Every system needs to justify its authority. There must be some way it demonstrates that it is right. It seems to me that democracy uses two things to justify its authority to the world. These are:
If it wants to display its power or ‘right’ they either hold an election or go through some form of a trial. They seem to hold these two things as sacred, almost as if God’s hand works through them. I often feel that this is the principle behind them too. Through whatever happens a judgement is made, not by man, not by philosophies, but by some “divine” truth which comes out in the election or trial. In other words, by holding an election or trial it is as if no human is in control and, in so doing, reveals the ‘right’ course of things.
When democracy began to appear it had to compete with the then current political system with all its beliefs . . . and what beliefs were they. They include a centuries old traditions and beliefs that were rooted in everyday life. They include a system ‘sanctioned by God’ and, at one time, this political system was viewed as what held the world together. How could a new ‘upstart’ political system compete with that?
As it developed it began its own justification of its authority. Some of these originate from:
– Greece and Roman classics. Democracy is a direct result of the relearning of the classical works of Greece and Rome. The authority of Greece and Rome were quite significant.
– Christianity. The Bible and its stories often gave much example of authority for democracy. Moses freeing the people was an excellent example of the idea of a ‘people’ liberating themselves from an ‘oppressor’. It’s good to point out that right before democracy took hold (in the 1600’s) there was the Protestant Reformation. At this time, the Protestants were, themselves, freeing themselves from an ‘oppressor’, namely the Pope. I have also believed that democracies worship of the ‘people’ has origin in Christianities statement that the ‘people’ is the ‘body of Christ’.
– Law and legal authority. Much of this seems to stem from the preponderant use, especially in England, of legal documents, agreements, etc. in any political dealings. England has a long history of many of these legal documents dictating politics. Naturally in England, where the democratic movement really began to take fold, they would use this technique to justify their cause. By having legal documents signed and approved made it somehow made it ‘right’, whether it was or not.
– The growth of the merchant class. This class, which gained in power in early modern Europe, were not aristocratic and did not fit the current social model. In that sense, they helped ‘topple’ the aristocracy. Since the merchant class consisted of common people, which are most of the people in a country, it reinforced this idea of a ‘people’ of a democracy and that they were the ‘power’.
These justifications gave the democratic movement much feeling that they were right and helped justify their cause in their own minds. But, it was not enough to justify it with other people. This justification was proven to the world by voting and trials.
Being a democracy they naturally made voting very critical, as its the basis for the whole philosophy. Initially, though, this was only meant for people in an assembly of some form (like a parliament), not the general population. Even more important than this, particularly early on, is this idea that the government representatives were representing the people. A good example is how, in England, parliament ‘voted’ that they – the parliament – represented the people (January 4, 1649). This shows how the ‘mystical’ power of voting all of a sudden made them right. No debate, no philosophy. They voted and now it was right. The ‘mystical’ power of voting for the common people didn’t seem to really take on importance til the 1800’s.
Recently, some governments (such as the US) has forced its government style onto many peoples. Its often done this with force and without the consent and approval of the people themselves, nor were they given a choice as to what type of government style they wanted (which seems, to me, to contradict what democracy is about). Anyways, to justify their action this government holds an ‘election’ with the new government they forced onto the people. Interestingly, they seem to think that it’s result then ‘proves’ their government style is correct. Again, another example of the ‘mystical’ power of voting.
Trials seemed to be something historical circumstance gave democracy to ‘prove its point’. They were often created as a result of some conflict, such as the English Civil War or French Revolution. By holding trials it prooved the other side wrong. This proof was not in the form of a debate or a lecture or a statement. The trial gave this sense of a ‘divine message’ that they were right as if the truth was somehow mystically revealed in a trial. This is something no debate or statement could give.
The democratic movement seemed to have two main forms of trials:
1. Trials against leaders. The trial of King Charles I of England and King Louis XVI of France certainly were nothing but the democratic movement displaying its right. Because many of these trials were really nothing but a show of how they were right, they can be called ‘show trials’. This is true for many trials from King Charles I in 1649 to Saddam Hussein in 2003. It was not uncommon that they wouldn’t even let the defendant speak, only to say that they were guilty. This shows how the democratic movement began to use and manipulate the legal system for its own ends.
2. Trials against people viewed as ‘threats’. There are many examples of this. In fact, democracies trials of supposed ‘threats’ is unprecedented in history. Millions of people, since the French revolution, have died as a result of the democratic movements convicting of ‘threats’. In the French Revolution there is no better example than during the year of what is often called the Terror. Thousands lost their lives and were incarcerated. But by far the most was done by Communist Russia (not a lot of people realise that communism descends from democratic thinking and preaches ‘people rule’). Millions lost their lives, all a threat to the government. Even in the US there were little inquisitions but, luckily, they weren’t that bad. Many times the hunt for ‘threats’ take on the quality of a witch hunt, because thats exactly what they are.
Trials have the problem that once they start crimes can be created and found in just about anybody. They can snowball and grow bigger and bigger. These often happened with the trial of people perceived as ‘threats’. It can reach mania proportions and, soon, a wrong look is enough to get you in prison.
Democracy has had to use numerous means to justify its authority in a world where there are many other authorities that are just as, if not more, legitimate. Much had to be twisted and abused to create this justification. Even today, a lot of justification of democracy isn’t in democracy itself but in money. The US professes that everything is about democracy but, if you actually look at it closer, you’ll find that its actually money. The US repetetively has to ‘buy’ support from people and governments. This is done with other explanations, like saying they are ‘aiding’ the people or helping them in some way. Many people here in the US think this is real great, but few see the real motives behind it. There was an earthquake, I think, in Pakistan some years ago. I can remember Bush saying he wanted the military to go over there and give them aid so “it would make the US look good”, if I recall his wording right. There is the real reason why things happen. Really, they’re just buying their support. Not only that, governments and people will only support democracy as long as the money keeps coming in. Once the money is stopped support for democracy ends. This was seen even recently in Iraq and Afghanistan. This shows how money has been used to make democracy right, not that it is the correct government system. Because of this, I have developed that saying of mine: democracy doesn’t sell. If you look at the world you’ll see that few countries just take up, no less maintain, a democracy. The political theory may sound good but it basically doesn’t sell. The US has had to repetitively buy countries so they will support it.