ONLY PEOPLE WHO hide behind rose-tinted glasses can possibly have any real belief in our version of democracy. It could only ever have been a dream, only a possibility in a totally altruistic world, where corruption didn’t exist and everyone was a potential saint.
Tyranny in any form is anathema to free peoples. Oligarchy formed from a powerful clique of the aristocratic rich and their allies has even less claim to be a workable solution. Power does indeed corrupt, and even men and women who start off with the most benign of intentions will inevitably be driven to using the mailed fist to put down ‘unreasonable’ opposition for the greater good of the people as they interpret it sooner or later.
We are left with democracy – like it or not – but it is becoming increasingly clear we must find a new model that runs on pollution-free fuel, with vastly improved efficiency and environmentally friendly recyclability. There is a need to get back to the much-mocked ‘basics’. We need to ask the questions that must have been asked at the beginning of mankind’s history as a social creature. A basic list of such questions might include:
• What is citizenship and who has a right to it?
• What moral obligations to society (if any) does citizenship demand?
• What limitations on their freedom will freedom-loving people accept?
• What functions must the state retain centrally?
• What functions should be delegated to local control?
• How can state and local government be regulated to stop rogue elements taking control?
• Should organisations with common interests have any say running the state?
• If so, how should such bodies be regulated?
None of these questions is as simple to answer now as it was even a hundred years ago. To take one simple example, there can be no simple definition of the people we are prepared to accept as our fellows within the modern nation state. Adolph Hitler tried that and his solutions were comprehensively rejected by the world. The answer must be a compromise that brings the greatest degree of satisfaction to the largest cross-section of the population. It is not possible to do that by trying to satisfy vocal, but unrepresentative minorities.
The very fact that political factions exist and form themselves into parties in order to gain power should set the alarm bells ringing, even in an ideal world. How can anyone continue to believe that democracy exists when party leaders enforce their policies with a system of ‘whips’? Even Churchill is reported to have said that democracy is only the best of a bad bunch of political systems, all of which have been tried out over the centuries. He of all men was only too aware that modern democracy bears little or no relationship to what was introduced by the ancient Greeks.
Many believe benign dictatorship is the best form of government, perhaps harking back to the King Arthur stories of the middle ages, in which a much-loved king ruled wisely, with the best interests of the common people foremost in his mind, one man with the power and influence to rein in his more predatory peers. Dictators more often than not morph into kings. ‘Royal’ families soon emerge with ideas of entitlement to deference and a degree of luxury in their lives. Even the mighty Republic across the pond doesn’t appear to be entirely proof against such developments.
Recognising that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, all British rulers since the reformation must take heed of the views of the people of this country through our developing unwritten constitution. Today, no one with any sense would try to run a PTA without some form of consensus among its members, even when the group recognises the need for a strong chairman, capable of logical, rational persuasion and leadership.
There lies the crux of the matter. Even in a democracy there is a need for strong leadership, albeit a leadership that must listen and learn. Strong leadership requires strong principles, principles that are spelt out and stuck to when acceptance at the ballot box has been tested. Yet even such strong leaders must listen when situations change.