WHY DEMOCRACY IS WRONG

Democracy does not deserve the semi-sacred status accorded to it. In Europe, democratically elected politicians such as Jörg Haider, Jean-Marie Le Pen, Silvio Berlusconi, Umberto Bossi, Gianfranco Fini and Pim Fortuyn are a reminder of democracy's defects: an anti-racist dictatorship is preferable to a racist democracy. Democracy is expanding globally, but not because of its moral superiority. Military intervention is now the standard origin of democratic political systems. Any universal ideology will tend to crusades and messianic conquest, and democracies feel entitled to 'bring freedom' to other countries. Below, more on the ethical problems, definitions of democracy, the issue of inequality, the defects of democratic culture, the nation as the 'demos', the claimed justifications for democracy, and alternatives to democracy.


Revised December 2002, last changes 13 May 2006.


In a large ocean there are two neighbouring islands: faultless democracies with full civil and political rights. One island is extremely rich and prosperous, and has 10 million inhabitants. The other is extremely poor: it has 100 million inhabitants, who live by subsistence farming. After a bad harvest last year, there are no food stocks, and now the harvest has failed again: 90 million people are facing death by starvation. The democratically elected government of the poor island asks for help, and the democratically elected government of the rich island organises a referendum on the issue. There are three options: Option A is a sharp increase in taxes, to pay for large-scale permanent structural transfers to the poor island. Option B is some increase in taxes, to pay for immediate and sufficient humanitarian aid, so that famine will be averted. Option C is no extra taxes and no aid. When the votes are counted, 100% of the voters have chosen Option C. After all, who wants to pay more taxes?

So 90 million people starve. Yet all electoral procedures on both islands are free and fair, the media are free, political campaigning is free, there is no political repression of any kind. According to democratic theory, any outcome of this democratic process must be respected. Two perfect democracies have functioned perfectly: if you believe the supporters of democracy, that is morally admirable. But it clearly is not: there is something fundamentally wrong with democracy, if it allows this outcome.

The defect is not hard to find: the people most affected by the decision are excluded from voting. The issue is the composition of the demos, the decision-making unit in a democracy: it is a recurrent theme in the ethics of democracy. Democratic theory can legitimise a political community in the form of an island of prosperity, and then legitimise the selfish decisions of that community. This theoretical possibility corresponds with the real-world western democracies. Millions of people are dying of hunger and preventable disease, yet the electorate in rich democracies will not accept mass transfers of wealth to poorer countries. They will not accept mass immigration from those countries either. A causal relationship has developed at global level, between democracy in the rich countries, and excess mortality elsewhere (famine, epidemics, endemic diseases).

This is not the only such problem with democracy. Despite its quasi-sacred status, democracy has many ethical defects which are either evident in practice, or easily illustrated by hypothetical examples.

The treatment of minorities is perhaps the most recognised defect of democracies. Between the mid-1930's and the mid-1970's, the Swedish government forcibly sterilised thousands of women, because of 'mental defects', or simply because they were of 'mixed race'. Yet Sweden has been a model democracy for the entire period. The democracy worked: the problem is that democracy offers no protection to marginalised and despised minorities. The usual answer of democrats is that excesses can be prevented by constitutionally enforced individual rights. There are two problems with that.

First, no constitutional rights are absolute: President Bush showed how easy it is to overturn fundamental constitutional protections. Simply by redefining some American citizens as 'illegal enemy combatants', he was able to intern them. Some groups are in any case openly excluded from the usual democratic rights, most notably illegal immigrants (more on this later). The Australian government detains asylum seekers in internment camps in the desert: its hard line accurately reflects the attitudes of a racist electorate. The detainees can't vote, can't engage in political activities, and have no free press, but Australia is still considered a democracy.

The second problem is that basic rights allow wide limits. Treatment of minorities may be harsh and humiliating, without infringing their rights. A recent example in the Netherlands is a proposal to impose compulsory genital inspections for ethnic minorities. The aim is to combat female genital mutilation, but every ethnic Somali parent, regardless of their own circumstances, would be obliged to present their daughters for annual genital inspection. Eritreans, Egyptian and Sudanese might be included under the legal obligation, even if they were naturalised Dutch citizens. The proposal has majority support in Parliament. It is not law yet, but since Somali's are a marginalised and often despised minority in the Netherlands, there is nothing they can do to prevent its implementation.

So long as they avoid certain types of policy, and outright violence, democracy allows a democratic majority to impose its will on a minority. They can impose their language and a culture, and both impositions are normal practice in nation states. They can also impose their values, which may be unacceptable to the minority: the best example is democratic prohibitions of alcohol or drugs. Alcohol prohibition in the United States, enforced through a constitutional amendment, was a direct result of democracy. Since there was (and is) no 'right to drink', the Christian anti-alcohol majority could simply use the democratic process, to make their values the national values. 'Prohibition' was repealed in 1933, but the 'War on Drugs' of the last 20 years is at least as comprehensive in terms of policy and effects. Successful prohibition movements are a special case of the inherent anti-minority bias in democracies.

There is a more general effect: it is very difficult for an innovative minority to succeed in a democracy - and most innovations are first proposed by a minority. Like many political systems, democracy has an inherent bias toward the existing, as against the possible. Innovations must go through the political process, which in that sense is an anti-innovative barrier, but the existing social order does not have to prove its existence rights. A large-scale example of failed innovation in democracies is the European high-speed rail network, first proposed in the 1970's. Since then, not even planned national networks have been completed. The pan-European project failed primarily due to lack of political enthusiasm. But should it be abandoned, simply because there is insufficient 'will of the people'? If an innovation has no democratic mandate then a democracy will not implement it - but should democracy have this priority over innovation? The issues are scarcely considered in democratic theory: the priority is simply taken for granted.


Empirical: testable propositions about democracies

The best-known classic hypothesis about democracies is the so-called democratic peace theory. It is promoted by pro-democratic campaigners and by politicians, as 'scientific evidence' of the need for democracy. The claim is that 'democracies do not go to war with each other'. The research typically compares dyads - pairs of countries/states. A statistical measure (frequency of war) is possible for different categories - democracy against democracy; democracy against non-democracy; and non-democracy against non-democracy. It is one of the few classic 'testable hypotheses' in international relations theory. Unfortunately for the democracy lobby, research failed to demonstrate conclusively that democracies are more peaceful among themselves. Nevertheless, it suggests other testable propositions about democracy. Several of the criticisms of democracy presented here, can be stated as sociological or political-science hypotheses, indicating possible research projects: they are given in separate boxes such as this one.

Definitions of democracy

Definitions of democracy follow a standard pattern, a sign of a stable and established ideology. Often, as in the version by Thomas Christiano, the definition separates the historical ideal, and the structure of modern democracies. The historical ideal is usually Athenian democracy, but there is no real continuity between ancient and modern democracy. The comprehensive survey Antike Traditionen in der Legitimation staatlicher Systeme shows that most western political regimes appealed to classical predecessors.
a) Reiche in der Nachfolge des Imperium Romanum.
b) Absolutistisch verfaßte Fürsten-Staaten.
c) Aristokratische Stadt-Republiken.
d) Stände-Konföderationen.
e) Herrschafts-Vikariate und Kolonialverwaltungen.
f) Konstitionelle Republiken.
g) Demokratische Republiken (i. S. eines parteilichen Volksbegriffs).
h) Konstitutionelle Monarchien.
i) Moderne Diktaturen.
k) Moderne imperiale Systeme.
l) Moderne internationale Gemeinschaften.
Antike Traditionen in der Legitimation staatlicher Systeme, Christian Gizewski, TU Berlin.

It is very unlikely that all these regimes correspond exactly to one regime 2500 or 2000 years ago. The appeal to classical models is itself a tradition in western culture - not an absolute historical truth. As modern industrial societies, Nazi Germany and democratic Britain probably had more in common with each other, than either of them with ancient Athens.

Robert Dahl's version is the best known of the dual definitions. He was one of the first to revise the simple definitions of democracy, and introduced the word 'polyarchy' to describe modern democracies. The polyarchy definitions, which emphasise political pluralism and multi-party elections, have become the standard political science definitions of democracy. The newest definitions emphasise democratic rights, rather than the democratic regime itself. But remember that most definitions of democracy (including those quoted below) have themselves been written by supporters of democracy. No neutral definitions exist...

It is now standard to include political and/or civic rights in the definition of democracy. The best known example of this approach is the Freedom House Annual Survey. In fact, rights checklists seem to be the emerging standard definition of democracy. The online paper The theory and measurement of democracy (Gizachew Tiruneh) includes a list and comparative table of indices of democracy: most are rights checklists. Here is the Freedom House political rights checklist:

These rights are associated with the alternation of government: they allow one government can be replaced by another. The polyarchy definitions of democracy insist, that there must be a possibility to change the government, through democratic procedures. However democrats also insist, that there should be no other possibility to change the government.

The Freedom House checklist on civil liberties and the rule of law includes:

Note again that this is largely a checklist of rights, yet I am quoting it as a definition of democracy. That is how it is used in practice. It reflects the current idea of democracy, among theorists and public in the democratic countries. Civil rights, political rights, and democratic government are all seen as integral components of democracy.

the opposite of democracy

Supporters of democracy refer to Hitler and Fascism, to imply that anyone who opposes democracy is "like Hitler". That is usually intended as an insult, rather than an insight into the nature of democracy. However, political theorists do contrast democracy with dictatorship, authoritarianism, and totalitarianism, and the last of these is indeed based on the Nazi regime, as a historical model.

The theory of totalitarianism was formulated in the United States in the early 1950's, in a climate of anti-Communist hysteria. Its central claim is that the ideology, regimes, and social systems under Hitler and Stalin were more-or-less identical. In the Second World War the United States and the Soviet Union were allies against Hitler, but the 'reversal of alliances' at the start of the Cold War made the theory of totalitarianism attractive.

Coined in the interwar years, but coming into wide usage only after 1945, the term pointed to features of Nazi and Communist regimes that were said to make them "essentially alike" and that distinguished them from traditional autocracies....Whatever the theory's analytic merits, in the 1940s and 1950s it performed admirable ideological service in denying what to the untutored eye was a dramatic reversal of alliances. It only seemed this way, the theory asserted; in fact the cold war was, from the standpoint of the West, a continuation of World War II: a struggle against the transcendent enemy, totalitarianism, first in its Nazi, then in its Soviet version.
Peter Novick (2000). The Holocaust in American Life. New York: Houghton Mifflin. (p. 86).

By the 1960's the theory was out of fashion, although the comparison Hitler-Stalin is still used by liberal propagandists. And 'totalitarian' is still the word most democracy theorists would use, if they were asked to name a political system opposite to democracy. Second would probably be 'authoritarian' - and terrorism would not be named at all. Although President Bush may speak of a 'war on democracy and freedom' by terrorists, that does not mean he sees terrorism as a system of government. It is possible to speak of a totalitarian regime, or a totalitarian society - but it is difficult to imagine a permanently 'terrorist' society or a terrorist parliament.

With hindsight, the definition of totalitarianism is too obviously a description of regimes and political styles of the 1930's and 1940's. Like George Orwell's '1984", also written at the start of the Cold War, its image of oppression now seems dated. In 1953, Carl J Friedrich listed 5 defining characteristics of totalitarian societies:

1. An official ideology, consisting of an official body of doctrine covering all vital aspects of man's existence, to which everyone living in that society is supposed to adhere at least passively; this ideology is characteristically focused in terms of chiliastic claims as to the "perfect" final society of mankind.

2. A single mass party consisting of a relatively small percentage of the total population (up to 10 per cent) of men and women passionately and unquestioningly dedicated to the ideology and prepared to assist in every way in promoting its general acceptance, such party being organized in strictly hierarchical, oligarchical manner, usually under a single leader....

3. A technologically conditioned near-complete monopoly of control (in the hands of the party and its subservient cadres, such as the bureaucracy and the armed forces) of all means of effective armed combat.

4. A similarly technologically conditioned near-complete monopoly of control (in the same hands) of all means of effective mass communication, such as the press, radio, motion pictures, and so on.

5. A system of terroristic police control. depending for its effectiveness upon points 3 and 4 and characteristically directed not only against demonstrable "enemies" of the regime, but also against arbitrarily selected classes of the population, such arbitrary selection turning upon exigencies of the regime's survival, as well as ideological "implications" and systematically exploiting scientific psychology.
Carl J Friedrich (1954) 'The unique character of totalitarian society'
in: Totalitarianism. New York: Grossett & Dunlap.

Historically, the vast majority of regimes were non-democratic - but most of them do not fit this profile. And today, a society with none of these characteristics might also be seen as fundamentally undemocratic. In 1953 'human rights abuses' were not mentioned - yet they are now considered a definitive characteristic of non-democracies. So totalitarianism is not usable as a general ''definition of non-democracy'. Probably, the early theorists did not intend that anyway, but the term has acquired a secondary meaning of 'non-democratic'. Since the definitions of democracy are increasingly checklist definitions, the word totalitarian is used simply to mean 'a regime without a, b and c' - without free elections, without political pluralism, without a free press, without all the other elements on the checklists. So although most pre-modern regimes had none of Friedrich's characteristics, they are sometimes thrown into the general category 'totalitarian'. A similar problem exists with 'authoritarian' and 'authoritarianism' (and often with 'autocratic' as well). Although specific definitions exist for specific types of authoritarian political system, the term is often used to mean simply 'non-democratic'...

There are a wide range of alternatives to democratic government. We shall call regimes that have little or no element of democracy, authoritarian or autocratic governments. There are, of course, many kinds of authoritarian regimes including traditional monarchies and aristocracies; non-traditional dictatorships and military juntas; and totalitarian regimes. For the purposes of this paper, we will ignore the important differences between these different authoritarian regimes.
Are Democracies Stable? Compared to What?, Marc Stier and Robert Mundt.

Democracy exists where the principal leaders of a political system are selected by competitive elections in which the bulk of the population have the opportunity to participate. Authoritarian systems are non-democratic ones.
Samuel Huntington and Clement Moore (eds., 1970), in their 'Conclusion' of Authoritarian Politics in Modern Society: the Dynamics of Established One-Party Systems New York: Basic Books. (p. 509).

When Huntington and Moore wrote that in 1970, the one-party state seemed the definitive modern form of non-democratic state. Like the definition of totalitarianism, however, that now seems too historically specific, too obviously based on the 'Soviet Bloc' state.

defining the democratic ethic: legitimacy and secession

The 'democratic ethic' is easier to formulate, than a definition of a democratic system. In a perfect democracy with no anti-democrats, the inhabitants would all adhere to this ethic. Two of its basic principles are given below. It is not fictional or hypothetical - most inhabitants of the democracies do indeed think like this. However, that can not in itself justify democracy.

