Liberal democracy cannot deliver the promises it holds, and this why it is the best political system.
A democratic system relies on a very simple logic: every body has blind spots. These blind spots prevent us from seeing the truth; because of our emotional reaction to a specific matter, we do not consider what is the best for our politically organized society but what is best in regard to our bias. This was put much more eloquently by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a Swiss philosopher from the XVIIIth century, in his book from 1762 “The Social Contract”. He clearly states why democracy is the best political system: if the truth is always one, then anybody presented to the facts should choose the best solution to any kind of matter. However in the case where this person is somehow passionated about the topic— meaning that he or she is not able to think merely considering the facts because of being emotionally linked to it — then his views will be distorted and not tend to the truth. And that is the point of democracy: everybody has blind spots, so instead of having one person creating laws and the rest be victim of his biases, we put everybody in the room to discuss the facts, and all the ones without passion about this issue should agree or at least tend to the truth, canceling each other individual and specific passions. There is obviously here a debate about collective passion that would undermine the whole logic, but we will see that in a second article.
Thinking in systems
It must be clear here that in regard to what has been written higher, we must define why liberal democracy can be, under specific conditions, the best political system. It is not so much that it lets everybody speaks their mind — even though it is something, that some might consider essential — rather than to be more likely to reach the truth than another system, be it dictatorial or monarchical (what a nice word to say aloud). However, as was specified earlier, there exists some conditions under which to create this system for it to be functioning efficiently. I can see three of them. I will write mostly about the first one in this article.
For the above definition of democracy to be efficient and to deliver the promises it holds, people need to be able to consider a problem the community is facing, to evaluate all the facts at disposal, to meditate about what are the values that the community stands for (usually expressed in its constitution) and to decide of the best solution. But as we see already, that is neither the way our democracies are organized, neither how we, personally, approach any issues. Why is that? There are of course some institutional choices that have been made and upon which I will not dwell here. Nevertheless, there is also an effect that takes place in the very heart of every citizen. It is what we might called “system thinking”. It is the fact that we tend to associate problems that are raised in the political realm with system of beliefs. It is a big problem. Because it prevents us from considering a problem without thoughts in the back of our mind about what would be the consequences in regard to our belief system. And if we want to solve problems, we need to look at problems without passions, without an emotional reaction to them. Some people will always be passionated, and it is a good thing, but the majority will not be— about this specific topic — and if they are only considering the issue with the truth as an objective in mind then we should tend to it. Not always reach the truth, but at least increase our rate of getting close to it. This “system thinking” is caused by two reasons. One is related to the way our minds work and the second to a bad habit of how the political system is organized. A second article will be about the latter, which is deeply intertwined with the second of the three main conditions for a democracy to be efficient.
Systems in our very hearts
We like to build around ourselves narratives. We do it without being always aware of it, but we do it. And like prejudices they help us, like a crutch in our daily lives. Life is complex and there is no definitive manual about it; through education and long hours of meditation and learning, we can reach to a point that we are deeply aware of our ignorance; at the end of the day nobody really understands the world and its people in it. So we have to create logical systems that, for better or for worse, help us read the world. Education is after all simply a way of sharpening this understanding of the world. These systems are defined by culture, education, experiences in life, our personal fears and desires and everything that affects us. So they are deeply rooted in who we are. They are very difficult to shake because we have lived by its more or less explicit rules for so long, and they are a consequence of how we see the world. So to change them would be to change our vision of the world. Something that you cannot do every day before breakfast.
So how these systems have anything to do with politics and democracy in particular? Well they are the first reason we cannot consider a problem without being passionated about it. Imagine a person who has had some problems in his life, problems that have knocked him down. They have taken away from him the desire to fight back, the ability to take his life in his own hands and to take full responsibility for his actions and for his future. Well, it is possible that such a person would advocate for an authoritarian regime. Therefore, because of the life he has and the system of beliefs which is a consequence of his life, he is going to make a political choice. Because he has failed to take responsibility as a result of these hardships, he is going to consider that we should built a whole political system around the idea that our government should free us from liberty and responsibility. “Hast Thou again forgotten that to man rest and even death are preferable to a free choice between the knowledge of Good and Evil?”, was saying The Grand Inquisitor facing Jesus himself. So how can democracy be efficient when our ability to discuss matters are veiled by these systems? As we will always look for the answer that will be the most adequate with our past beliefs, with the narratives of our lives, with the identity we give ourselves. So much for looking for the truth with an open mind. We take the risk to say sentences like that:”As a conservative I think that, as a progressive, as a Christian or as a communist” and all the identities we give ourselves. This means that we entrap our ability to distinguish the truth behind these systems. These systems can help think and they carry sometimes great analyses and great solutions even. But as soon as it become a system, the shade of totalitarian regime shows its tail. Because if this system is THE solution, then the ones criticizing it are harming the people by disturbing the implementation of THE solution to every problems and should be put to death. And yet who can pretend to know everything? I am not here writing that having convictions is bad — quite the opposite — , but they must be under one big principle, which is that there exists no perfect system to solve all the world issues and therefore dialogue and tradeoffs are the only way. Because, if we believe that a specific system is the solution to all of our problems then we take the risk of imposing our truth to others. I do not have a perfect solution to this issue because I do not believe that there is. I think that our job is simply to consider politics as a way to solve problems, a way to guarantee that justice restitutes to the ones that have been dispossessed and not as a way to manipulate mankind in making it according to some idealized system.
Democracy and systems
In other articles I will try to keep going with the analysis of democracy and its possible pitfalls. However, I want to make a general comment about democracy before going further. The reason why democracy is so shaky, and recent events have proven it to be, is that it puts every citizens in front of their choices. Our humanity is really about choices. Freedom on the one hand: the ability to decide what we will do with our lives. It is a beautiful gift. But on the other hand: responsibility. It is less good fun. No twenty year old poetic writer and his artistic girlfriend have ever gone on road trip to look for responsibility. And yet, without it, freedom is just a vague idea to put on a t-shirt. So why is democracy so important despite all the dangers and risks? It is because it does not pretend to put human beings in a system. The reason why any ideological system has ever collapsed, be it christian or communist or whatever else, is that they attempt to put all of humanity and all of life in boxes and to optimize life and some other metrics. But because human beings can make choices, it means that it will always be more complex and that a small dose of anarchy will always subsist no matter what we try to do. Of course, it also means we must abandon the idea of some perfect system, some earthly version of the Garden of Eden. There will never be such a time. Conflict, chaos there will always be a part of life and it is alright because it is on the flip side of choices. All we need to do is to find balance. I could have ended with a quote from Star Wars but I rather leave it to J. K. Rowling:“Dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.”: the very purpose of life.