When you read The Animal Farm, you know that Orwell is talking about the Soviet Union. But is he? It is obvious, you might say. He wrote it at the height of the Cold War when the ‘free world’ was at loggerheads with the Communist block. But then the American Declaration of Independence has “all men are equal”. It was penned down when slavery was legal, many who signed the Declaration owned slaves, and women did not have the same rights as men.
All men are equal but some men are more equal than others.
Times have changed, America abolished slavery. It has fought multiple wars to end ‘tyranny’ and ‘oppressive regimes’ in other countries. And we now live in a time when more people are ‘free’ than at any point in history – a major part of the human race lives in democracies.
Democracy. Few words have captured the human imagination the way democracy has. Power to the people. The common folk choosing the people who will lead (govern) them. But is Democracy the best form of government? The Athenian democracy is one of the first democracies. But what if I told you it was a lottery system?
Strange right! But our form of democracy is no better; it is a popularity contest! People are elected to office simply because they are popular.
Now I am not advocating monarchy. It has its host of issues, and there are way too many examples in history to prove that it is not sustainable. Monarchies started by charismatic men, from Cyrus the Great to Alexander the Great, have fallen from grace due to mediocre successors. Democracy should ideally eliminate this problem – the people elect their leader. ‘Natural selection’ applied to governance.
However, I believe that the fundamental flaw of a democracy is that common folk decide who becomes their leader. How is the common man qualified to choose a statesman? You and I know little about how a state is run and the science behind governance. That’s where the popularity part comes in. Candidates participate in a popularity generating reality show. And with the tools (social networks and analytics) available to them today, they can influence the masses faster than Anthony at Caesar’s funeral!
And then there is “First Past the Post”.
So what is a better system? I do not have an answer. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, democracy may be a terrible form of government – flawed, fallible, inefficient, and corrupt – but it’s better than any of the alternatives. Maybe the solution is providing people with tools to help them make better choices.
Hopefully, one day our species will look back at our era and be amused (as we are of the Athenians), and marvel at how things have improved.