The first and most important component of the democratic ethic is so obvious, that it is rarely explicitly named. It is the principle of ethical and political legitimacy: "a democratic government should not be overthrown". In the normal course of affairs, democratic states rely on legitimacy to preserve their own existence and cohesion. Overthrow of the government is totally off the political agenda: it is taboo to even discuss it. There is no large army to suppress armed revolts, because there are no large armed revolts - and no small ones either. The United States is a nation of gun-owners, but despite a month of political feuding over the Gore-Bush election result in 2000, not a shot was fired for political reasons. That was a remarkable achievement, in a country with a history of secessionism, Civil War, and military conquest of ethnic minorities. The 'normal course of affairs' is historically not normal at all.

What would happen if legitimacy disappeared completely? In principle, you could hold free and fair multi-party elections in an open society - and then overthrow the democratically elected government, after each election. That could happen every week, but it would not be considered 'democracy'. This emphasises the formalism and proceduralism of democracy: once followed, the democratic procedures are claimed to produce legitimacy. The government which is elected by the democratic procedures becomes the absolutely legitimate government. If legitimacy is strong, then it becomes culturally taboo to overthrow it. It even becomes taboo not to see it as 'our government'. Because US citizens think this way, the United States is politically stable.

To be a democrat means, that you think this should happen: you believe that the democratically elected government is legitimate and must be accepted as legitimate (unless it is itself anti-democratic). The procedures are not an ornament, they are the essence. This legitimacy claim is a major ethical defect of democracy - because procedure is no substitute for morality. Most democrats go much further, and would claim explicitly that a democratically elected government, which has acted on a decision made in accordance with democratic procedures and the rule of law, should not be overthrown, even if the action is morally wrong.

At the heart of democracy is something which is morally unacceptable. What democrats are saying, is that no value may override democracy. In terms of regime preference, they are saying, for instance, that a democracy which tortures, is preferable to a dictatorship which does not. Now, all states claim political legitimacy - that their laws should be obeyed, that their judges are entitled to judge, that they may raise taxes. However, the claims of democrats imply ethical legitimacy, a claim to moral authority. It is more like the infallibility claim made by the Catholic Church, which asserts that certain declarations by the Pope are the absolute moral truth. The democracy theorist Christiano writes...

Other values may compete with democratic ideals and sometimes override them...
Thomas Christiano (1996) The Rule of Many: Fundamental Issues in Democratic Theory. Boulder: Westview. (p. 4).

But democratic governments do not generally concede this. Instead the word 'democratic' is widely used as a synonym for 'legitimate", legitimate in both the political and moral sense. This moral judgment is extended outside the narrow political sphere. Many democrats see democracy as a morally legitimising force, which can be applied to any decision - a sort of moral detergent. These views are vaguely held, but democrats are more explicit about the mirror image of this attitude. They generally believe that there is no moral force, or authority, or principle, which can legitimise non-democratic reversal of democratic decisions.

In the democratic ethic, the only remedy for any defect of democracy is democracy itself. In a democracy, there is certainly no political authority external to the democratic process: there is no 'appeal to a higher tribunal'. No other method or process is accepted as a legitimate response to the democratic process, and certainly not the use of force. The word 'undemocratic' is used as a synonym for 'criminal' or 'hostile'. It is used to suggest an attack on society, a form of terrorism.

Christiano and other theorists of democracy are ignoring these political realities, if they suggest democracy is not an absolute. In practice, democrats accord an absolute moral priority to democracy, and an absolute legitimacy. The evidence for this is simple: they will concede nothing that overrides it. Not even principles such as justice: the democrat will simply say that democracy is itself justice, or at least the path to justice. If democrats deny that any moral principle can override democracy, then it is correct to say that they treat democracy as a moral absolute. These claims for democratic legitimacy indicate the primary function of democratic theory in western democracies. It serves to legitimise the existing order, however wrong that order may be. Pro-democracy theorists have a lot on their conscience.

The second important component of the democratic ethic is the prohibition of secession. Unlike the legitimacy claim, the democratic principles concerning secession are often discussed - for instance in Canada, in connection with Québec secessionism. Unlimited secession would make democracy pointless. If free and fair multi-party elections are held in an open society, but anyone who disagrees with the result can set up a separate state, no democrat would accept that as a democracy. For democrats there must be a unit, beyond which secession is not permitted: this unit is the 'demos'. Again, its modern expression is the democratic nation state. The indivisibility of the demos is as important as legitimacy, because legitimacy collapses in the face of secessionism. Secessionists see the existing government as 'foreign', and they no longer feel any obligation to its laws, institutions, and policies. So a democratic government ultimately depends on military power to sustain itself in office, and to prevent the unlimited secession of minorities. This aspect of the democratic ethic brought democrats into a long-term alliance with nationalism. No guns,no democracy.

Inequality and democracy

Democracy has failed to eliminate social inequality, and this seems a permanent and structural failure. It is undeniable that all democratic societies have social inequalities - substantial differences in income, in wealth, and in social status. These differences have persisted: there is no indication that inequality will ever disappear in democracies. In the stable western democracies, inequality is apparently increasing. The pattern established in the United States is, that the lowest incomes do not grow: all the benefits of economic growth go to the higher-income groups.
Average household income before taxes grew in real terms by nearly one-third between 1979 and 1997, but that growth was shared unevenly across the income distribution. The average income for households in the top fifth of the distribution rose by more than half. In contrast, average income for the middle quintile climbed 10 percent and that for the lowest fifth dropped slightly. Furthermore, income growth at the very top of the distribution was greater yet: average income in 1997 dollars for the top 1 percent of households more than doubled, rising from $420,000 in 1979 to more than $1 million in 1997.
Historical Effective Tax Rates, 1979-1997., Congressional Budget Office, 2001, p. 5

Some form of social inequality is inherent in democracy - a fact neglected by most democratic theory. In a theoretical democracy of 100 voters, a party of 51 voters can confiscate the property of the other 49. They can divide it among themselves. However, if one voter is sick on election day, they lose their majority. A party of 52 has more chance to divide the property of the minority, but now the minority is 48 and there is slightly less to divide. A party of 99 will have guaranteed success against a minority of one, but the shares after division will be small.

In practice, a coalition of two-thirds, or three-quarters, can successfully disadvantage a minority (one third, one quarter). For instance, the majority might exclude the minority from the main labour market, and then force this excluded underclass into workfare. The emergence of an underclass is usually seen as a structural change within a society, but it might be simply a side-effect of democracy. Every democracy is a temptation (to the majority) to disadvantage minorities. In practice, every existing liberal democracy is a dual society, with some politically marginalised minority (typically the urban underclass).


Testable propositions: inequality

Several testable propositions are available for the hypothesis of structural reinforcement of inequality in democracies:

  • in all democratic states there is inequality of wealth and income
  • inequality of wealth and income has not declined permanently in any democratic state
  • in democracies stable over more than one generation, inequality of wealth increases
  • in democracies stable over more than one generation, inequality of income increases

The first proposition is more or less self-evident: the inequality is there. The fact that democracy is rarely investigated as a causal factor is itself a political choice. Most sociologists are democrats: they are not likely to blame democracy for inequality.

In the past, aristocratic conservatives feared that democracy would allow the poor to confiscate the wealth of the rich. In reality, the historical trend seems exactly the opposite. Increasingly, western democracy is not about 'ordinary people' against the elite: it is about ordinary people joining with social elites to 'bash the underclass'. Guarantees of fundamental rights do not prevent a low-status minority being targeted, politically and socially. In several European countries political parties compete against each other, to show how tough they are against an unpopular minority - for instance asylum seekers. There is nothing the minority can do, so long the political parties do not infringe their rights. Unfortunately this development is probably still in the early stages: the worst is yet to come. In a democracy, those at the bottom of the social scale can expect steadily worsening conditions of life.

a fatal transition to democracy

The post-1989 transition in central and eastern Europe provided the first comprehensive indication of the negative effects of democracy. (Liberal democracy in combination with the free market, which is what western media and governments mean, when they talk of democracy in eastern Europe). In the older democratic states, the present model of democracy was formed over 100 or 200 years. Britain in 1800 can not be compared with Britain two centuries later: the huge differences are not simply 'the result of democracy'. However, in eastern Europe modern states acquired a new political and economic system within a few years - with a complete statistical record. Russia in 1985 can be compared with Russia in 1995: the difference is largely due to the economic and political transition. The UN Development Program listed 7 social-economic costs of the process (the reference to "life expectancy levels achieved in the 1990s" should apparently read "1980's"):
The process of transition in the region has had huge human development costs, many of which still continue unabated.... Summing up the seven costs of transition across the whole region underscores the dramatic and widespread deterioration of human security....
TRANSITION 1999: Human Development Report for Central and Eastern Europe and the CIS, UNDP (Chapter 1).

The report itself has more detail on all of these aspects, and especially on poverty. In historical perspective, this is clearly not indicative of a voluntary choice for emancipation and progress. Instead these characteristics are consistent with the traditional historical pattern of expansion by conquest: more on this 'democratic conquest' below.

So what would happen if the existing market democracy was abolished, in an older liberal-democracy such as Britain or the Netherlands? It is not possible to recreate 1980's 'Soviet-bloc' societies in these countries, but experience in eastern Europe indicates the possible benefits of a reverse transition...

Supporters of democracy themselves use social and political comparisons between very different societies - for instance between Stalin's Russia (or Hitler's Germany) and the present USA. The western lobby in favour of the transition process in eastern Europe also quote its successes - again using longitudinal comparisons of non-comparable societies. If cross-generational, cross-cultural, cross-societal comparisons are acceptable in justification of democracy, then why not in criticism of it?

death in democracy

Income inequality is probably not the best indicator of structural inequalities in democracies. The statistics on health give a more comprehensive picture of a fundamental, long-term, inequality - apparently resistant to all declared government policy. The evidence for a worsening gap is also clearer in the health statistics.

Above all, inequalities in mortality are a moral defect of democracies. This comment is on western European countries: all of them are democracies:

The differences in mortality and morbidity are quite shocking. Economically inactive men have three times the risk of premature death observed for employed men. While strong health selection increases the risk of exclusion from the labour market, it seems likely that there is also reverse causation due to social isolation and stress. Finland and Norway were used to illustrate the concept of healthy life-expectancies. Norwegian and Finnish men with post secondary education live 3-4 years longer than men with basic education, and 10-12 years more of healthy life, that is, without chronic debilitating illness. One important change between the 1970s and the 1980s is that Sweden, Norway and Denmark have lost their relatively favourable international position in terms of the size of mortality differences between classes. There are some other striking findings; French men in lower socio economic groups had much greater excess mortality than the European average, which Kunst et al suggest may be due to the level of alcohol consumption; and while Nordic countries show large morbidity differences by education level, Great Britain shows large mortality differences by income.
Health and health care policy : inequality and the risks of exclusion, Council of Europe Human Dignity and Social Exclusion Project. See the CoE site for footnotes and references, deleted here.

Public health and epidemiology journals are full of such examples of health inequalities. In several countries there have also been major national studies, which confirm that health and mortality inequalities are a general pattern. In Britain, the 1998 Acheson Report on health inequalities showed that they had worsened since the last major study, the Black Report in 1980. Those were the years of the Conservative governments in Britain, so perhaps the Conservative policies are responsible. But that is the point: those Conservative governments were democratically elected. If democracy was a system which prevented inequalities in death rates, then democracy would prevent a government which worsened those inequalities. If democracy was a system which prevented inequalities in death rates, then there would be no inequalities anyway. But there are, and democracy is apparently making them worse....

Over the last twenty years, death rates have fallen among both men and women and across all social groups. However, the difference in rates between those at the top and bottom of the social scale has widened.
For example, in the early 1970s, the mortality rate among men of working age was almost twice as high for those in class V (unskilled) as for those in class I (professional). By the early 1990s, it was almost three times higher. This increasing differential is because, although rates fell overall, they fell more among the high social classes than the low social classes....not only did the differential between the top and the bottom increase, the increase happened across the whole spectrum of social classes....
Death rates can be summarised into average life expectancy at birth. For men in classes I and II combined, life expectancy increased by 2 years between the late 1970s and the late 1980s. For those in classes IV and V combined, the increase was smaller, 1.4 years. The difference between those at the top and bottom of the social class scale in the late 1980s was 5 years, 75 years compared with 70 years. For women, the differential was smaller, 80 years compared with 77 years....
Premature mortality, that is death before age 65, is higher among people who are unskilled. Table 4 illustrates this with an analysis of deaths in men aged 20 to 64 years. If all men in this age group had the same death rates as those in classes I and II, it is estimated that there would have been over 17,000 fewer deaths each year from 1991 to 1993....
Inequalities in Health: The Current Position, Independent Inquiry into Inequalities in Health Report (Acheson Report). Footnotes and references deleted.

The estimate of excess deaths - excess in comparison with equal death rates - gives an idea of the scale of suffering involved. Research in Spain estimated a national 10% excess mortality by geographical areas:

Excess number of deaths in the most deprived geographical areas account for 10% of total number of deaths annually....Total annual excess of deaths was estimated to be about 35 000 people in Spain.
Juan Benach and Yutaka Yasui. Geographical patterns of excess mortality in Spain explained by two indices of deprivation, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 53 (1999): 423-431.

It is hard to show that democracy causes these deaths, but it certainly does not prevent them. That is, in itself, reason to question its moral legitimacy. In eastern Europe, the scale of deaths associated with the transition to market democracy was far greater. Roland Scharff estimated the total excess deaths in the reform years (1992-1996) at 3,5 million.

Als vorläufiges Fazit bleibt festzuhalten, dass sich während der fünf Reformjahre ein Natürlicher Bevölkerungsverlust in einem Umfang von 3,5 Mio. "toten Seelen" aufsummiert hat.
Roland Scharff . Transformation und Bevölkerungsbewegung in der Russischen Föderation, Osteuropa-Wirtschaft 43, 3 (1998): 255-268.

This mortality episode is the best documented in history, and the transition itself was its cause. Yet even this fades into insignificance, compared with excess mortality at global level....

the issue of Africa: global inequality

Although the democratic states are the most prosperous in history, democracy has failed to eliminate inequality at global level. Despite the great personal wealth evident in some democratic nations, millions of people in the poorest regions of Africa live under conditions, comparable to mediaeval European averages. Although not all states were democratic during the 20th century, the richest states were. Nevertheless, the general global distribution of wealth has not shifted substantially in the last 150 years. This also seems a permanent and structural failure of democracy. Democracy does not induce the rich to give their money to the poor: not locally, not globally. Not as individuals, not as societies, not as states.

