Like many people in Britain, I pay attention to American politics, a hobby(?) helped by the fact that I lived for much of my life in the US. This year, what British and American politics have in common is that democratic processes have led to results that many people are unhappy with — Brexit here and the nomination of Donald Trump as the Republican presidential candidate back in America.
This is the kind of thing that predictably prompts some people to say “well, this is what democracy gets you in the olden days the told the mob what to think Plato was right all along grah grah grahr.”
This, I feel, is not a position supported by the historical evidence. It’s like that thing about dictatorships being more “efficient” than democracies. You could call Hitler’s Germany a lot of things, but “efficient” is not among them. It was a mess.
And the same goes for that other comparison so beloved of democracy’s critics, monarchy. Monarchies were a goddamn mess in pretty much any country that ever had one. An examination of the history of the British monarchy reveals a catalogue of bunglers, scoundrels, tomfools, irresponsible juveniles, would-be tyrants and just sonsabitches in general that makes the list of American presidents, Rutherford B. Hayes and Andrew Jackson included, look like a Sunday school picnic.
The critics have a point: people are (or at least can be) a bunch of damn fools. But where they err is in assuming that there is some subset of people who are not, and that they can be selected without reference to the aforementioned bunch of damn fools. Obviously, everyone thinks they’re special, but life is full of disappointments like that.