On the morning of 29th October, German national radio broadcast a long programme lamenting the fact that German schools have not been doing enough to inculcate "European values" ("europaeische Werte")into the minds of the children. This while the spectacular failure of the euro project is posing the worst threat to the region since WWII and the credibility of all the established parties is at an all-time low. But they know best. The pan-European polical caste refer only to themselves. The idea of representing an electorate was lost long ago. The idea of a referendum frightens them. To distract from their colossal ineptitude, the educaton system and media must be recruited. Revolutions have often happened when the will and best interests of the people have been ignored. Dangerous times caused by dangerous one-issue fanatics.
You still have not answered the question.
Simply: whom do you trust to decide how we shall be governed?
I agree that direct participatory democracy is imperfect; moreover, I willingly concede that anything devised by man is likely to be so. The important questions remain - how and by whom do you think we should be governed? How should these people be selected? What qualities do you think appropriate in our rulers? How can we decide who possesses these qualities?
Your position appears to be the reasonable one that we cannot trust public opinion. Human judgment is fallible. All true - but have you anything better to substitute?
Michael I would not normally cut and paste an article verbatim but this from Sebastian Shakespeare from the London Evening Standard 04/11/2011;
Beware Greeks bearing gifts of democracy, otherwise known as referenda. Isn't Greek prime minister Papandreou's decision to call a referendum the ultimate political cop- out? Or in Papandreou's case the last refuge of the political scoundrel?
He certainly behaved like a scoundrel, not informing any of his cabinet colleagues, and now seems to have peformed a screeching U-turn worthy of the Stig. Politicians are elected to represent us in Parliament, including making laws on our behalf. For them to pass the buck back to the electorate is just an abdication of responsibility.
There are mounting calls in this country for a referendum on Europe - or at least looser ties with the EU. But if Europe is such an important issue, why don't we have referenda on going to war (Iraq springs to mind) or the death penalty, or erecting Dignitas booths in the high street for voluntary euthanasia?
Because, as everyone knows, that way madness lies. Or at least mob rule. We would soon be forced to have referenda on every issue under the sun.
Most people would support the return of the death penalty if it was put to a referendum (certainly for child murderers and police killers) but this doesn't mean the majority are necessarily right. You'll recall the majority of people supported the slave trade in the 19th century.
Surely the "ishoos", as Tony Benn calls them, are far too complicated and nuanced to be boiled down to a simple Yes or No. Not to mention the woeful ignorance of the populace at large. I have no inkling about the intricacies of the Common Fisheries Policy nor do I want to know about them; our elected legislators are paid to get to grips with the mind-numbingly boring detail.
If we were to be truly democratic we should have a referendum on whether to have referenda. And then another referendum on the wording of the next referendum and so on ad infinitum. It would resemble one of Xeno's paradoxes and nothing would ever get done. Just as Xeno demonstrated that motion is an illusion, so too perhaps is democracy.
The renewed appetite for referenda is the curse of our reality TV age. Everybody wants to think they can make a difference by pressing a red button. Now we have endless pointless e-petitions in Parliament which are nothing more than a sop to the public.
Parliamentarians are so anxious to curry favour with their constituents after the expenses scandal that they will do anything to make us feel more involved in the political process. But it's just a gimmick and should be denounced as such. We already have referenda in Britain. They are called general elections. One every four years is enough for me.
Funkg - you write:
"So in other words we should trust the ‘British public’ via referendums on important matters such as the NHS, Immigration, welfare and capital punishment? I really would not want to live in a democracy dictated by the likes of the proverbial ‘white van man’"
You have a point; but there is another, perhaps of comparable importance.
If you do not trust the generality of the people to decide how they will be governed, who do you trust? How should they be selected? Who does the selecting?
These are not rhetorical questions: please let us have your answer.
Well, as somebody who hates the Guardian, I read the editorial and it seems to me that Dalrymple is exaggerating a tad.
Their objection seems to be that the backbenchers raised the issue NOW, at this particular point in time, when so much is in peril. That's a fair enough point, no?
I certainly think we should get out of the EU, as soon as possible. I've thought that for years. But it's just silly to do it in a way that will cause unnecessary damage.
