PhiloMadrid - Pub Philosophy Meetings in Madrid

Thursday, June 19, 2014

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: Is democracy obsolete? + News

Dear friends,

I do not recall whether today's topic "Is democracy obsolete?" was
proposed because of the investiture of the new king of Spain. But for
our purposes what matters is whether democracy is indeed obsolete or is
it one of those cases that we've been labouring under the wrong
illusion. In my few ideas I enclose with this email I argue that what is
obsolete is the way we discuss democracy in philosophy.

In the meantime Ruel has sent us the link for this essay;

Hello Lawrence,
I wrote a short essay on Sunday's PhiloMadrid topic and here is the link:
Thanks and see you on Sunday.

And finally Encarna would like to share with us the Programme for the
"Dia de Segovia" at the Centro Segoviano on the Saturday 21 June 2014 –
programme link here:


Is democracy obsolete?

The issue is probably not that democracy is obsolete but rather has
there ever been democracy; despite the justifiable belief that democracy
is the best method of government from a bunch of really nasty options.

The reference point in any discussion on democracy is usually Greek
democracy, usually meaning Athenian democracy. It is, however, very easy
to romanticize political models especially from the past. The problem
with Greek democracy is that it was only open to the rich, thus
excluding slaves and women. And participation in the public manifest of
democracy, that is elections, was only limited to the rich: no surprise

Indeed this Greek model of democracy survived well into the twentieth
century and only recently have the EU ventured into breaking the other
condition of only citizens of the city had the right to vote. Today EU
citizens can in theory vote in other countries for mayors and EU
parliamentarians, but even then it is not always a smooth ride.

But even this so called right to vote in other EU countries is not
really a right since the state controls the functions of the mayorship
and therefore, not a right to elect a legislature. And the right to vote
for the EU parliament is a function of a treaty and not a sovereign right.

Fast forward a few centuries and we come across the Magna Carta and our
first reference of democracy in modern times. This was the first
document that led the way to the Westminster model of parliament; it set
governments under the rule of law and guaranteed that a representative
majority govt did not abuse minorities*. But once again we are not
talking about people like you and me but the landed gentry and the
titled. In other words the average person and women had no place in the
Magna Carta.

It wasn't until the 1900's that British workers had a functioning
official party to represent them in parliament in the form of the Labour
party. However, throughout the 19c the need to represent workers (no
longer called slaves and serfs) evolved with the evolving condition for
voting qualification that resulted in more people having the right to vote.

But it wasn't much later and well into the twentieth century that
universal suffrage was introduced throughout the world. However,
elections are the public face of democracy, and we know this because
even the worst of dictators hold elections. Or the super elite countries
hold elections for the head of state such as the election of the pope
at the Vatican.

In all the models we have of democracy all exclude someone and other,
but the objective is always to consolidate power. Even the brave cry (or
slogan) of "no taxation without representation" is one taken out of
context, it was a slogan for the moneyed people in the America colonies not
to be taxed by the English king for their trade. There are many people
who are taxed even today and who do not have a vote; most important of
all are foreign citizens and corporations.

But there is more to democracy, basically the separation of powers and
the rule of law. One of the principles of the Magna Carta is that the
majority does not abuse the minority. But it is curious that none of the
constitutions speak of the minority abusing the majority.

If this was the case there will be a need for an institution to oversee
the various powers of separation. Maybe today this happens in a naive
and dilettante way with the various international courts, the EU
institutions and the UN. But the whole edifice is very slow and creates
many obstacles for the individual to seek justice that justice is
certainly not seen being made.

For us the question has to be whether democracy has become obsolete in
real life because of some coup against the principles of democracy or
simply through natural evolution?

No doubt today there are some setbacks in the various democracies that
have adopted the Westminster model. Two reasons for this situation are
first the transition of identifying individuals as all citizens and not
only the moneyed few or landed gentry even though money will always buy
privilege thus creating a two tier society. The second is the transition
from political freedom to economic freedom. No doubt today we are
politically free but not all are economically free.

But despite these setbacks the democratic model is by far the best
political form of government. The alternatives do not take the
individual as relevant and the system is always there for the protection
of the few. Indeed, non democratic systems are also based on dogma to
consolidate the privileged: for example North Korea, China, most Middle
East states and of course the Vatican.

From the perspective of theory democracy has always been discussed from
the political philosophy perspective. This, no doubt, reflects the
function of the old model of democracy i.e. the participants of
democracy were always economically free so the programme for these
people was always to consolidate their power. But today we are all
politically free, since this has very little cost anyway, but the
objective for everyone today is to achieve economic freedom.

Hence, in the past we discussed democracy in the context of political
philosophy, but today this is more than probably an obsolete approach.
Today, military alliances and treaties are the least important; this is
of course not to say that they not relevant, far from it. Today the most
important treaties are commercial in nature: the most important of which
is of course the European Union, followed by other treaties such as the
WTO (World Trade Organisation) and the Kyoto Agreement.

The irony is that today's business model is still basically the feudal
system model admittedly with a few bells and whistles. But in today
market place all goods and services, without exception, are based on
technology and therefore based on sound science. The paradox is that
technology requires cooperation whilst feudalism only requires
aggression with an unreasonable dose of whimsy on the part of the feudal

Thus, when King Felipe VI of Spain says that we need to invest in
science, technology and investigation this is not a project, but a fight
for survival. Today democracy survives first and foremost on
intellectual property.

Despite the questionable status of democracy throughout the ages, and
the inevitable attraction of democracy, there has always been one
consistent factor through the ages until the arrival of the industrial
revolution. Basically, those elected to the various forms of parliaments
or senates were always elected in their name for their individual
privilege. Sure, once in parliament they came together to settle the
issues of the day using the majority rule.

I am inclined to argue that the demise of democracy, not as a theory but
as a practical tool, arrived when people stopped electing members of
parliament and started to elect factions to parliament. Indeed, I would
go so far and argue that political parties are incompatible with
democracy. Not only do parties turn the chamber of parliament into a
metaphorical pit for packs of hounds to snap at each other's legs, but
most important of all parties pre determine the decisions of a member of

Democracy is all about freedom of the individual and a consciousness of
what is morally right. Political parties are about coercion and self
interest the very same principles Greek democracy, and all other
democracies, are supposed to fight against.

In a democracy, members of parliament ought to be unaligned and vote as
free agents with only their moral conscience to guide them. With all due
respect to independent MPs, it is quite alarming that in today's
democracies the only person in parliament that qualifies as being free
and has the power to act according to their moral conscience is the
constitutional monarch.

* Magna Carat is the birthright of all English-speakers – Telegraph

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813 <>
PhiloMadrid Meeting
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Metro: Bilbao
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from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: Is democracy obsolete? + News

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