Every year the wealth of the democracies increases: every year the gap between the richest democracies and the poorest countries increases. Mass resource transfer, for instance in the form of transfer taxes, is increasingly feasible - and also increasingly urgent. Some democratic states have organised programmes of resource transfer: the largest in history is probably the aid to East Germany after reunification, financed by an extra income tax. But that is a special case of a divided 'Volk'. The European Union has an explicit policy that no regional 'GNP' should stay below 75% of EU average. It also aids applicant states, with a maximum of 6% of their GNP in any one year. Yet no such transfer programme exists for the poorest countries. Probably, only the German programme matched the level of resource transfer from the Soviet Union to Mongolia: approximately 30% of GNP. The collapse of the Soviet Union promptly led to widespread extreme poverty in Mongolia, with famine in the spring of 2000.

The pro-democracy development theorist Amartya Sen claims that democracy prevents famines:

...in the terrible history of famines in the world, no substantial famine has ever occurred in any independent and democratic country with a relatively free press. We cannot find exceptions to this rule, no matter where we look: the recent famines of Ethiopia, Somalia, or other dictatorial regimes; famines in the Soviet Union in the 1930s; China's 1958-61 famine with the failure of the Great Leap Forward; or earlier still, the famines in Ireland or India under alien rule. China, although it was in many ways doing much better economically than India, still managed (unlike India) to have a famine, indeed the largest recorded famine in world history: Nearly 30 million people died in the famine of 1958-61, while faulty governmental policies remained uncorrected for three full years. The policies went uncriticized because there were no opposition parties in parliament, no free press, and no multiparty elections. Indeed, it is precisely this lack of challenge that allowed the deeply defective policies to continue even though they were killing millions each year. The same can be said about the world's two contemporary famines, occurring right now in North Korea and Sudan.
Democracy as a Universal Value, Amartya Sen, 1999.

Yet the rich democratic states had enough resources to feed all these people: and they did not. Structurally, they did not. They could have flown these millions of hungry people to the United States, western Europe, or Japan, where there was enough food. They did not. Amartya Sen does not regard this as a defect of democracy: indeed, he seems blind to the issue. If opposition parties in parliament, a free press, and multiparty elections stop famines, and the worlds richest state has all of these, then why are there still famines on this planet?

A causal relationship between democracy and famine exists primarily at a global level. It would be most acute, in a world order of perfectly democratic nation states. Such a world order would institutionalise the selfish behaviour of the hypothetical rich democracy, described in the introduction. Nation states generally consider the national wealth as reserved for that nation - not available for total redistribution to others. In nation states, by definition, the national territory is reserved for members of the nation. The democratisation of a nation state reinforces there inherent qualities. The electorate generally does not want to give 'their money' to foreign countries, and they do not want to dilute their standard of living by mass immigration. A democratic and national world order does not cause droughts or crop failures. However, it destroys two standard historical responses to famine: redistribution of food, and migration to non-famine areas. Although there is no historical tradition of mass migration for medical care in response to high mortality, it destroys that option also. The national-democratic world order - the dream of Kofi Annan - imprisons the poor in poverty and ill-health. In some cases their situation is improving: in Africa it is acutely worsening.


Testable propositions: global inequality

In terms of inequality, it seems that a planet is better off without any democracies. Historically, the rise of democracies coincided with a period of unprecedented global inequality. Supporters of the democratic peace theory imply causal relations from this kind of simple correlation ("if there is no war, then democracy caused the peace"). Similar conclusions can be drawn in connection with these testable propositions, such as these about inequality...

  • absolute global inequality between states, as the gap between the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in the poorest and the richest state, is greater since modern democracies emerged
  • relative inequality between states, as the ratio of per capita GDP in the richest and poorest states, is greater since modern democracies emerged
  • statistical measures of 'national-income' inequality will show a greater coefficient of inter-state inequality in the period of democracies (about the last 150 years) than before it
  • inter-state inequalities of this kind are greater between democracies and non-democracies, than within the group of democracies, or the group of non-democracies

Testing some of these would be difficult: historical economic data is limited. But it would be very surprising if they are not true - for the simple reason that the democratic countries are the rich countries.

There is already enough data on long-term patterns of economic growth, to conclude that the rich-poor gap among states is increasing. Research by Angus Madison for the OECD, indicated that the gap (in GDP/capita) between western Europe and sub-Saharan Africa was about 3-to-1, in 1820. By 1990 it had increased to 20-to-1. During this long period western Europe was not continuously democratic, so this Europe-Africa gap is not equivalent to the gap between democracies and non-democracies.

However, that has changed: in the last generation, 'democracy' and 'rich country' have become almost equivalent. According to the 2004 World Bank estimates, over 1,1 billion people live on less than $1 a day, the same as a decade earlier. (These figures are already corrected for the differences in purchasing power). In sub-Saharan Africa the proportion living under this official 'extreme poverty' limit rose to 46%.

The income ratio - of the poorest 20 countries to the richest 20 - has doubled in the last 40 years. And for that time at least, most of these rich countries were democracies. There are a few rich non-democracies, such as the United Arab Emirates, and some poor democracies such as Cape Verde. But the correlation between a democratic regime and prosperity is now so strong, that some democracy theorists see prosperity as a precondition of democracy. Others claim a causal link in the other direction - "democracy makes you rich'. Perhaps - but the statistics suggest it does so by keeping others poor.

In broad terms, sub-Saharan Africa has a European 19th-century standard of living. It would take 150 or years to follow the path to prosperity taken by western Europe - and western Europe had no massive HIV/AIDS epidemic. 150 years may not even be enough. At the current rate of progress, according to the UNDP Human Development Report 2002, it would take more than 130 years, simply to rid the world of hunger. The UNDP seeks to reduce child mortality in Sub-Saharan Africa by two-thirds by 2015, but the 2003 Human Development Report estimates it will take 150 years more at current trends. Figure 2.1 gives estimates of the time needed to achieve all the 'Millennium Goals' relating to poverty, health and equality: it extends to 2200. In some areas 'progress' is negative - at current trends the goals will never be reached. Here too, the negative trend at global level is most acute in the mortality statistics:

....while there is heated debate on whether income inequality is increasing between rich and poor countries, inequality in child mortality has gotten unambiguously worse. In the early 1990s children under five were 19 times more likely to die in Sub-Saharan Africa than in rich countries - and today, 26 times more likely (figure 2.2). Among all developing regions only Latin America and the Caribbean saw no worsening in the past decade relative to rich countries, with children still about 5 times more likely to die before their fifth birthdays.
United Nations Development Programme.
Human Development Report 2003, 39-40.

Inequality for the mothers is even worse: the 2004 World Bank estimate is that mothers in the poorest countries are 100 times more likely to die in childbirth or pregnancy, than mothers in the rich countries. More detailed statistics from the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) show that the estimate was too optimistic. Chapter 7 of the State of World Population Report 2004 gives the ratio between maternal deaths per 100 000 live births in the developed countries and sub-Saharan Africa. It is 20 to 920, or 46 times worse. Because birth rates are higher, the 'lifetime risk of maternal death' is 1 in 2800 in the developed regions, but 1 in 16 in sub-Saharan Africa - 175 times greater. The difference is so great, that almost all maternal mortality would be prevented, if the health care standards of the developed world applied globally. About 500 000 lives would be saved each year. It is the worst measured health inequality:
But huge differences - up to a hundred-fold - exist in the risk of pregnancy between women in rich and poor countries, the highest differential of any public health indicator monitored by WHO. The lifetime risk that a woman in West Africa will die in pregnancy or childbirth is 1 in 12. In developed regions, the comparable risk is 1 in 4,000. Because they receive prompt and effective treatment, women in the developed world rarely die or experience permanent disabilities from pregnancy-related problems.
United Nations Population Fund.
State of World Population Report 2004, 52.

Nevertheless, the rich countries did not provide sufficient funds to extend their own health care standards to Africa and Asia, or even a fraction of what would be needed. In fact they even defaulted on earlier commitments, so that only half the agreed funding was available. A month before the G8 summit in 2005, with its dramatic talk of 'Marshall Plans' and increased aid, the UNDP confirmed that earlier grandiose promises, in 2000, had not been met. The World Bank is, not surprisingly, pessimistic about the future...
On current trends, the goals of reducing child and maternal mortality will not be attained in most regions, and only a small proportion of countries (15 to 20 percent) appear to be on track. The goal of halting and reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS and other major diseases (malaria, tuberculosis) appears daunting; their incidence continues to rise, further aggravating conditions affecting child and maternal mortality and entailing broad and serious economic and social consequences. The risks of failure to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS are especially high in Sub-Saharan Africa...
IMF / World Bank
Global Monitoring Report 2004, Summary

And the UNICEF progess report on the Millenium Goals (May 2006) confirmed that goals for reduction in undernutrition are not beng met either. Again, in Africa there is no progess at all...

But little improvement has been seen in sub-Saharan Africa, where underweight prevalence remained roughly the same over the 1990 - 2004 period. In fact, given this lack of progress and due to population growth, the total number of underweight children actually increased in sub- Saharan Africa.

It is not morally acceptable to insist that Africa should 'develop itself' by duplicating the poverty and inequality of 19th-century England, while suffering a demographic crisis comparable to the Black Death. It is not morally acceptable to demand 130 years of avoidable hunger, even if the result is universal prosperity. The 'development' option is no longer an option at all.

Yet this is apparently what the democracies are demanding. Certainly there is no 'political will' in the democracies, to introduce the massive transfer taxes that would be necessary to close the gap. Democracies seem structurally unable to generate this political will. The UN aid target of 0,7% of GNP has never been reached. According to the OECD Development Assistance Committee, its member states donated 0.33% of GNI in 2005. That was up from 0.26% in 2004, but most of the rise in 'aid' was accounted for by one-off debt relief arrangements, and the Development Assistance Committee expects a fall in aid in 2006 and 2007. The UNCTAD Least Developed Countries Report 2004 shows a total aid to the poorest countries of $15 137 million (Table 23). For their 700 million inhabitants, that is $22 per year, or 6 dollarcent per person per day. That is a gesture, not a transfer of wealth and income. An indicator of the unwillingness to transfer is provided by the World Health Report 2004: 4 to 8 million people need immediate treatment for AIDS, and at most 10% are getting it.

All the DAC members are democracies, with maximum scores for 'political rights' in the Freedom House Survey. What chance is there, that they will ever approve the 70% income transfers needed to evenly spread global 'GNP'? The realistic answer must be: it is simply not possible to close this gap, so long as they are democracies.

The conservatism of democratic culture

At best democracy is no more than a system of government, but in western democracies it has acquired a sacred status, and it is taboo to question it. Yet there is no moral basis for this cult of democracy, for this sacralisation. As Bhikhu Parekh says of liberalism:
Unless we assume that liberalism represents the final truth about human beings, we cannot indiscriminately condemn societies that do not conform to it.
Bhikhu Parekh (1993). The cultural particularity of liberal democracy, in David Held (ed.) Prospects for Democracy: North, South, East, West Cambridge: Polity. (p. 169).
A democracy is different from other possible societies, cultures, and regimes: by definition it substitutes itself for them. This substitution is not inherently good: democracies have specific defects, in their culture and society. Most prominent is the conservative bias: democracy and democratic culture structurally limit innovation.

The uniformity and conformity of liberal-democratic societies has been criticised, for almost as long as they exist - from the 19th century on. At first, these criticisms amounted to a nostalgia for aristocratic individualism, and it is still a favourite tactic of democrats to label all criticism of democracy as 'elitist'. John Stuart Mill is typical of this type of aristocratic criticism, directed at the emerging mass society:

It does seem, however, that when the opinions of masses of merely average men are everywhere become or becoming the dominant power, the counterpoise and corrective to that tendency would be, the more and more pronounced individuality of those who stand on the higher eminences of thought. It is in these circumstances most especially, that exceptional individuals, instead of being deterred, should be encouraged in acting differently from the mass. In other times there was no advantage in their doing so, unless they acted not only differently, but better. In this age the mere example of non-conformity, the mere refusal to bend the knee to custom, is itself a service. Precisely because the tyranny of opinion is such as to make eccentricity a reproach, it is desirable, in order to break through that tyranny, that people should be eccentric. Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character has abounded; and the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigor, and moral courage which it contained. That so few now dare to be eccentric, marks the chief danger of the time.
On Liberty, John Stuart Mill 1859.
(Chapter III: On individuality, as one of the elements of wellbeing).

However not all anti-conformist criticism can be dismissed as aristocratic nostalgia. In the 100 years after Mill wrote, the aristocratic culture of noble eccentricity became culturally marginal. Instead, new forms of individualist 'eccentricity' emerged within mass culture, especially from the 1960's onwards.

Criticism of conformity is primarily criticism of liberal society, rather than democracy as a political regime. Democracy in itself can not be blamed for a uniform culture, a static culture, or social conformity. But in their political culture, democracies have failed to match the image they present. Pro-democracy propaganda, for instance in eastern Europe just after 1989, presents democracy as politically dynamic and internally diverse. In reality, all western democracies have stable party systems, dominated by elites: together they form what in Italian is called the classe politica. It is extremely difficult to break open this 'political class', from outside: the system is neither dynamic, nor open to innovation. As a result, it is not a force for social and cultural innovation either.


Testable propositions...

The idea of increasing political conformity and uniformity is difficult to operationalise, but these propositions could be investigated...

  • in democracies, the range of political ideas (in the manifestos of parties elected to parliament) shrinks.
  • in democracies, the difference in stated aims between major parties (those with more than 5% of the vote) also shrinks
  • democracy inhibits the formation of major new political parties (fusions of existing parties excepted): the chance that, in any 10-year period, a completely new party will gain more than 5% of the vote, is small.
  • democracy inhibits the formation of major new political-ideological groups of parties (comparable to the green parties in western Europe, the only such example in the last generation)

Democracy has brought societies which are monotonous and uniform, at least to some of the people who live in them. But not only that. Democracy has failed to bring utopia. That is, it has failed to bring into existence any proposed ideal society, or any other proposal of a 'utopian' type. Democracy itself can be labelled a 'utopia', and the present liberal-democratic societies are historically unique - nothing like them existed before the 19th century. So, in that sense, democracy has brought at least a new democratic society, which is itself an ideal society for some people. But nothing else. No dramatically new type of society has emerged among the democracies, differing from the standard model of these societies. And most liberal-democrats would in fact be hostile to the label 'utopia' being applied to these liberal-democratic societies.

The liberal tradition is resolutely hostile to utopias: anti-utopianism seems a defining characteristic of liberal ideology. That hostility has shaped the present liberal-democratic societies. Liberal anti-utopianism and democratic anti-totalitarianism are in practice the same thing. Some liberals explicitly equate the two, and see totalitarianism as the result of utopian ideals. They believe that the 20th-century totalitarian regimes derive from the European utopian tradition. The early-modern ideal city, the ideal city-states of the type described in Thomas More's original book 'Utopia", were for them the source of all later evil. (Many postmodernists share this distaste for utopia, and the belief that there is a direct line from Thomas More to Auschwitz). In other words, there are liberal-democrats who believe that the political system should be so structured, as to save society from utopian experiments. To them, democracy is (at least partly) a mechanism to prevent utopia. I think they are right about the nature of democracy: but it is democracy, not utopia, which must disappear.

