Democracy requires a cognitive process. The founding thesis is that reason will be applied in the selection of various individuals who make up the government. It is the thought process of the electoral candidate that should form the basis of their selection by the voter. By extension, it is to be assumed that the candidate holds similar views to the person who votes for that candidate. It is assumed that on average the body of elected members will reflect the ethos and aspiration of the voting public as a whole.
How can it then go wrong?
Honesty. It has been demonstrated often that politicians are dishonest. They will claim to have views that are fallacious. They will mislead the public. They will offer that which they cannot supply. This should come as no surprise since all potential member of the government has a highly biased vested interest. Having been voted into place, that politician becomes assured, for at least a number of years, of an income substantially higher than the population average. Further, it is likely to lead him into a position of prestige. Even after abandoning office, the history of a politician is often sufficient to generate a substantial income in terms of consultancies, academic appointments and book writing (often by “ghosts”).
In modern democracies, with exceptionally large numbers of voters per candidate, the distance between voter and candidate is so great that it is impossible to accurately assess the merits, motives and ethics of the candidate. Election therefore becomes a random walk, often heavily biased by the availability of funds to the candidate. These funds, in their turn, reflect by their origin an additional – and powerful – set of vested interests.
Perhaps it is the despair of being able to make a rational choice, which causes voters to often make entirely blind choices. A senior professional in the European Investment Bank told me recently that she was unconcerned about the details of the candidates for whom she voted. Instead her choice was based entirely on a preference for a female and a member of a minority group. This was a woman trained, employed and expected to make rational judgments. However, she appeared to be perfectly content to elect a government in this casual, dismissive and trivializing way.
In this type of random/assumptive voting we have a whole new set of biases. In their attempt to measure the minority groups which they choose to support (again for a large spectrum of reasons) a judgment is made at to the capabilities of that minority group. In making that judgement the voters appear to concentrate on a few exceptional individuals as their basis for judgments about the group. That they are selecting from the edges of the distribution curve – hardly a good measure of a group as a whole.
Therefore, in large electoral communities democracy will fail. Unfortunately it is those same large electoral communities which reflect large, powerful and often very dangerous nations. The politicians themselves introduce many aberrations. Gerrymandering is well recognized. However, one of the most distorting is the “political party principle” where individuals vote not so much for individuals as for a party. In some electoral machines individual candidates become irrelevant. Effectively these forms of election are assertions by a dictatorship. This is often not recognized as there is no single “dictator” at the time of election. The “dictator” is in fact the group which controls the political party. Ultimately they will elect a figurehead in the form of a president or prime minister. That is then the ultimate dictator.