Saturday, January 19, 2019

Book Review: 'Democracy and Its Crisis' by A. C. Grayling

Democracy is not a fixed state. It is a concept, different to everyone at different times. It is continually evolving. As time goes on and attitudes change, the vote has been given to non-landowners and women, for example. In the original, in ancient Greece, voters had to be white adult male citizens who adhered to the state religion. Not a real democracy, but a good start. 

Democracy and Its Crisis follows it through its many mutations and variations, from various People’s Republics of Murderous Dictatorship to the ossified, cobweb-encrusted American version, and the hypocritical and fraudulent British version. Most of it is speculation from philosophers, because democracy was not widespread until the last century. So everyone’s concept was valid, if blue-sky. The evidence of its many faults and inconsistencies is plainly out in front of us, and assembling it here points to the staggering failures, inefficiencies and frauds of this best of the worst systems.

There is a special condemnation of factions as Madison called what we know as parties. They corrupt the process and the execution, Whips ensure members vote as instructed, and party policy is more important than facts on the ground in the home constituency, or compromise with other parties. It has meant the most qualified steer clear of elected office, leaving voters with poor choices. So fewer and fewer bother to vote at all.

Grayling lays out the facts – they are not hard to find. His solutions are all reasonable and essentially impossible. He wants the vote to be mandatory and to begin at 16. He wants civics lessons to begin at 14. He wants proportional representation, because no one represents the voters who did not vote for the winner. That winner usually earns less than half the population and represents nothing. For example, in the Brexit referendum, only 37% of the electorate voted For (ie. Leave), and they represented just 26% of the adult population. So was democracy effective? Grayling would like to ensure it is by adapting the structure to our realities.

Because the real crisis of democracy is not fixed, either. It needs constant vigilance to ward off the ever-evolving corruption of parties, lobbies, those with ulterior motives, who have no intention of working for the common good but only to enrich themselves by offering to further enrich the rich, or gerrymandering or constituencies with no voters or that don’t even exist, and so on. It’s a task without end.

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of David Wineberg. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right. 

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