....historical inevitability dictated the triumph of individual human rights that was inherent in the political transformation that mankind was experiencing, particularly in the phenomenon of mass political awakening with which we wanted to identify the forces of democracy and freedom.
This was our response to the challenge posed by the notion that so dominated our century: that a coercive utopia derived from dogmatic hubris, that a perfect society, a form of heaven on earth, could be constructed by political compulsion.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, Morgenthau Memorial Lecture 1995.

The resistance of democracy to innovation, is clearly related to the reluctance to accept any criticism of it. Although pro-democratic theorists often say they are not claiming democracy is perfect, in practice it does have a semi-sacred status. So in democratic societies, criticism of democracy, even without questioning its fundamental principles, is regarded with suspicion and hostility. Especially, democrats are reluctant to accept that a democratic system can be corrupted. They may try to associate this criticism with fascism: corruption and 'decadence' were indeed major themes of anti-democratic propaganda in the 1930's. Logically, that implies that there is an underlying belief that democracy is in some way 'pure' or 'perfect'. In turn this creates a tendency to social self-worship, at its most extreme in the United States. Widespread belief that the existing society is perfect or quasi-sacred, creates a climate for complacency and social conformity, not for innovation. Sacralisation is, by definition, a contra-innovative social phenomenon: the sacred is preserved, to abolish it is sacrilege.

A conservative and anti-utopian bias has specific effects inside a nation state. No existing democracy began in an ethical and cultural vacuum of the kind used in social-contract theories. Their values are the pre-existing values of the constituent demos (nation). The 'democratic values' in a democratic nation-state are the values of the dominant ethno-cultural group, which first constituted that nation-state. Danish democratic values are Danish values, Norwegian democratic values are Norwegian values. Rejection of these values would require an individual moral choice, and the truly democratic citizen does not exercise individual moral judgment, but blindly accepts election results. That mentality is unlikely to produce innovation in the core values: most will be transmitted unchanged from one generation to the next. Paradoxically, the source of values in a democracy is often not the voters, but the voters' ancestors.

The myth of moral superiority of democracy

Democratic states can claim no morally superior origin. Their own mythology places their origins in the political movements of 'the people' (starting with the older western democracies).
Let me sum up the past two hundred years of democratic history. The intertwined histories of democratic legitimations, social movement activism and institutional changes generated, in some of the world's states, a significant democratization of the institutions of government. Despite antidemocratic countertrends, the long run direction of change in some of the states was a democratization of state power.
Globalization and the Future of Democracy, John Markoff.
(Journal of World-Systems Research, Vol. V, 2, 1999, 277-309)

This mythology is sometimes linked to a belief in the superiority of a proto-liberal western civilisation - 'from Plato to NATO'. But the reality of democratic expansion has more to do with NATO than Plato, or any other philosopher. The Iraq war has shown, once again, just how bloody 'democratisation' can be.

the military origins of democracy in Europe

The NATO actions in Kosovo were the first explicit 'war for democracy' in Europe, since the end of the Cold War. With hindsight, this seems an inevitable development. By the end of the Second World War in 1945, citizens of western Europe or the United States found it normal to enforce democracy by war. During the geopolitical stability of the Cold War, however, fear of a nuclear holocaust eroded that attitude. Now, democratic conquest is back, inside and outside Europe. Once again, democratic values are explicitly claimed to justify war. Most democratic regimes in Europe were enforced from outside anyway - by invasion, occupation, or as a condition of economic aid. Democracy in Europe came from the barrel of a gun, or from the power of the dollar, but rarely from the people....

Albania
Breakdown of central government after collapse of Communist regime in 1990/1991: stable democracy made a condition of foreign aid. Italian troops stationed to aid democratisation process.

Andorra
Mini-state with tradition of local democratic assemblies.

Armenia
Democratisation made a condition of foreign aid, after break-up of Soviet Union.

Austria
Democracy re-established by four-power Allied occupation forces, between 1945 and 1955.

Azerbaijan
Democratisation made a condition of foreign aid, after break-up of Soviet Union.

Belarus
Not considered democratic by western institutions. Democratisation made a condition of foreign aid, after break-up of Soviet Union.

Belgium
Democracy re-established by US and British troops in 1944.

Bosnia
Democratisation enforced by IFOR and SFOR military forces (predominantly NATO), and a civilian High Representative with wide powers. Democratisation also a condition of reconstruction aid.

Bulgaria
Regime change in 1989: democratisation of this regime made a condition of foreign aid.

Croatia
The present democratic state, in the borders of the previous Yugoslav republic, was established by rebellion of pro-secession military units in 1991. Subsequently, democracy a condition of military aid in war with Serbian forces, and of post-war reconstruction aid.

Czech Republic
Internal transition to democracy.

Cyprus
Democratic constitution a condition of independence from Britain.

Denmark
Democracy re-established in 1945, after surrender of German forces without Allied invasion.

Estonia
Democratisation made a condition of foreign aid, after break-up of Soviet Union.

Finland
Defeated by the Soviet Union in 1944/1945, but nevertheless pre-war western-style parliamentary democracy restored, on condition of neutrality.

France
Democracy re-established in 1944 by invasion of US, British, and exile French forces.

Germany (West)
Democratic Federal Republic established by US, British, and French occupation forces.

Germany (East)
Accession of east German regional governments (Länder) to the Federal Republic of Germany in 1990, automatically brought them into its system of government.

Georgia
Democratisation made a condition of foreign aid, after break-up of Soviet Union. Demonstrators stormed Parliament in 2003, to install the pro-western President Saakashvili.

Greece
Peaceful transition from military rule to democracy.

Great Britain
Pre-existing system of citizen representation transformed into full parliamentary democracy, between 1830's and 1930's.

Hungary
Internal transition to democracy.

Ireland
Underground parliamentary democracy established by the IRA in 1918, and recognised by Britain in peace treaty of 1921.

Iceland
Pre-existing local democratic tradition: democratic Republic established under US military occupation in 1944.

Italy
Democracy re-established by invasion of US and British forces in 1944.

Kazakhstan
Not considered democratic by most western institutions. Democratisation made a condition of foreign aid, after break-up of Soviet Union.

Kosovo
Democratisation programme in progress, funded and controlled by the OSCE and EU, enforced by NATO-led occupation force.

Latvia
Democratisation made a condition of foreign aid, after break-up of Soviet Union.

Liechtenstein
Small principality with local democratic tradition, de facto dependent on Switzerland.

Lithuania
Democratisation made a condition of foreign aid, after break-up of Soviet Union.

Luxembourg
Local democratic tradition. Democracy re-established by invasion of Allied forces in 1944.

Macedonia
Democratisation made a condition of foreign aid, after peaceful secession from Yugoslavia.

Malta
Democratic constitution a condition of independence from Britain.

Moldavia
Democratisation made a condition of foreign aid, after break-up of Soviet Union.

Monaco
Small principality with limited local democratic tradition, de facto part of France.

Netherlands
Interim military government established by invasion of US, British and Canadian forces in 1944, re-established democracy after US pressure in 1945.

Norway
Democracy re-established in 1945, after surrender of German forces without Allied invasion.

Poland
Internal transition to democracy over 10-year period.

Portugal
Democracy established by military coup in 1975

Romania
Regime change in 1989: democratisation of this regime made a condition of foreign aid.

Russia
Collapse of institutions of previous regime from 1989 onward: present government not considered fully democratic in the west. Further democratisation is a condition of foreign aid, but Russia is less dependent on this aid than other countries in eastern Europe.

San Marino
Small principality with strong local democratic tradition, de facto part of Italy.

Slovakia
Democratisation made a condition of foreign aid, after break-up of Czechoslovakia.

Spain
Internal transition to democracy after death of autocratic dictator.

Sweden
Parliamentary democracy established by 1920's, on the basis of pre-existing citizens representation.

Switzerland
Parliamentary democracy established by 1920's, on the basis of pre-existing citizens representation.

Turkey
Since the establishment of the state several transitions between military rule and democracy. Continuing democracy is a condition of European Union membership.

Ukraine
Democratisation made a condition of foreign aid, after break-up of Soviet Union. Western-backed demonstrations forced new election in 2004, installing a pro-western president at the second attempt.

Vatican
Never a democracy, by any definition.

Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro)
Military defeat by NATO in an air war, occupation of part of the national territory, and economic sanctions, weakened the Milosevic regime. In combination with substantial financial aid to the democratic opposition, this precipitated its fall in October 2000.

The present democracies in Europe do not match the democratic mythology. They are not the product of successive popular uprisings against absolutist monarchies or totalitarian regimes. A far more appropriate term is 'democratic conquest', more on that below. There is nothing inherently noble, admirable, or moral, in such a war of conquest.

Tutu Vanhanen reviews the explanations for democratisation in Prospects of Democracy: a Study of 172 Countries (London: Routledge. 1997. p. 10-21). At least, the explanations which have been proposed in English-language political science, including the many theorists who say there is no single factor. The list includes no mention of military intervention (or economic warfare) as causal factors in the transition to democracy. A theory of colonialism which did not mention the colonising powers, and suggested the transition to being a colony was a process internal to each colony, would be unacceptable.


testable propositions

If democratisation was categorised historically on the analogy with colonial conquests, these hypotheses could be researched...

  • of the states which have made a transition from non-democracy to democracy since 1939, most have done so following a military intervention by democratic powers.
  • past military intervention by a democratic power, rather than any traditional explanation such as economic development, is the best predictor that a country will be a democracy.
  • of the military interventions since 1900 with the stated purpose of imposing a political system on a state, the majority (if not all) were to impose or restore democracy

Even when the explanation of democratisation is expanded to include non-internal factors, there is a reluctance to mention military force. Laurence Whitehead suggest three basic models for the international spread of democracy: contagion, control and consent.

The essential point is that approaching two-thirds of the democracies existing in 1990 owed their origins, at least in part, to deliberate acts of imposition or intervention from without (acts, moreover, that were undertaking within living memory). Given this, an interpretation which excludes from consideration the roles played by external actors, their motives, or their instruments of action is bound to produce a highly distorted image of the international dimension of democratization...
Laurence Whitehead (1996) Three international dimensions of democratization, in The International Dimensions of Democratization: Europe and the Americas Oxford: OUP. (p. 9).

Since that was published, there have been more explicit examples of the 'international dimension', in Kosovo, Serbia and Timor. The invasion of Iraq, for the declared purpose of 'regime change', is probably the best example of 'external actors' in democratisation. Several years before the Iraq war, USAID (the official US aid agency), had prepared a list of pro-democracy tactics. It indicates how thorough the 'external actors' can be - especially with military backing...

USAID's democracy programs will support: USAID'S Strategies - Building Democracy

This is quite different from a popular uprising. By definition, no process initiated by USAID or other external agency, derives 'from the people' inside the territory concerned. In Bosnia and Kosovo, democratic powers could implement a democratisation programme because of a military occupation. That is the stated aim in Iraq, without much success so far. Generally, such programmes emphasise funding of pro-democracy parties, groups and media. The funds go to a small elite: perhaps for that reason, no multi-ethnic political system has yet emerged, in either Bosnia or Kosovo. It is not likely in Iraq either.

exclusion of the undemocratic: total democracy

The democratic claim to moral superiority is partly based on the treatment of persons within democracies. Liberal democracies also claim to be politically neutral. Nevertheless, even model democracies exclude (and often politically persecute) anti-democrats. In this respect, a democratic system is like all other regimes: it takes measures to ensure its own survival. The western Cold War slogan "at least there is free speech here", usually did not apply to undemocratic organisations. That is still true in the liberal democracies. Anti-democrats are often excluded from the use of human and political rights, and anti-democratic parties are sometimes forbidden. The new European Charter of Fundamental Rights contains such an exclusion:
Article 54 Prohibition of abuse of rights
Nothing in this Charter shall be interpreted as implying any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms recognised in this Charter....
Draft Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union

The Charter also includes the basic political rights now used to define democracy, including voting and candidacy rights. Article 54 therefore constitutes an exclusion of anti-democrats from those rights. The German Constitution is another example: for historical reasons, the 'defence of democracy' plays a greater role in German political culture, than in other democracies.

Artikel 18 - Einbüssen von Grundrechten
Wer die Freiheit der Meinungsäusserung, insbesondere die Pressefreiheit (Artikel 5 Abs. 1), die Lehrfreiheit (Artikel 5 Abs. 3), die Versammlungsfreiheit (Artikel 8), die Vereinigungsfreiheit (Artikel 9), das Brief-, Post- und Fernmeldegeheimnis (Artikel 10), das Eigentum (Artikel 14) oder das Asylrecht (Artikel 16 a) zum Kampfe gegen die freiheitliche demokratische Grundordnung missbraucht, verwirkt diese Grundrechte. Die Verwirkung und ihr Ausmass werden durch das Bundesverfassungsgericht ausgesprochen.
Bundestag: Grundgesetz

Article 18 [Forfeiture of basic rights]
Whoever abuses freedom of expression of opinion, in particular freedom of the press (Article 5 (1)), freedom of teaching (Article 5 (3)), freedom of assembly (Article 8), freedom of association (Article 9), privacy of letters and secrecy of post and telecommunication (Article 10), property (Article 14), or the right to asylum (Article 16a) in order to combat the free democratic basic order forfeit these basic rights. Such forfeiture and the extent thereof is determined by the Federal Constitutional Court.
Constitution of Germany

The suppression of political parties is normal practice in established liberal democracies. In an article on party bans in Israel, Raphael Cohen-Almagor gives the typical justification for this practice:

This article argues that it is neither morally obligatory, nor morally coherent, to expect democracy to place the means for its own destruction in the hands of those who either wish to bring about the annihilation of the state, or to undermine democracy, and who take active steps to realize those ends.
Raphael Cohen-Almagor (1997) Disqualification of political parties in Israel: 1988-1996
But if you substitute the word 'dictatorship' for 'democracy", this formula justifies the suppression of democratic parties by a dictatorship. The line of argument is not itself coherent: it is morally arbitrary. Nevertheless it indicates the pro-democratic fervour of democracy. Democracy is not above the parties - the democrats are themselves a party. Western media and governments usually support such 'democratic forces' in other countries: the implication is that they have a special claim to be elected. If democracy was politically neutral, candidates support for democracy would be irrelevant. In reality, democrats are pro-democracy - as you would expect - and democratic systems are pro-democracy.

It is even possible to define democracy by these characteristics- as a political system where democratic forces hold absolute political power, at least in relation to non-democrats, and where they institutionally persecute anti-democrats. It is not a comprehensive definition, but it is descriptive of most democracies. If democracy were truly a superior system of government, then it would (presumably) not need this harassment of its opponents.

