The three principles of democracy and their deliberate distortions
By Demosthenes Kyriazis
At the very basic question of what is the regime of Democracy, everybody usually answers with what he understands or with what is advantageous to him. The confusion grows even more because the name “Democracy” is used for every regime; the Parliamentary, the Socialist, the Ethnico-Sosialist, as well as for the totalitarian regimes of the lifelong “enlightened leaders”, who exercise the power for the good of the citizens, but without any involvement of them.
This dangerously misleading use of the name “Democracy”, has not being allowed in other names, such as the Greek white “feta”, or the French brandy “cognac” and in many other cases. Why we allowed this in the case of Democracy?
Trying to find a simple and understandable answer to the above question, we reread the principles of the ancient Athenian Democracy, because this is the regime that was named Democracy.
With the knowledge and capabilities of an ordinary citizen, we ended to the following two simple conclusions:
1st Conclusion. Depending on whether the power was exercised from one, or from few, or from all the citizens, the ancient Greeks named the regimes respectively: Monarchy, Oligarchy and Democracy. The classification criterion was simple, clear and understandable. Today in order for someone to declare what is the regime of a country, he should have a PhD in Constitutional Law, and even then there will be many different opinions and controversies.
2nd Conclusion. The regime of Democracy of the ancient Greek culture was based on three distinct principles: the “philosophical”, the “operational” and the “procedural” one. If these do not apply, then we don’t have Democracy, but another regime that uses the name of Democracy falsely.
But let's try a brief survey of these three principles.
1. The Philosophical principle.
This principle constitutes acceptance of the axiom that all men are by Nature, by God equal; that all people are «born free "; that all people are born “in the image and likeness of God”. These mean that all men have the capability for making decision with the power of logic and not only with the power of instincts and incentives, as the other living beings do[i] .
From this principle it follows that the participation of all citizens in the exercise of power constitutes a physical determinism and that the opposite is a violation of natural law; is an Ύβρις[ii] (hybris) with the ancient Greek sense of the term.
I think this principle coincides with the postulate of Jean Jacques Rousseau’s for the “non-transferable of rights”
It is true that the general applicability of this axiom was challenged by great thinkers like Plato. Deep down however, these controversies did not refer to the equality as described before, but refer to ability of people to perform tasks in the sectors (military, economic, social,… ) of political power, something that applies to any kind of tasks; of the musician, of the carpenter, of the farmer.
The exercise political power tasks by men with spiritual and moral forces, constitutes an obvious basic necessity. The issue is therefore how to ensure that the exercise of power will be carried out from the totality of the citizens through capable ’ρχοντες[iii] (leaders) , which will act as servants and not as masters of the citizens totality.
This problem was faced by the ancient Greeks, in the frame of the operational principle of Democracy.
The operational principle.
Decisions regarding a society are so numerous, that their taking with the participation of all citizens undoubtedly leads to a failure, leads to a mob rule and not to a democracy. By applying only the philosophical principle, it is impossible not only for a society to operate not, but even for a group of five people.
The ancient Greeks had found the following simple and effective solution to this problem.
- The totality of the citizens (the Ecclesia of Demos) took the major[iv] decisions, while the plethora of minor decisions, (taken in order to implement the major ones), were taken from the Leaders (’ρχοντες).. This means that the Set of citizens acted in the same manner of the kingdoms, which take the major decisions and leave the minor ones to his official servants. For example, the decision of declaring war was taken from the citizens, that is from those who would pay the consequences of the war, but the plethora of other decisions created from the declaration of war, were taken from the competent leaders; the generals, the officers, the warriors. It is important to note that both then and nowadays, the formulation of a proposal for the taking of a great decision wasn’t made by all citizens, but by some specialists, (as it is done today at the House). This obviously means that the citizens then as the MPs today, do not compile the text of a decision, but in reality they select and approve what the specialists have elaborated. Here's how Thucydides[v] describes the situation then prevailed at the Athenian Democracy:“…because, only we consider him, who does not participate in the matters of the State, not as a peace loving man, but useless and we ourselves either do righteous thoughts and recommendations or , at least , take the right decisions for the matters of the State" [vi]
- The appointment of the Leaders (’ρχοντες) was done by lot, a fact proving their faith to the doctrines, of the equality of citizens and of the axiom that "ruling proves man’s ability”[vii]. In few cases, such for the military leaders, the appointment was done by electing the excellent one, or electing the group of excellent ones. In the last case the final election was made by lot among them.
