Saturday, 24 January 2009

Shades of Democracy

The Irish Referendum on the Lisbon Treaty has, I think, been covered well elsewhere already so I thought I would make a few observations on how "democracy", the buzzword of the Referendum has been used and how people have gone about using their democracy in practice. Democracy will feature heavily as the No side will likely focus on what it means for democracy to re-run a referendum after just over a year. So here's an incomplete, and not entirely serious, guide to the various versions of "democracy" during the campaign:

If You Don't Know, Don't Vote!: Not a very popular version, so it doesn't get its own acronym (see IYDKVN! below), this version of democracy is supported by those that think that those who are paid to make decisions are trying to avoid work, and those who are suspicious of people who can talk for ages about something that they claim is incomprehensible. Possible problems: if you don't vote, you may loose your say. Being replaced with a similar - result-wise if not otherwise related - If You Don't Care, Don't Vote! version of democracy.

Bloc Democracy: Could also be labelled "Interest Group Democracy" or "Brinkmanship Democracy". Involves groups (e.g. Irish Farmers Association) using their possible support for the issue at hand as a way of getting their way on an unrelated issue of particular interest to them (e.g. WTO Trade Talks). Possible problems: the Group may not be able to persuade its members to vote in line with a recently changed position.

"IYDKVN!" Democracy (If you Don't Know, Vote No!): Could also be labelled "Soundbite Democracy". The theory that if an issue cannot or has not been reduced to 5 verifiable soundbite points or less, then the proposition should be rejected for incomprehensibility. Pluses: people always know what they're getting. Possible problems: may make it hard to make decisions on complex issues; if used, it could become harder later to claim that "No means No!" if the decision is to be retaken (especially since, technically, "No Means I Didn't Know!") - however, this can be countered by switching to the "Exclusive", "Sacred Say", and "Don't Make Me Repeat Myself" versions of democracy.

Democracy of Gratitude: The theory that states that good proposals or decisions come from the people, or the ideology, who have made good decisions in the past, and so such proposals should be passed (e.g. if EU integration has been good in the past; or if the current government has handled the economy well). Possible problems: people are still people, and can still mess things up - or they could have concealed past mistakes.

Irritable Democracy: The theory that people should vote based on whatever issue is currently annoying them, regardless of whether or not it's related to the issue in question (e.g. voting for or against a side based on how they would have/have dealt with the local hard water problem). Possible problems: decisions made on the basis of this theory could lead to more irritable issues (e.g. voting in a local council based on national politics may lead to having an ineffective council...)

Sympathetic/Paternalistic Democracy: The theory that people should vote based on how it would effect others (e.g. if other people cannot vote or have a say but it would affect them nevertheless). Good points: it takes into account other interests which would be affected which cannot be expressed. Possible problems: it's not always clear how these other people would vote; it may lead people to vote against their own interests; can lead to criticising other countries constitutions while refusing to listen to any comments or criticism of your own country's system and a certain feeling of superiority. Specific Lisbon Treaty problem: since the Treaty would grant the EP and national parliaments greater power and oversight of EU legislation, voting against it denies people more power for their votes in national and European elections on a regular basis...

Exclusive Democracy: the theory that people should vote on an issue purely on how it would effect them, even if it would affect others - this theory includes not listening to any opinions from outside a certain area/group, and considers the airing of any such opinions as meddling to be condemned. Good points: should ensure that people vote in their own interest. Possible problems: the wider debate could be ignored and this may lead to some points not being raised.

Sacred Say Democracy: the theory that any democratically expressed opinion is sacred, to the extent that any outside influences must be ignored completely. Good points: tries to ensure that the democratically expressed will is acted upon. Possible problems: could force a position on a polity and not leave it enough room for manoeuvre to change policy if necessary; all outside influences may be condemned as "bullying" and not given a fair hearing or serious consideration; could lead to a frame of mind where democracy is about expressing an opinion and having that opinion respected, rather than a way of people sharing in the responsibility of government; may lead to ignore important factors/political realities.

If You Don't Care, Don't Vote! Democracy: an increasingly popular theory that people shouldn't vote if they don't care. Good points: the people who do care are more likely to get the result they want, so everyone's happy. Possible problems: people who don't vote don't have a say; decisions against their interests could be taken without their input.

Don't Make Me Repeat Myself Democracy: the theory that people should only have to make a decision once. Good points: tries to ensure that the democratically expressed will is acted upon. Possible problems: could force a position on a polity and not leave it enough room for manoeuvre to change policy if necessary.

This isn't a serious article, but there is a tension between variants of direct democracy and representative democracy, and it's interesting to see how people define their own version of democracy and how people assume that there is little variation in models of democracy. And this can sometimes lead to confused rhetoric.

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