All democracies also maintain a culture of democracy - a parallel to the 'national culture', which all nation states support. It is the exclusive political culture: there can be no 'culture of totalitarianism' in a democracy. Paradoxically, in the stable democracies, this has created a 'total democracy', with the characteristics attributed to totalitarian culture. In the liberal democracies, democratic attitudes pervade all aspects of life, and especially education. At universities in liberal democracies, standard political science courses include only pro-democratic theorists.

Despite this total-democracy culture,democrats often claim that living in a democracy is equivalent to 'freedom' - usually meaning political freedom. The classic example is again the Freedom House annual survey, which claims to show how many countries are 'free'. It is often quoted in the media as factual truth, without any further analysis. Many of the leading theorists of liberal market democracy work on Freedom House projects: that group overlaps with the US foreign policy establishment. (The academic advisors included Larry Diamond, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Seymour Lipset, Alexander Motyl, and the neoconservative Islam-basher Daniel Pipes). Their definition of freedom overlaps the definition of a liberal democracy: it is no surprise that liberal-democratic countries get the best scores for 'freedom'. But this is no more than circular reasoning: if political freedom is defined as 'living under a democracy', then democracies have political freedom.

Nevertheless people are also unfree in democracies - in ways that seem specific to liberal market democracy itself. In general it is the market which limits social and economic freedom, rather than their political regime. The operation of the labour market, and the conditions of employment, provide the best examples. Some US employers in the services and retail sectors require their employees to smile permanently, at least in the presence of customers. In a few cases, employers have required plastic surgery, as a condition of employment. These are impositions, and restrict personal freedom. The point is, that they are apparently culturally specific to the liberal market democracies. Unlike, for instance, poverty or inequality, they are not reported in any historical non-democratic society. Apparently, the market democracies have certain specific unfreedoms, which undermine their claim to be 'free'.

the illegal immigrant and democracy

The pretensions of liberal-democratic states are undermined especially by their treatment of illegal immigrants. Unlike many previous 'democratic deficits', this can not be remedied inside the political structure of these states. For instance, until the time of the First World War, women were excluded from voting in many western democracies. That democratic deficit was remedied by the introduction of universal adult suffrage in the 1920's. Still, the 'demos' in the democratic system continued to be the same nation, that formed the nation state. Britain was no less British, when British women got the vote. But conceding full citizenship to anyone who can cross the border (legally or illegally), would ultimately change the population structure of the western nation states. Most democratic theorists are apparently unwilling to welcome 500 million new African fellow-citizens: and so they defend a 'demos' equivalent to existing populations of nation states.

The fifth and final criterion for the democratic process is, then, as follows: The demos must include all adult members of the association except transients and persons proved to be mentally defective. Admittedly the definition of adults and transients is a potential source of ambiguity.
Robert Dahl (1989). Democracy and its Critics. New Haven: Yale University Press. (p. 129).

How does a typical western democracy, such as the Netherlands or Britain, appear to an illegal immigrant? Again the Freedom House checklist can be used - this time to check on the people who wrote it, or at least the system they defend. First the political rights of illegal immigrants, the 'transients'...

The civil rights checklist, especially, indicates the second-class status of illegal immigrants...

It is clear that the treatment of illegal immigrants in western countries would be called 'repression', if it was applied to political dissidents or ethnic minorities elsewhere. The treatment of asylum seekers is similar - although they are not 'illegal immigrants' while their application is being processed.

The 'Tampa incident' illustrated the realities. The Norwegian container ship Tampa had picked up asylum seekers at sea, and entered Australian territorial waters in August 2001. The right-wing Howard government made a stand on the issue - explicitly refusing to admit the asylum seekers to Australian territory. They were kept on board the ship, and prevented from leaving it by soldiers of the elite force SAS. They were isolated from the media and lawyers: only the Norwegian ambassador was permitted to visit the ship at first, and later one delegation. In effect the asylum seekers were placed in detention - which is in any case their normal treatment in Australia. Now, people held incommunicado on a ship, guarded by soldiers, obviously have no political rights - none at all. There is no question of them voting in Australian elections, demonstrating, or participating in any way in the political process there. The soldiers prevented all access to the rest of society, a policy emphasised when the asylum seekers were transferred to an Australian troop ship (the media were excluded from this military operation). This de facto military detention was nevertheless enforced on people, who had committed no crime in Australia.

The question for the defenders of democracy is this: if a recognised legitimate democracy can treat one group like this, why not others? From the point of view of an illegal immigrant, a western democracy such as Britain or Australia has most of the characteristics attributed to dictatorships or 'authoritarian regimes'. Yet they meet the criteria of Freedom House for political freedom. If a clever dictatorship can arrange repression, in such a way as to meet the standard of 'democracy' and 'freedom' applied to illegal immigrants, then why is such a dictatorship wrong? And if any dictatorship can meet these standards, merely by clever administrative arrangements, than why is dictatorship fundamentally wrong?

And from the other side: why is a political regime, which treats people like the Howard government treats refugees, morally desirable? Why is it noble and good? It is not because the system failed - the Australian democracy works perfectly well. Howard was democratically elected, in free and fair elections, in a society with a free press and guaranteed civil rights. Opinion polls showed he had the backing of a huge majority, for his hard line toward the asylum seekers on board the MV Tampa. Australia recognises and implements all the human and civil rights, which are supposed to protect minorities against the tyranny of the majority. But, as the Tampa case shows, they are no guarantee at all. The Howard government is not a distortion of democracy, it illustrates how democracy works. The people rule, and in this case 'the people' are a xenophobic people. The political system expresses their collective will, exactly as intended. But is it right?

The constitution of the demos

Modern democracy is inextricably linked to nations, to nationalism, and to the nation state as form of state. Liberal democracy and nationalism developed together in Europe. To a large extent, democracy and nationalism are parallel. Democracy presupposes a demos, a community in which 'politics' takes place. The demos of modern democracies, and the nation of modern nation-states, are the same thing. Western politicians speak interchangeably of 'the nation", 'our nation", 'the people", 'the community'. Democrats, almost by definition, believe it is necessary to maintain the demos as a political unit: this has led to an association of democracy and conservative nationalism.

Most democrats believe, that a democracy is legitimate regardless of the criteria used to select the demos. Even a completely closed racial community, with zero immigration, can be a democracy. (According to democratic theory, it would be more legitimate than a dictatorship which allowed free immigration). Although several western democracies have a 'right to emigrate', no democracy has ever had a right to immigration. In practice the criteria of citizenship in democracies is biological descent: typically, more than 90% of the citizens acquired that status from their parents.

Opponents of immigration in democratic states even use democracy as an argument - claiming that the cohesion of the political community will be undermined. In the EU conservative nationalists use the explicit argument, that no European-scale geopolitical entity can be legitimate, because there is no European demos.

European integration, on this view, may have involved a certain transfer of state functions to the Union but this has not been accompanied by a redrawing of political boundaries which can occur only if, and can be ascertained only when, a European Volk can be said to exist. Since this, it is claimed, has not occurred, the Union and its institutions can have neither the authority nor the legitimacy of a Demos-cratic State.
The State 'über alles": Demos, Telos and the German Maastricht Decision, Joseph H. Weiler, 1995.

Weiler's article is a commentary on a decision of the Bundesverfassungsgericht, the German Constitutional Court (inspired by nationalist fears about the Maastricht Treaty). Describing what he calls the No-Demos thesis, Weiler summarises the democratic-nationalist position...

Critically, Volk/nation are also the basis for the modern democratic State: The nation and its members, the Volk, constitute the polity for the purposes of accepting the discipline of democratic, majoritarian governance. Both descriptively and prescriptively (how it is and how it ought to be) a minority will/should accept the legitimacy of a majority decision because both majority and minority are part of the same Volk, belong to the nation. That is an integral part of what rule-by-the-people, democracy, means on this reading. Thus, nationality constitutes the state (hence nation-state) which in turn constitutes its political boundary, an idea which runs from Schmitt to Kirchhof. The significance of the political boundary is not only to the older notion of political independence and territorial integrity, but also to the very democratic nature of the polity. A parliament is, on this view, an institution of democracy not only because it provides a mechanism for representation and majority voting, but because it represents the Volk, the nation, the demos from which derive the authority and legitimacy of its decisions.
The State 'über alles": Demos, Telos and the German Maastricht Decision, for footnote see original.

This democratic-nationalist position is accepted by most modern democrats, and all existing democratic states. Democracy therefore reinforces nationalism as a state formation ideology. That is wrong in itself, and it encourages nationalist violence in state formation. New nation states are comparatively rare (about one per year on average), and some were formed without bloodshed - such as Slovakia. But blood was certainly shed to found some others, or to save an existing state. That happened partly because nationalists (on both sides) believed their nation-state was essential to democracy.


Testable propositions: fortress democracy

The combination of the nation state and global inequality has created a historically unique pattern of 'islands' of wealth co-existing with oceans of poverty. The island metaphor is not entirely accurate, since most rich countries border on other rich countries. They are not in fact surrounded by extreme poverty - it is generally further away from their borders. Mexico, for instance, is no longer a poor country: the poorest immigrants at the Rio Grande come from its southern neighbours. Similarly, most illegal immigrants who cross the Strait of Gibraltar come from sub-Saharan Africa, not from Morocco itself. However the island metaphor is accurate at global level: those who are born in a rich society will live in a rich society, those who are born amid extreme poverty will die there also. The outward transfer of wealth is minimal: development aid is less than 0,5% of GDP in rich countries, and the percentage is falling. The inward transfer of population is minimal. Never before has it been cheaper to travel from one continent to another, never before has the gap in incomes been greater, but migration into the rich western democracies is deliberately kept at a low level. This is what is historically unique, and it does seem to be specific to democracies, in the form suggested by these propositions

  • high-income democracies admit less immigrants than the few high-income non-democracies (such as the United Arab Emirates)
  • the countries which have historically spent the highest proportion of GDP on immigration control are democracies
  • most countries which have installed electronic surveillance at their borders, in order to limit immigration, are democracies
  • in democracies, economic growth produces no corresponding rise in development aid
  • the highest absolute gaps in GNP per capita, for pairs of states, are between democracies and non-democracies
  • the 'privilege' of immigration into a rich democracy is granted disproportionately to those who already come from a rich country. For any specific high-income democracy, the poorest countries have the lowest immigration rates into that democracy, taking account of the relative populations of the two countries.
  • high-income non-democracies are more likely than high-income democracies to accept immigrants from poor or very poor countries
  • the more democratic a country is, the lower the percentage of refugees among its population

The equivalence of demos and nation also undermines the legitimacy of democratic decisions. Imagine a referendum on the prohibition of pork (pig meat), which Muslims consider unclean. If the referendum is held in France or Germany the result will be: no prohibition. If held in Saudi Arabia, there will certainly be prohibition. If the referendum is only for women, world-wide, then there will probably be no prohibition. But if the referendum is only for veiled women, then pork will be forbidden. You can get any result in this referendum, by choosing the unit of decision.

That is a general characteristic of democracy - although to get some decisions, you would have to be very selective. Supporters of democracy claim that a democratic decision is legitimate, because it is the result of a free and fair decision-making process. But what if the opposite decision can be obtained, in an equally free and fair democracy, with different voters? Why is one free-and-fair decision to be respected, and the other not? In practice the legitimation of the decision is historical. The unit of decision is the nation state, based on a historic group: only their decisions are recognised as legitimate.

The same issue arises in social-contract theories: the group formation itself is morally arbitrary. Can two people come up to me on the street, tell me the three of us form a nation, and then decide by majority vote, that I must enter military service under their command? If they try that trick with several million people, they might succeed. In the last 100 years, many people have suddenly found themselves in newly established nation states - which then demand their patriotic loyalty. In such cases, the principle of democracy is used to retroactively legitimise the formation of the national unit. National liberation movements usually claim to be democratic, at least since the late 19th century. So, having forced people into a political unit, they attempt to legitimise it - by holding an election within that unit. Democrats usually accept this form of legitimisation, provided the elections are fair. However, the democrats are wrong: an election can not retroactively legitimise the involuntary formation of the electorate.

Equally, the typical nation-demos is arbitrary in terms of exclusion. The opposite of democracy is usually said to be autocracy, authoritarianism, or totalitarianism. However, it can also be given as xenocracy - a rare term for rule by foreigners. In practice all democracies limit immigration, to preserve existing community. If democracy was intended to give maximum power of decision to individual persons, then all democracies would allow voting from outside. During the formation of many existing nation states, democracy was indeed equated with 'non-xenocracy', even if that word was not used. The claim to democracy was treated as equivalent to the sovereignty claim, and both claims as implying the removal of foreign populations. Sometimes only a few colonial administrators were expelled, sometimes millions of people. People are not only forced into nation states, they are also forced out of them. An election can not legitimise ethnic cleansing of the electorate before the election.

Historical expulsions are not the main cause of exclusion from voting. Most 'excluded potential voters' were not expelled from the democracy: they never lived there anyway. If the idea of a fixed territorial-political unit was abandoned, all these billions of potential voters could arrive to vote. The reality in democratic states is exactly the opposite: non-resident aliens are never allowed to vote. The fact that a nation is democratic, is said to legitimise its immigration laws. But this is a circular reasoning: if the potential immigrants were allowed to vote, they would usually outvote the resident population (and grant themselves citizenship). Again, an election can not in itself legitimise exclusion from that election, no matter how fair it is. An ethnically pure nation with totally closed borders might still be a perfect democracy, but that does not justify such states: instead it suggests something is wrong with democracy.

more problems with the demos: minorities and the future population

All democratic theorists have to acknowledge the issue of the disadvantaged minority. Much democratic theory is concerned with showing this disadvantage is not unjust. At its simplest, there is a pure anarchist objection to democracy. Such an anarchist would say: "No-one should decide on my life - not kings, not oligarchs, but not fellow-citizens either". However most anarchists today are not anti-democrats. Instead they believe in small-scale community, often in a democratic form. They no longer object to the democratic principle, just to the scale. Anarchism today is more a form of localised communitarianism, often politically acceptable to democratic nation states.

In contrast, the political individual counts for less and less, as a unit of democracy. In modern democracies there is a threshold for political influence: an organisation representing less than 1 in 10 000 of ordinary citizens is unlikely to have any political weight. Although communitarians criticise 'individualism', 'atomism' and 'egoism' in modern democracies, in reality the un-organised individual is politically marginalised, and so are very small minorities. Most democratic theory simply assumes, that individuals will join political parties and other organisations and exercise rights collectively.

Localist neo-anarchism can not resolve the general problem of the minority in democracies. It would only work if the disadvantaged minority was locally concentrated and homogeneous. Nor can the mainstream 'scale ideologies' - federalism, regionalism, urban democracy. Subsidiarity and devolution to smaller political units do not affect the position of a dispersed minority. They will be outvoted at local level, just as they are at national level. There is only one resolution of the problem of the disadvantaged minority: leave the demos, secede.

