. Mr Boot’s anti-Americanism
      Is about the only thing I take issue with from time to time.

      1. I’m not anti-American when it comes to individuals. I am, when it comes to Americanism, which I more or less equate with modernism. That I indeed abhor. As to Trump, I just happen to think that a president (or a prime minister) is the face a country presents to the outside world. When that face is crude, vulgar and feral, the country loses quite a bit of its international reputation, and I’m not sure even good policies can repair the damage. Trump is also pro-Putin, which in my book fully equivalent to being pro-fascist. Having said that, I would have still voted for him, given the alternative.

    2. ISIS doesn’t look smashed – just ask those on the receiving end of the attack on Kabul airport. And it’s not a matter of Oxbridge/Ivy league education (although it helps – some of my best friends got it, and none of them is a Marxist, although I see your point) – it’s a matter of having the benefits of our culture and civilisation. Those aren’t easily observable in Trump. Nor can I see much leverage that Trump applied on Messrs Putin and Lukashenko. Quite the opposite: they applied leverage on him. Moreover, he got up so many people’s noses that the electoral pendulum reacyted by swinging far leftwards, in the direction of a conceivable Marxist government. (Some of Trump’s divisiveness was due to hysterical propaganda in the media, with my wayward son leading the way. But some was his own doing.)

  10. “A pure democracy is generally a very bad government, It is often the most tyrannical government on earth; for a multitude is often rash, and will not hear reason. ”

    – Noah Webster

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