The procedural principle. The majority principle .
Making a decision by consensus from a totality of citizens is, with statistical determinism, practically impossible. It has very low probability. If this was applied, the regime of ancient Greek Democracy would be an ineffective and crippled power.
The ancient Greeks found a simple and functional solution to this problem. They defined axiomatically that the decision of most members of a group will be the decision of all members of the group. This axiom is widely known as the principle of the majority.
The application of the three principles in our days
1. The philosophical principle of the Democracy has never been challenged. Just was ignored “with many praises." Nowadays even, the intensity of praise is inversely proportional to the area of application. We do not mention examples, because we all know enough. Totalitarian regimes proclaim systematically and intensively their respect to the citizens’ equality but only in words; the equality without ... equality!!
2. The operating principle applies actually in all regimes; in monarchies, in oligarchies and in representative democracies. In all these regimes, those exercising the real power, take the major decisions, while the plethora of minor decisions is taken from the deacons and the servants of real power. Only for the “Master Citizen”, for the citizens’ Set, the principle is inappropriate if not dangerous. The principle may be used by the citizen only for electing the Lords with rules and practices developed by …the Lords themselves!!
3. The procedural principle is treated with high respect. It is applied at all cases where collective decisions are made; in the Parliament, in Political Parties, in the Prefectural and Municipal authorities, in the boards of trade unions, in the boards of companies. Only for making decisions from the citizens' Set, is not applied. This principle has so great acceptance, as to be identified with the regime of Democracy. But Democracy is the application of the three principles and not simply the application of the procedural principle to some subset of citizens. The Senate of Rome and the Inquisition applied also the principle of majority, but this was not democracy
The deliberate distortion of the principles of Democracy
From the foregoing it follows easily that, the basic condition for the application of the three principles, is the existence of easy and low cost communication conditions. That is why true Democracy only operated in small states / cities of ancient Greece. When these states / cities died, the regime of true Democracy died also. In states with the current population, the function of true Democracy seems impractical.
A second and perhaps more important reason for the death of real Democracy were the reactions of the political, economic and intellectual establishment, whose interests are threatened when the power exist at all citizens. The power at the few people can be controlled, but the power of the citizens' Set, not.
The above has as result to be applied in today's "democracies» only the majority principle, while the other two principles either are ignored, or applied with great distortion.
The application of the three principles is done today in two ways:
- The Philosophical and the Functional principle were ignored and only the Procedural principle was applied; was applied not to all citizens, but to small subsets of them; to the nobles, to the rich, to the powerful and to the representatives. Such “democracies” were that of the Carthage, Venice, Rome, but which had not usurped the name of democracy. The use of the name of democracy for each regime is a modern "invention". The current representative democracies belong, essentially, to this category.
- The three principles of democracy are ignored, but the name of Democracy is still used. In these regimes, the exercise of power is done from “enlightened laymen leaders” who take all the major decisions for the benefit of the citizens. For obvious reasons, some minor decisions are taken by free or controlled referendums, while the important ones are always taken from the “enlightened " leader; the opposite of what happens to real democracy. Those totalitarian regimes, in which none of the three principles of democracy is applied, have been self defined as …direct Democracies!!! This however is not the most important. The most important is the fact that some “experts” claim that direct democracy is a regime like those; like the regime of Cuba or of Libya.
The Friends of Digital Direct Democracy believe in the rationality, morality and effectiveness of these three principles. Additionally believe that these principles today, thanks to digital technology, can be applied not only in small states - cities, but in every state, regardless of their extent and population.
[i] Decisions are taken by all beings with the power of instincts and motivations .Only man has the prerogative to take decisions with the power of logic and to be precise, with the power of logic, instincts and motivations.
[ii] Yβρις (Hybris) called the acts were contrary to the laws of God, ie to the laws of Nature
[iii] ’ρχοντες (Leaders) in ancient Greece were called the heads of a group of people, the flag bearers, these in the fore-front.
[iv] Major decisions are the strategic decisions that induce and reduce the plethora of minor decisions that are taken to implement major decisions/orders of totality of citizens. In Direct Democracies, the major decisions are taken from all citizens and the minor ones from the leaders. In today's democracies, major and minor decisions are taken from the representatives, who pretend falsely that they are taken ...from the totality of the citizens
[v] Thucydides, one of the greatest historians of ancient Greece
[vi] From Thucydides’ book History 2
[vii] The axiom in Greek: Αρχή ’νδρα δείκνυσι.