Democracies can guarantee basic rights for minorities. However, they can not guarantee them a society built on their values. Guarantees of civil and political rights can not compensate minorities, for living in a society which they consider morally intolerable. Issues like abortion and euthanasia clearly show the limits of democracy. It can not resolve an ethical issue, and there are many ethical issues in modern societies. If anti-abortion groups want abortion to be criminalised, then the legislature must either accept or reject that demand. There is no third option: delay is rejection of the demand. Laws are either in force, or they are not. Either way, given ethical differences, some people will live under laws which they can not accept in conscience.

The successful prohibition of alcohol in the United States was already mentioned, as an example of how religious fundamentalists impose their values through democratic process. This kind of democratic legislation can produce the most acute issues of conscience: democracies can generate humiliating and grotesque repression of 'ethical minorities'. Consider this proposed anti-abortion legislation in the American State of Georgia, which has a conservative Christian majority. It attempts to ban abortions, by forcing women to seek a death penalty for the fetus, in a jury trial:

As used in this Code section, the term:
(1) 'Abortion' means the intentional termination of human pregnancy with an intention other than to produce a live birth or to remove a dead fetus.
(2) 'Death warrant' means an order of a superior court providing that an execution may proceed.
(3) 'Execution' means an abortion.

(b) No physician shall perform an execution in this state without first obtaining a death warrant as provided in this Code section.

(c) Any person seeking to have an execution performed shall first file a petition in the superior court in the county of the petitioner's residence. Upon the filing of such petition, the court shall appoint a guardian ad litem to protect the rights of the fetus. The guardian ad litem shall be authorized to demand a jury trial to determine the rights of the fetus. Within 30 days after the filing of such petition, the court shall hold a trial for the purpose of balancing the fetus' right to live against the rights of the person seeking to have the execution performed.
Bill to amend Article 6 of Chapter 5 of Title 16 of the Official Code of Georgia

Many people would find it abhorrent to live in a society which treats women this way, but a democracy has no room for conscientious objections, even on these religious issues. If a democratic government allowed objections of conscience to all its decisions, then it could not be a democracy. It would not even be a government, in the usual meaning: it would be a debating society. Yet there is no reason why people with conscientious objections to a society should be forced to live in it. If there is no other state - no other demos - which corresponds to their values, then even emigration is not an option. The failure of democracies to allow 'freedom of exit' is a major ethical defect. Again it seems to be a structural defect: no change is in sight.

The use of futures scenarios, for instance in spatial planning, has introduced a related issue, for democracy theory. When decisions are being taken about the future, can democracy claim any special legitimacy? A typical futures study claims that a democratic city government may legitimately decide on the future shape of the city. Yet many of the people who will live in the future city are not alive today, or have no vote. In the case of long-term planning (50 years or more), most of those who elected the present administration will be dead.

If a present population takes decision for a future population, the future population is (by definition) excluded from the process. No political procedure can correct that exclusion. In this way, democracy allows the present population to 'rule' the future population - in contradiction of its own logic of representation and participation. It is obvious, that this is an inbuilt advantage for conservatism. If political concerns shift from immediate issues, to the future shape of society, this defect of democracy will become more important.

The permanence and expansionism of democracy

A more abstract ethical objection to democracy is, that it blocks the transition to a post-democratic world: democracy is for ever. Self-preservation probably characterises most social structures. In liberal-democratic states, there are usually specific legal prohibitions against overturning democracy. These include the constitutional restrictions on anti-democrats mentioned already, which are now duplicated at the level of the European Union. All such prohibitions are unethical, for it is unethical to block change. If necessary, innovation should take precedence over democracy. However, democrats claim that democracy itself has priority over other values: the abolition of democracy would at least prevent them from enforcing this value preference.

Historical process can not legitimise the permanence of democracy. In Europe, the first modern democracies followed absolute monarchies. That does not mean democracy should never disappear, and certainly not that any future non-democracy is a restoration of absolute monarchy. The implicit historicist claim in this type of argument is: "everything in the present is better than it was in the past, therefore it should never be abolished". But change does not consist of accretion only. That which came, can also go - without implying a 'return to the past'.

Not only is democracy for ever, it is for ever becoming more democratic. More than any other regime of government, it is concerned with its own maximisation. It is normal for democrats to demand more democracy: it would be unusual for a monarch to demand more monarchy. It is not simply a monopoly in time and space. It goes beyond monopoly: even if all the world is democratic, for ever, many democrats will still insist on more democracy, further democratisation. For them, 100% democratic would not be enough.

a democratic planet, no less

Since the world is not yet 100% democratic, 'democratisation' generally refers to spatial expansion. There are organisations in western states (government-funded and private) which exist for the specific purpose of converting other states into democracies. There are also real organisations of democratic states, such as the Community of Democracies, which first met in Warsaw in June 2000. Such organisations indicate a willingness to form some sort of democratic bloc:
We will seek to strengthen institutions and processes of democracy. We appreciate the value of exchanging experiences in the consolidation of democracy and identifying best practices. We will promote discussions and, where appropriate, create forums on subjects relevant to democratic governance for the purpose of continuing and deepening our dialogue on democratization. We will focus our deliberations on our common principles and values rather than extraneous bilateral issues between members. We resolve jointly to cooperate to discourage and resist the threat to democracy posed by the overthrow of constitutionally elected governments.
Final Warsaw Declaration: Towards a Community of Democracies
Proposals for a Union of Democracies existed before the Second World War, and there were older proposals for unions of 'civilised states'. At the time both of these meant the US, Britain and its 'white colonies', and a few west-European and Scandinavian states. After the end of the Cold War the idea enjoyed a revival - indicative of the mood of democratic expansionism. Democratic expansionists believe that they are entitled to impose democracy, without limit in time or space. Indeed most of them would claim - like US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott - that this cannot possibly be an imposition.
Democracy, by definition, can never be imposed. In any country under any circumstances, it's dictatorship that is, by definition, an imposition, while democracy is, and can only be, a choice.
Strobe Talbott to NATO foreign ministers, December 1999
Inherent in democracy is a claim to a democratic world order - and by definition, any global claim is a monopoly claim. Like universal religions such as Christianity and Islam, democracy can ultimately tolerate no competitors, no 'other gods'. Yet a democratic world order would be like a prison covering the whole world - 'prisoners' could escape, but only into an identical cell. That model approximates to the emergent world order, of liberal (and neoliberal) market-democratic nation states.

Democracy intensifies itself, and maximises its spatial extent. Historically, as soon as one democratic great power emerged, it became likely that democracy would expand to cover the world. Francis Fukuyama was right on this point, despite all the scepticism he attracted in the 1990's. American soldiers in Saddam's palaces dramatically illustrated the process. His view, that after '1989' the remaining non-democracies would be pressured out of existence, now seems correct - at least on present trends. That would indeed generate a democratic monopoly, a spatial monopoly of the entire planet.

The idea of democracy is inextricably linked to the national identity of the United States...The United States is vigorously engaged in all corners of the globe, acting as a force for peace and prosperity. Expanding the global community of democracies is a key objective of U.S. foreign policy.
Democracy and Governance, US Agency for International Development, USAID.

The progress of liberty is a powerful trend. Yet, we also know that liberty, if not defended, can be lost. The success of freedom is not determined by some dialectic of history. By definition, the success of freedom rests upon the choices and the courage of free peoples, and upon their willingness to sacrifice. In the trenches of World War I, through a two-front war in the 1940s, the difficult battles of Korea and Vietnam, and in missions of rescue and liberation on nearly every continent, Americans have amply displayed our willingness to sacrifice for liberty.... Every nation has learned, or should have learned, an important lesson: Freedom is worth fighting for, dying for, and standing for -- and the advance of freedom leads to peace. (Applause.)
And now we must apply that lesson in our own time. We've reached another great turning point - and the resolve we show will shape the next stage of the world democratic movement.
President George W. Bush at the National Endowment For Democracy, November 2003.

So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world...
President George W. Bush, Second Inaugural Address, January 2004.


Five different versions of the history of democratic expansion are compiled at Steve Muhlberger's site Chronology of Modern Democracy: Five Different Views - those of Francis Fukuyama, Samuel P. Huntingdon, Tatu Vanhanen, the Freedom House's End of Century Survey, and Matthew White. The last includes online maps of regime types at 10-year intervals. Multiparty democracies are coloured blue (the traditional colour of conservatism), and in the map series a wave of blue is slowly covering the planet. However, unlike many historical phenomena, this is accompanied by an explicit normative theory. The democratic theorists are not just describing what is happening, they say clearly that they want it to happen.

Nevertheless, there is no inherent moral reason, why all the planet should have one system of government, and why all others should be forced out of existence. Any system or regime of government, or regime of law, which is not known to be perfect, should allow escape and evasion. A pan-democratic world would not allow this escape. Non-democrats would have no choice but to live in a society which regarded them as evil "supporters of tyranny", as people alien to its own foundational values.

democratic recolonisation

So democracy is not only a system of government, it is a war against anti-democracy. Democratic expansionism implies, in global perspective, a planetary civil war between democrats and anti-democrats. When the democrats have won, the planet will be democratic: from their perspective a war of conquest is logical.

However, the minimal western definition of democracy, in places such as Kosovo, Timor, and now Iraq, is simply 'rule by democratic forces'. In order to rule, these democratic forces must kill (or at least defeat) the anti-democratic forces, usually with western help. But the 'democratic forces' in such territories are generally a small elite anyway: pro-American, English-speaking, and usually upper-middle-class. On this definition, the new democracy leads to the creation of a specific political structure in such territories. Bosnia, Kosovo and Timor have seen a remarkable development in geopolitics, unforeseen by most IR theorists - the return of the protectorate. Occupied Iraq was governed, at first, in true colonial style, by a military governor. The real power in Iraq still rests with the United States - the de facto governor is US Ambassador Negroponte. (If internal security collapses, some form of official UN protectorate might still be installed).

In the new protectorates, the majority of the population are excluded from the political and administrative structure by language and cultural barriers. On Timor, there were riots when the UN administration made knowledge of English a condition for employment - excluding 90%, perhaps even 99%, of the population. Here and in other countries, 'democratic transition' and 'democratisation' are processes administered in English. The protectorate imported administrators, and was externally financed, at least in the beginning. The powers of these administrators are very great - including in Kosovo the choice of music played on local radio stations.

The accurate term for such political regimes is 'colonial'. They display the classic characteristic of a colonial regime, namely the imbalance in the exercise of power. Australian troops imposed a new Portuguese-financed civilian administration in East Timor, but the Timorese population was not given a piece of Australia, to administer by their standards. Nor are they allowed to vote in Australian or Portuguese elections. Kosovars were not given a piece of the United States, where they can tell the local radio stations what music to play. Yet this one-sided process is described as 'democratisation'. Whatever the justification for the arrival of the troops, the democratisation becomes the justification for their stay. A new type of territorial unit has emerged - the democratising protectorate - but it is firmly within the general category of 'colonies'. Recolonisation is apparently the present specific form of democratic expansion.

The next 20 years might see a spectacular growth in the number of protectorates. Much of Africa is affected by intermittent or endemic conflicts, including 'official' wars among states. All of these are potential justifications for intervention, and often there are pro-intervention lobbies in the west. The most serious are the Sudan civil war and the interconnected wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ruanda and Burundi. A few Latin American states with endemic internal conflicts, such as Colombia, might also become protectorates: they are already targets of military intervention in varying degrees. And there are always other justifications available, such as 'weapons of mass destruction', or simply the threat that they exist. A general recolonisation - unthinkable during the Cold War - is now a medium-term possibility.

Colonialism can be distinct from democratic expansionism. The wave of colonisation in Africa from 1870 to 1910, the 'scramble for Africa', was not driven by any ideals of democracy. It was driven by commercial pressure and great-power rivalry, and legitimised by doctrines of racial superiority and the 'civilising mission'. However, the crusade for democracy and human rights could become the 'civilising mission' of a global recolonisation - and democratising protectorates the standard form of colony. In a worst-case scenario, about 1000 million people could live in such protectorates in 2020 - ruled by administrators from Europe and North America, and a local English-speaking elite.

Influenced by a global pro-democracy elite, western public opinion might genuinely believe that this is the final triumph of democracy. However, in the protectorates 'democracy' is simply the militarily-enforced rule of non-European ethnic groups by imported administrators. That is no different from the political regime of 19th-century colonies, and it is difficult to claim it has any special moral legitimacy, especially when cultural and linguistic barriers separate the administration from the population. 'Liberated Iraq' will no doubt provide more examples, of life under a democratising imperialism.

Justifying democracy

Democratic theorists attempt to justify democracy - that is, to explain in the language of ethics, why there should be democracy. As with the definitions of democracy, there is a standard list of justifications, indicating a well-developed and stable ideology. They fall into 3 or 4 clusters: moral autonomy and sovereignty of the individual; the requirement for consent of the governed; the basic equality of individuals or at least citizens; and the educative capability of democratic citizenship. The first two are often linked together.

There are also justifications with a more nationalist emphasis: they see the sovereignty of 'the people' (meaning the nation) as the primary justification of democracy. And in liberal political philosophy, there are justifications of democracy on the ground of procedural fairness. This justification is typical of liberalism, which can almost be defined by its claim that 'process justifies outcome'. The objection to such claims is also well known:

Morality requires that procedures tend to produce good laws and policies, and good laws and polices are not just any which happen to result from a certain kind of procedure.
William N. Nelson (1980) On Justifying Democracy. London: Routledge. (p. 33).

All these are formal criteria used to justify democracy. In the democracies, three other justifications are common - less formal and less philosophical. The first is the historical comparison with totalitarian atrocities, especially with the 'unholy trinity' of Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot. The second is simply the widespread belief, that there must be a democracy, and there can be no valid opposition to it. Thirdly, some purely instrumental arguments are also used to justify democracy: they say it will produce a specific desirable effect. The democratic peace theory is almost always used in this way - on the assumption that everyone wants peace.

However, some of the formal justifications can also be used to justify totalitarian or authoritarian regimes. Even the doctrine of consent can be used in this way. Most democrats claim that government must derive from the consent of the governed, or consent of the people. However they also say, that this does not mean factual consent. Factual consent would be, for instance, a letter from me to the government, giving them permission to govern me. As noted above, some specific categories are excluded from this principle anyway, in typical democratic theory. The immigrant or asylum-seeker, who is stopped at the border of a nation state, is clearly 'being governed'. But unless they are admitted, and given citizenship, they will not be able to participate in the democratic process. And democrats often promote the military imposition of democracy - which contradicts any real consent. So the 'consent' in democratic theory is either implied, or it is a philosophical fiction. But if consent is a fictional construction, with no relation to political reality, then a totalitarian state can equally claim to derive legitimacy from the consent of the governed (especially if there is free emigration). If a dictator allows all critics to leave the country, then it is just as plausible to say that those who remain have 'consented' to the dictatorship.

