Too Much Democracy
July 01, 2008
Over the last week or so there’s been some discussion about the nation state and democracy. Chris Dillow asked,
If nation states did not exist, would we these days feel a pressing need to invent them?
To which Shuggy replied,
What problems are best solved by national political systems? The problem of who governs and what the people can do if they want a change in government. In other words, the ‘nation-state’ has historically been the theatre of democracy and there is, in my view, absolutely no evidence to suggest that trans-national institutions like the UN or the EU are capable of answering these questions better than nations for the simple reason that neither of them can be considered democratic in any meaningful sense.
Matthew Sinclair added,
[Supranational] organisations lack legitimacy as they lack history and have, instead, been superimposed on better established communities. A nation state’s legitimacy is rooted in its history and, usually, a common stand against some adversity (wars build nations as well as destroying them). Supranational institutions never have that as they are superimposed and never command enough loyalty to take a serious common stand against serious adversity.
Rooting through the archives, I unearthed this gem, in which Deogolwulf tackles George Monbiot’s erotic dreams of global government:
George Monbiot calls for a world-government with direct popular representation. For a moment, even he is aware of the problem that such a system would bring, but then madness takes him once more:
Global democracy has a special problem — the scale on which it must operate. The bigger the electorate, the less democratic a parliamentary body will be. True democracy could exist only in the village, where representatives are subject to constant oversight by their electorate. But an imperfect system is better than no system at all.
He is not quite right even when he senses the problem; for the bigger the electorate, the less the vote of a single person matters, which is more democratic, not less. A tolerable, even decent, democracy can exist in a small society because the individual is not dwarfed by the vastness of demotic power. But let us imagine something at the other end of the scale: a world-democracy. The world-population is about 6.5 billion, and perhaps 4 billion are of voting-age. If there were a representative for, say, every 100,000 of such persons, as is broadly comparable with the representation-ratio of the British House of Commons, then there would have to be 40,000 representatives in the world-parliament. If, on the other hand, we wished the world-parliament to be of manageable size, then we would have to reduce the number of representatives, such that, if we had, say, 1,000 representatives, then each would represent 4 million people.
It is rather odd, therefore, that a man who complains about the smallness of his representation on a national scale - a reasonable complaint in a large democratic state - should then seek representation on a global one; for however such “representation” is instituted, a single man’s vote would count for even less than it already does in a large democratic nation-state of today, and anyone bothering to get out of bed to vote in a global election would be doing so quite irrationally; for the chances of his having any appreciable effect on the outcome would be far less than the chances of his tripping over a discarded first-edition of Probability for Dummies on the way to the polling-station and plunging head-first in front of a bus driven by a hard-up student of political statistics.
The whole thing is well worth reading.