The problem with referenda is that voters rarely ever answer the question on the ballot paper. They tend, as President De Gaulle found out, to use them as a means of giving the Government a bloody nose.
The last thing 'elites' of any stripe -- conservative or liberal -- want is to put this to a democratic vote of the People. We saw how that went with Giscard's constitution.
But I wonder how many voters are more interested in the details of football and re-runs of "Are You Being Served?" than in the details of the Lisbon Treaty...
"...the Mother of all Parliaments..."
Do you mean that it should be debated in Iceland's Althing?
So in other words we should trust the ‘British public’ via referendums on important matters such as the NHS, Immigration, welfare and capital punishment? I really would not want to live in a democracy dictated by the likes of the proverbial ‘white van man’
The European elites have overbet their hand on this one.
As the PIIGs go down, the rest of the Europeans, particularly the Germans and the French, will refuse to keep pouring money into the failing venture.
The majority of Britons, having a nice channel allowing them to view the situation with binoculars, as it were, are able to see the coming crackup very clearly and are getting off the train.
However bumpy the landing may be by jumping off early, it sure beats the alternative: still being aboard the EU Express when it goes completely off the rails.
Sorry elites. You put your fortunes and your prestige on the wrong number and are coming up aces. There are riots in the streets right now, principally because of the elites' refusal to do the right thing and the subsequent battering the regular people are taking as a result.
There is a revolution coming and it's gonna be an ugly one. I wouldn't want to be DSK or Dominique de Villepin or any of the other men with women's names who've been pushing and pushing this, throwing trillions in good money after bad as the whole things goes south. Those people are likely to end up in exile or at the business end of a firing squad.
The ability to allow stubborn, foolish pride to trump good sense should never be underestimated, especially among people who consider themselves the upper crust of the smart, cool kids. These European elites are cruising for a very bad outcome for themselves.
In fact, it occurs to me that the closest to a philosopher-king I have ever seen in my lifetime may be Prince Charles! The reception he has had from the media and many of his prospective subjects seems to show pretty clearly that no such individual could rule a modern state.
I couldn't agree more, Dr Dalrymple. There seems to be an amazing amount of doublethink about democracy, with our leaders insisting at every opportunity how wonderful it is, how lucky we are to have it, and how much they are in favour of it - while also insisting that, whenever there is an important decision to make, the people should have no voice. But that is the beauty of "representative democracy"! It is a formula that saves everyone's face and allows the incompatible to coexist. Every X years, the punters get to choose between preselected candidates for office (none of whom may be fit); then those who are elected have free reign for the next X years. Elective oligarchy (or plutocracy) sounds like a more accurate description.
The same attitudes have greeted the proposed Greek referendum. Most especially in the home of democracy - where they actually tried it for a while 2500 years ago, although with distinctly mixed results - why shouldn't the people have a chance to say Yea or Nay to a contract that will effectively submit them and their children to indentured servitude?
The most troubling question that arises from these thoughts is whether the people are actually fit to make big political decisions in this day and age? Personally I am against Britain's membership of the EU, since the beautiful vision has long since been tarnished by experience of the shoddy reality. But I must admit I don't really know enough to make an informed decision. If the EU broke up, would war return to Europe after 65 years of (mostly) peace? What would be the geopolitical and economic consequences? And so on.
If only there were such a thing as a philosopher-king! Unfortunately, Lord Acton was quite right when he observed that "All power tends to corrupt; and absolute power corrupts absolutely". (Plato too may have learned that the hard way, before he died). So we are driven back on Churchill's stoical judgment: "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried".
I have to say that I have been astounded over these past years, to see the citizens of these European countries allow the EU to dictate the laws to them, while not demandiong a democratic process to actually elect the leaders. It is simply amazing and a frightening realization that people can behave like sheep without little pressure from the tyranny that controls them. It is happening in the US as well, while we allow one man who was elected President to simply write his own rules and laws and impose them on everyone.
As always, Theodore Dalrymple is spot on right. He explains, better than anyone else, how decent people feel, and what even intelligent people find difficult to understand.
Bertil Wedin, Kyrenia, Cyprus