At first sight, the doctrine of consent is self-evidently right. Imagine there was a list of all possible actions of the state, divided into two categories: 'acts with consent' and 'acts without consent'. The first category seems to correspond to the list of 'good actions', the second to the list of 'bad actions'. However, there is no automatic equivalence of this kind. Acts which are good in themselves require no consent. They can not be made wrong, by lack of consent to them.

In a more politically realistic form: certain acts, goals, and policies do not require the consent of the governed, or the consent of the people. Innovation does not require the consent of the people. Justice does not require the consent of the people. It is therefore not necessary to have a government which always acts on the basis of consent. This 'necessity' can not be a justification of democracy.

There is a second reason why a democracy can not be justified from a requirement for the consent of the governed. It is very simple: the population of a state can be so arranged as to produce the consent of the governed - once again, the issue of the exact nature of the demos in democracy. If, for any decision of any government, a group of people can be found who consent to this decision, and these people are formally considered to be the people governed, then all government decisions have the consent of the governed. No special political regime is necessary to guarantee this consent.

Is this a real option? Historically, it clearly is: there is a long tradition of forced migrations and population transfers of unwilling subjects. The section on alternatives to democracy lists other options for adjusting the demos. It is for the supporters of democracy to demonstrate explicitly, what they claim implicitly - that a democracy is the only structure which generates consent of the governed.

The classic phrase 'government of the people, by the people' can not be the basis of a justification of democracy either, at least not of existing liberal-democracies. They are all majority-rule democracies. Exactly the same arguments, which are used by democrats against rule by an elite, can be used against rule of the minority by the majority. If the people are fit to govern themselves, then why are the minority within the people not fit to govern themselves?

It is true that in a perfect consensus-democracy, the problem would not arise, because no minority would feel disadvantaged. But in a real democratic state, any minority dissatisfied with the majority decisions, could claim to be a 'people' - and that is exactly what secessionist groups do. And that simply brings the issue back to the question of what constitutes a legitimate people, a legitimate demos, or a legitimate secession. Government of which people, by which people, for which people?

The fact that the arguments against elite rule can also be used against majority rule, does not in itself justify elite rule. But any justification of democracy should be consistent. If the principle is that 'the people' govern themselves and not a group external to that people, then the same principle should be applied to the composition of the people. If they must govern themselves, let them select themselves also. And since this would open the door to unlimited secession, it would in itself end the present order of liberal-democratic states.

Consent and autonomy justifications are related to the ideal of individual freedom. Democratic theorists claim, that human political freedom exists only in conditions of where the individual is not governed by another. Participation in a democracy, in their view, makes the individual 'self-governing'. They recognise that most voters never participate in the day-to-day decisions of the government: their theory on this point is intended to get around this objection.

There is, however, no individualist-libertarian argument for democracy. On the contrary, democracy is collective, by definition. The demos decides, the people rule - not the individual. Democracy does not give you 'control of your own life', democracy gives most 'control of your life' to your fellow citizens, millions of fellow citizens. And most democratic theorists reject individual freedom to choose tyranny, authoritarianism, or totalitarianism. Rather than democracy, personal political autonomy implies a Robinson Crusoe 'society' - or at least an explicitly voluntary state. If the state is voluntary, the individual can reassert individual control by leaving it - and so back to the issue of secession. This approach is summarised well by Thomas Christiano:

Social organization could accord with our own will if society were like a club that we could join or leave at will. If we could enter societies that have laws of which we approve and leave societies that have laws of which we do not approve, then we would be self-governing on this view. This conception of self-government does not require democratic participation: it merely requires that we be able to leave one society to join another. We do not need the right to a vote to satisfy this liberty but merely rights to enter and exit. Even a world of small dictatorships is compatible with this liberty as long as each person can leave one for another.
Thomas Christiano (1996) The Rule of Many: Fundamental Issues in Democratic Theory. Boulder: Westview. (p. 22).

Christiano, as a democrat, rejects this option, on three grounds. First, the high social cost of migration (including perhaps learning a new language and culture), which makes it unrealistic. Second, that these costs would be more easily met by the rich, who could convert this advantage into political power. And third, that a world of many small states would require some larger authority anyway, and the issue of participation would re-appear at that level. This issue is known, after a book by Albert Hirschman, as 'exit versus voice'.

Democratic theory therefore rejects a choice of societies (states), as an alternative to democracy in each society (state). But is this rejection consistent with the reality, that all democracies are free market economies? After all, the defenders of free markets emphasise, that true freedom is freedom to choose. How does the free market look, if you apply the tests of democracy? If you go to buy ice-cream or software, are you allowed to participate in the running of the ice-cream or software firms? Do you become a 'citizen' of these firms? Are you allowed to attend their deliberative assemblies, or vote for your representative there? The answer is no, not unless you are a shareholder. I am not: yet according to the theory of the free market, that does limit my freedom in any way. My 'freedom' as a consumer, consists in my ability to choose between products of different entrepreneurs. If I do not like one, I can choose another.

Apart from a few producer-consumer co-ops, the market economy is never run on the basis of participation. As Hirschman pointed out, in the market the principle of 'exit' applies. If you don't like the ice-cream, you take your custom elsewhere. If you go to the ice-cream factory and demand to vote on the flavour of next weeks production, they will laugh at you. They will tell you to buy your ice-cream from someone else. If that is 'individual free choice', then why is it wrong for a dictator to laugh at pro-democracy demonstrators? Why not just let them take their citizenship elsewhere, to another state?

This analogy with the free market does not, in itself, justify such a multiple-state alternative to democracy. But again, democrats should be consistent in their justification of democracy. Democrats can not claim that governments must allow participation, when at the same time they allow business firms to reject it. What is not demanded of the firm, can not logically be demanded of the state.

instrumentalist arguments for democracy: democratic peace

Instrumental justifications are claims that "democracy will achieve a certain result, therefore there should be democracy". The claimed capacity of democracy to educate citizens, as citizens, is an example. The best known instrumental justification is the democratic peace theory. None of its supporters are neutral scientific investigators: they all use it as a justification for the spread of democracy. Their claim, which they often state explicitly, is that the whole world should consist of democracies, in order to bring universal peace. As mentioned already, the evidence for the democratic peace hypothesis is not convincing. As more research was done, it became more apparent that democracies do go to war, even against other comparable countries. Supporters of the hypothesis responded, by changing their definitions to fit the observations. In every embarrassing case of war between democracies, at least one combatant is reclassified as non-democratic: the counter-example disappears. A recent book on the democratic peace hypothesis uses the categories "genuine democracies" and "well-established republics". And some wars, the author suggests, are not wars either...

We cannot study wars between well-established democracies, for no such wars have existed....There were confrontations in which democracies deployed military force against one another, although they did not quite go to war. And there were wars between regimes that somewhat resembled democracies.
Spencer Weart (1998). Never At War: Why Democracies Will Not Fight One Another
New Haven: Yale University Press. (p. 6).

Weart's case studies are typical of the methods used: redefinition and reclassification, to fit the democratic peace hypothesis. Spain in 1898 (when it fought the USA in Cuba) was nominally democratic, but "...was actually controlled by an oligarchic and aristocratic elite..." (p. 311). In 1990 there were free elections in Yugoslavia, but "The public had not learned how to choose wisely in such an election..." (p.316). And the CIA intervention in Guatemala in 1954 was not a war between Guatemala and the USA, because Guatemalans did all the fighting (p. 314).

If you allow this kind of manipulation of the categories, you can prove anything at all. The fall of the Mengistu regime in Ethiopia in 1991 led to a peaceful secession of Eritrea: that was quoted as an example of the success of democratisation in Africa. But by 1998 the two exemplary democratising states were at war, in a border dispute over desert land. Supporters of the democratic peace hypothesis will simply re-classify them as 'not fully democratic' or 'not well-established'. Since the majority of states in history were not democracies, let alone 'well-established', the hypothesis shrinks to a group of about 20 or 30 states in the post-1945 period, many of them allies of the United States anyway.

So ultimately the democratic peace hypothesis is, that this limited group of states will not fight each other. The hypothesis therefore relies on a special definition of 'peace'. It refers to the kind of peace that applies between Britain and Canada. But outside of this 'peace', some of the members of this group are engaged in quasi-permanent military conflict, certainly the United States and Britain. This list of post-1945 British interventions and colonial wars is from a website specifically dedicated to Britain's Small Wars:

So the invasion of Iraq, explicitly intended to 'democratise' the country, is just one item on a long list. For United States interventions, see Zoltan Grossman's list From Wounded Knee to Afghanistan. This long list is clearly not 'peace', even in the limited sense of absence of war. Yet for the supporters of democratic peace hypothesis Britain is indeed at peace. Spencer Weart could find only one possible exception - the Cod War, a fishing dispute with Iceland in the 1970's. There is a racist undertone here, in the way that colonial wars and post-colonial interventions by the democracies are ignored. Democratic peace evidently means 'white peace', even while others are subjected to brutal military campaigns. This kind of double standard can not form the basis of a moral justification of democracy.

Alternatives to democracy

Alternatives to democracy fall into four main categories: the systematic modification of democracy to remove its ethical defects; the simple overthrow of democratic governments; a non-democratic political system, and innovation in the system of states, with redistribution of territory and populations. But first it is useful to reconsider what they would replace: the relevant characteristics of the existing democracies.

The older definitions of democracy referred to historical origins, or simply to 'the rule of the people'. They were followed the polyarchy definitions, and later by rights-and-procedures checklists. None of these give a complete picture of modern democracy. A new definition would have to start at the global level, the level of world order. By now it is clear that democracy is not a one-country regime, not a characteristic of single states. Just as the ideology of the nation state implies a planet of nations, democracy implies a planet of democracies.

A democratic world order starts from the premise that only certain groups are a legitimate 'demos'. At any one time, therefore, there is a fixed number of legitimate regimes, each corresponding to a democratic state. For democrats, no other regime is legitimate. They claim that these non-democratic regimes may be converted (by military force or external pressure) into democracies. When this process is complete, and the fixed number of legitimate democratic states has been reached, no further change in the order of states would be legitimate. This corresponds to the claim made by nationalists, that only a world order of nation states is legitimate. This should be qualified by the recent trends in democratic interventionism. Although the number of cases is small so far (Bosnia, Kosovo, Timor) the democratising protectorates are also considered part of 'global democracy'. A world order consisting of (mainly western) full democracies, and their democratising protectorates, might simply be accepted as 'global democracy'.

However, with or without protectorates, the pan-democratic world would have a fixed number of regimes, corresponding to a fixed number of states. In a world where democrats consider each state to correspond to a legitimate demos, democracy is an implicit prohibition of new state formation. Once again, the prohibition of secession appears to be a defining characteristic of democracy - far more than any of the characteristics listed in the polyarchy definitions.

There is also no place in democracy for any 'trans-demos' or 'extra-demos' political decision. Democracies can work together, but in the last instance each democratic state has its own democratic elections. In other words, no group can constitute a political unit comprising members of more than one demos. They can form associations, but not a regime or a government: that would require formation of a new state. Since a cross-demos grouping is (by definition) not itself a demos, democrats would not allow it to form a state anyway. The emergence of a single global democracy would not help a cross-demos group - they would simply become an internal minority in a global demos.

The alternatives to democracy are alternative to this emergent world order of stable democracies - a world in which there is literally no place for social and political innovation. From this perspective, it is possible to reformulate the definition of democracy. The most helpful literature for this new definition was not the existing definitions, but Joseph Weiler's description of the eurosceptic No-Demos thesis.

This definition implies, that the most comprehensive alternatives to democracy can only be found at the level of the world order, and in state formation processes. Nevertheless there are also 'internal' alternatives.

rolling back democracy

'Rolling back democracy' (borrowed from Margaret Thatcher's commitment to "rolling back the state") is a non-spatial strategy. It could be applied inside an existing democratic state, and it would often be incompatible with the spatial anti-democratic strategies described in the next sections. The 'rollback' uses the checklist definitions of democracy. The outcome of the democratic process can be improved, if not all of the checklist applies to all of the people, all of the time. The right to vote is the best example, since it is considered the core political right of individuals in democracies.

Bill Gates has an individual right to vote, as a US citizen. That includes the so-called passive voting rights - the right to stand as a candidate for political office, to receive the votes of others, and to be elected. But Gates is also the world's richest man. Even without his connection to Microsoft, his influence on the US government is almost certainly more than that of the million poorest voters in the USA. The exercise of his individual vote in elections will not change that. So why should he have the right to vote? In practice the rich (and some other categories) have a double, and more than double, vote. Depriving them of formal voting rights partly corrects this structural injustice in western democracies. Voting and candidacy rights could be removed from such categories as:

That may seem a broad range, but it would probably be less than 5% of the population in EU member states. Limiting the right to vote can only be a first step in rolling back democracy. The next step would be to restrict political pluralism. Freedom to form political parties, and their freedom to operate, feature on all the checklist definitions of democracy. The conservative effects of democracy can be reduced, by prohibiting conservative parties, including associated conservative think-tanks and lobby organisations. In the USA many organisations openly describe themselves as 'conservative': the Heritage Foundation database lists over 300 of them. In Europe, conservatives often hide behind another label. Religious parties, which seek to impose the principles of a religion on non-believers, should also be forbidden - that would include all the European christian-democratic parties. (Religious parties with a protective role, for their own members only, would not be covered by this prohibition).

The next step could be to exempt certain types of decision from the democratic process. The example of the European high-speed rail network shows how democracies filter and restrict innovation. Exemptions from the democratic process, in such cases, allow the innovation to proceed without it. In Europe, exemption could apply to...

One issue which should certainly be removed from the democratic political arena is immigration. Demographics are probably the most urgent planning issue in Europe: demographic collapse will affect most of the continent within a generation. However, European electorates are hyper-sensitive to immigration issues, and clearly prefer zero immigration. Policies for replacement migration - with tens of millions of immigrants - can not be formulated in this political climate. In general, 'The People' can not be trusted with the immigration issue - because the manifestation of 'the people' on this issue is without exception a racist populism.

A more specific type of exemption from democracy relates to basic values. The European constitutional treaty explicitly lists the 'values of Europe'. However, despite much talk of 'national values', such lists are not usual in national constitutions. The German Constitution does open with a deliberate choice of national fundamental value:

Artikel 1 - Würde des Menschen
(1) Die Würde des Menschen ist unantastbar. Sie zu achten und zu schützen ist Verpflichtung aller staatlichen Gewalt.
Bundestag: Grundgesetz

Article 1 [Human Dignity]
(1) Human dignity is inviolable. To respect and protect it is the duty of all state authority.
Constitution of Germany

The constitution of a state can list its fundamental values, or value hierarchy - deliberately removing them from the political arena. For instance it could place equality above property rights (a classic conflict of values). Inevitably, this would lead to more pressure for secession: the secessionists would be able to clearly indicate what values they rejected. On the grounds of its values, there are legitimate objections of conscience to the existence of the German nation itself - the constituent 'demos' of German democracy. People can legitimately say that an entity with such a value hierarchy has no existence rights. The political case for secession is then clear: those who reject even the existence of the 'demos', are clearly not part of it. If all nation states had explicit lists of national values in their constitution, many more people might discover, that they do not belong in their own nation.

spatial alternatives to the system of democratic states

Secession is one of the few geographical issues in political and moral philosophy. Usually issues of space, geography and territory are considered irrelevant to ethics. Some theorists, such as Lea Brilmayer, try to keep these issues out of democratic theory also, and simply reject secession. However, it is difficult for democratic theorists to claim that secession is never acceptable: most of them live in states which once seceded from a larger empire. Recognising even one secession as legitimate, introduces a territorial element into the ethics of democracy - and secession is only one way to change the pattern of states. Those changes are 'geopolitics' rather than 'politics' - secession, acquisition of territory, creation of artificial territory, transfer of territory, the division of states by barriers, the creation of new states, and transfer of population. There are historical examples of all of these processes, but very little discussion of the ethics.

The truth is, that by manipulating geopolitical factors, you can can almost any result out of any political process. The referendum examples (on prohibition of pork) show how this is possible within a democratic system. Changing the electorate changes the referendum result, and Muslims are a clearly identifiable group who will vote in a predictable way. And that is, after all, what secession means in a democracy - it changes the electorate. If it is internal to an existing electoral process, territorial interference of this kind is called gerrymandering - manipulating electoral districts to include or exclude specific populations, with known political preferences. A classic example was the manipulation of the electoral boundaries in the city of Derry, in Northern Ireland, to maintain Protestant control over a Catholic majority.

The basic complaint in these areas is that the present electoral arrangements are weighted against non-Unionists...In Londonderry County Borough there was the following extraordinary situation in 1967:
  Catholic Voters Other Voters Seats
North Ward: 2,530 3,946 8 Unionists
Waterside Ward: 1,852 3,697 4 Unionists
South Ward 10,047 1,138 8 Non-Unionists
Total: 14,429 8,781 20
  23,210  
Disturbances in Northern Ireland Report of the Commission appointed by the Governor of Northern Ireland, 1969.

Democratic theory says this is wrong - it rejects all internal manipulation of the electoral process. Democratic theory says there should be a 'fair' arrangement of electoral districts, or a 'fair' national voting system, without districts. But democratic theory can not say that about the global system of states: there is no clear conception of what exactly global gerrymandering would mean. For a start, it is not clear what a 'fair' global arrangement of states would be. The present system, where the African poor are excluded from voting in the rich western states, certainly does not seem fair. If anything, it is the existing system of states which is 'gerrymandered' and unfair. So why not change it? And why stop at a few secessions? Why stop at one new state per year? Why not 100 new states, or 100 new population transfers?

The spatial, geopolitical, and territorial alternatives to democracy form a reservoir of non-democratic options for the future. They contravene the democratic order, yet they do not necessarily imply a transfer to authoritarian or totalitarian regimes. Perhaps because the options are not taken seriously themselves, there is no serious attempt by democratic theorists to criticise them.

The simplest spatial definition of a democracy is that decisions are taken by those who live in an area or zone, and that these decisions then apply to that area (zone). The hypothetical opposite to this is only possible on an infinite land surface: namely, that every possible use of a zone is allocated a sufficiently large territory to allow effective existence of that zone. Or, in social terms, that every possible form of society is allocated sufficient territory to exist. The planet's surface is finite - but that does preclude some form of territorial allocation.

Starting from these two opposites, a simple definition can be given of a post-democratic state: a state is a territory with a purpose. The conventional definition of a state, learnt by all International Relations students, is that a state consists of: a territory, a government which controls all or part of it, and its population.

At its simplest, the extent to which that population controls the government determines the degree of democracy. Democracy concerns specific territory: here again is the symbiosis of democracy and the nation state. In a world of nations, a democratic regime governs a historically constituted people inhabiting a specific territory - a classic nation state. Exceptions to that principle are very rare. In July 2000, a convention in Praha (Prague) proposed European Union recognition of the Roma as a non-territorial nation, with its own Parliament. However this is so completely contrary to the standard pattern of one parliament, for one nation, on one territory, that recognition is unlikely. Recognition of a non-national territory, as such, is even more unlikely. Yet that is what the definition of a post-democratic state implies: a state is a territory with a purpose, and therefore does not even need a population. If the purpose of a territory is fixed before it has a population, obviously there can be no democratic process. Any suggestion of this type is treated with deep suspicion among liberal political theorists.

Three formal characteristics define the spatial order of a post-democratic world:

In other words, the transition to post-democratic space involves the migration of the population of the Earth, to achieve a maximum of possible states, or at least a plurality of states. The main obstacle to such a migration is not economic feasibility, or the transport system, but political resistance. Ignoring that issue, and assuming such a migration, what kind of states could be formed?

The least productive grounds for state formation are the irreconcilable ethical universalisms. It would be possible to partition countries with abortion controversies (Poland or Ireland, for example) into two states: one where abortion is legal, one where it is not. However, very few people would be satisfied with this: they regard it as a moral issue, concerning in principle the whole world. On the issue of abortion, there is no ethical or cultural relativism, and there is no territorial solution to the problem of conflicting universal beliefs. State formation on this basis could only be a form of territorial clarification, an illustration of the ethical divide.

A second category of possible states allows for evasion of moral wrong or injustice. This category includes forms of 'refuge states', in effect an extension of the principle of asylum, to state formation by victims of injustice. If no existing state offers asylum protection, a new state offers the only effective guarantee of protection from discrimination, persecution, injustice, racism and oppression. There is already one state which claims refuge from persecution as legitimation for its formation: Israel. However Israel has never used that as the only justification of its existence - relying instead on the more usual claim to a national homeland for a specific people.

A third type of possible state is founded on non-universal ideologies or beliefs. As an example, it is possible to imagine state formation on the basis of existing political parties. In the electoral geography of western Europe, some regions have long-term political preferences, over centuries. (Political geographers in France have been the most successful in tracing these regional preferences). Even medium-term concentrations of support for political parties, over one generation approximately, could serve as a basis for state formation. In practice, there are legitimate objections to using political parties as the basis for division of territory. They would collectively gain a near-monopoly of territory, but their active membership is rarely more than 1% or 2% of the population.

A fourth category relates to certain semi-political historical preferences, usually ignored in political theory. Many people have a preferred 'Golden Age' related to their political views. For European Christian Democrats, it is often the Catholic Middle Ages, for classic liberals the free-trade era of the early 19th century. If people wish to return to the past in this way - in whole or in part - they could be given territory to do so. State formation, based on the reconstruction of a preferred past, is a feasible way of dividing territory - 'nostalgia states'. For instance, when the territorial integrity of Italy seemed under threat during the last 20 years, proposals for the reconstitution of the Papal States surfaced. The Italian nation state has proved more durable than expected, but the political consequences of a revived Papal state are interesting. Traditionalist Catholics from all over Europe would gain a 'homeland' to which they could migrate.

These first four categories are related to familiar issues in political theory, but they are far from exclusive. There are many other possible bases of state formation. Among existing nation states it is possible to find differences in social organisation and constitutional tradition. But these are the tip of a huge iceberg. Many options of this kind are so far apart, that they could not be accommodated in the same state. A modern nation state assumes some underlying cultural unity or shared basic values: 'multi-cultural' might work, but not 'multi-constitutional'. This is an indicative list of the types of option involved...

A society could be, for example, a centralised theocracy with a professional standing army and a closed economy based on subsistence peasant agriculture. It could be a libertarian federation with local citizens militias and an export-driven economy. But no society can be both of these at the same time, and neither can any state. Whatever arrangement such incompatible societies might enter into, would not be a state in standard terms - but two separate states are entirely feasible. One purpose of compiling such a list is to indicate the huge gap between the number of existing states, and the number of possible states. The reservoir of territorial alternatives to democracy is vast.

Again, many of these options are related to familiar political controversies. However, an entirely different factor would probably be the main driver of new state formation, in a post-democratic world. It is a factor generally ignored in state theory and political geography: technology. The common view is that technology is a unit, developing in a linear fashion through history. This picture of unity is false: there are technologies, in the plural. Technologies contradict each other, they are opposed to each other, they compete with each other. And in principle, each technology requires its own state, to guarantee its existence.

In existing nation states, there is a tendency to standardise not only national culture and language, but technology. This tendency will in the long term produce a world order of national technologies, parallel to the world order of nation states. There is no guarantee, that these national technologies will differ among themselves: they might be only superficially different. They are in any case limited by the number of nation states. In the long term that will limit or block technological change. Technological state formation does for a 'dissident' technology, what the technology can not do itself - secede.

Energy technologies in Europe are a good example. The trend at present is to co-ordinate national policies involving a 'mix' of technologies - coal, natural gas, oil, solar energy, wind, nuclear energy. In reality, the mix is dominated by some technologies, and others are marginalised. Creating a plurality of states, to guarantee a plurality of energy technologies, would produce a totally different Europe. It would be a continent divided into the states of Carbonia, Methania, Petrolia, Solaria, Aeolia, and Nuclearia, among others. Such possible states, with a specific technology as core value, are alien to conventional political theory - yet this list is only one possible division. There are many technologies, and many possible combinations.

Such a spatial order does not necessarily consist of closed blocks. In the case of energy technologies, it is possible to apply a technology with extra intensity in a core zone. (This applies to any characteristic which can be graded across territory). Each of the hypothetical states listed above could consist of a core zone where only one technology is applied, an outer zone where it is dominant, and a border zone of transition to an adjoining state with a different technology. This principle - cores and transitional areas - is familiar in cultural and linguistic geography. It has an unrealised potential as a 'design principle' for a new system of states.

The word 'technology' can itself be broadly interpreted, including, for instance, infrastructure, construction, architecture, and urban design. States based on a specific urban form are an example of a new state of this kind. Existing cities in nation states tend to reflect the national urban culture: one French city looks like another French city. A post-democratic urban policy could mean the creation of a plurality of new city-states, on the basis of possible urban forms. And here consideration of a post-democratic world returns to the issue of the 'ideal city' - an old value conflict between liberals and utopians.

Were the ideal cities of early-modern Europe wrong? The theoretical answer of liberal democracy is "yes, they were wrong because they were not the outcome of democratic process, but of autarchic will". The historical answer is also clear: Europe did not evolve into a multitude of ideal cities, but into a collection of nation states. In historical perspective, it is hard to avoid the impression, that the liberal-democratic nation state evolved to limit innovation. The abolition of the present liberal market democracies might bring the multitude of ideal cities into existence.

justification of non-democracy

Abolition of democracy, and a subsequent non-democratic state, can be justified on grounds surprisingly similar to those used to justify democracy. A few justifications are specific to non-democracy.

Abolition of democracy can be justified on grounds of individual sovereignty and political freedom. Specifically, destruction of the unity of the demos creates at least temporary individual sovereignty. (This is the 'anarchist justification' of non-democracy).

A non-democratic state can be justified on grounds of individual moral autonomy: the individuals political choice is not mixed with thousands or millions of others. It is characteristic of liberal democracies that they have complex procedures for ordering, weighing or summing preferences. Cyberliberal theorists of democracy see the Internet as a means to further increase this complexity (allowing multiple iterations, for example). The more complex the process, the less chance that the outcome will correspond to any individual moral choice at the start of the process. By definition, this is not moral autonomy: abolishing the democratic process (including e-democracy) would correct this.

A non-democratic state can be justified on instrumental grounds of protection - protection of the individual and minorities from the democratic process. As with illegal immigrants, the democratic majority often subjects 'despised minorities' to treatment which is harsh and humiliating, even if it is legal. In market democracies, abolition of the market democracy protects individuals and groups from market forces.

A non-demos (and therefore non-democratic) state is necessary to implement sovereignty and liberation of minorities, which can not meet accepted democratic criteria for secession (that is, they are not a demos).

A non-democratic state is the only way to separate of the state from the population ('the people'). In the hypothetical case that a democratic state declared all its residents illegal aliens, including its own employees, it would no longer have 'a people'. It would simply be a bureaucracy, administering a territory with residents. This is not inherently wrong: it would allow the state to adopt fundamental values different from those of the people. However, by definition, it would no longer be a democracy: the demos is gone. Such a separation is impossible in a democratic nation state - where the state is intended to express in some way the 'will of the people', and the national culture.

A non-democratic state can be justified by the necessity of creating 'consent' to options which do not have democratic majority support. In more abstract terms, 'to create the political conditions for utopia' - the utopian justification of non-democracy. Many possible projects, and entire possible societies, do not come into existence because there is no corresponding democratic decision to support them. So long as some of these possibilities have intrinsic value, they constitute an instrumental justification for non-democracy - in order to bring them into existence. This justification applies especially to reconstitution of the system of states, and redistribution of territory, to form new non-democratic states. Specifically, a non-democratic state can be justified from the intrinsic value of innovation. If it innovates or facilitates innovation, where democracy does not, can not, and will not, then it is justified. This is probably the most fundamental justification of non-democracy.

Conclusion

This concluding list summarises the arguments given in all the other sections. Implicitly, they form a program to abolish democracy. Why do that?

To start with, because it is time for a change. The western democracies have been democratic, depending on the definition, for 50 to 150 years, and most people there have no experience of non-democracy. Democracy should disappear, to facilitate the end of global inequality, famine and avoidable disease, by the introduction of global transfer taxes. The end of democracy would end the legitimisation of the nation state from democratic principles, and allow innovative types of state to be formed. It would facilitate social innovation, end conformist suit-and-tie societies, and prevent the emergence of a uniform global society. The construction of utopias and ideal cities (without the consent of the people) requires the end of democracy. Its abolition would also allow construction and implementation of projects - especially infrastructural projects - which are unpopular and uneconomic.

Abolition of democracy would prevent, or reverse, morally wrong decisions of democratic governments. This applies especially to policies targeted at unpopular minorities (witch hunts), which are a regular feature of democratic regimes. It would end the political and social marginalisation of anti-democrats, and the 'democracy-only' mentality of democratic societies, and allow a society with multiple attitudes to democracy. In short, the end of democracy would create at least the possibility of a different world, and a different world order.

And last but not least, the end of democracy would mean the removal from office of Jörg Haider, in March 2004 again the winner in the democratic election in Carinthia, and the negative inspiration for this critique of democracy.


Why is NATO wrong?
The ethics of secession
Nation Planet