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How many Democracies are there today?






The way that we currently refer to governments was largely defined by Aristotle in the 4th century B.C.E.  Unlike his predecessors whose demarcations were limited and grossly incomplete, such as occurs in Plato's idealist The Republic, Aristotle clearly defined in Politics not only the different types of governments that exist but also the vast array that could be generated by combining features of the different types of main configurations; moreover, it also provided the mechanisms through which each government gained its character.  Most of this work would be later paraphrased during the Enlightenment, in a simplified manner, with The Spirit of Laws published in 1748 by Montesquieu (whose full name was Charles de Secondat, Baron of Montesquieu).  These works, along with the political writings of John Locke, were greatly influential throughout Occidental culture, both in the Old and the New World.

In the case of Locke, his influence was such that he is often referred to as "the philosopher of the Glorious Revolution" of 1688 in England when King James II was overthrown via invasion by a Dutch fleet and army that without much initial pushback managed to institute William III as King of England, Ireland, and Scotland, leading to the Bill of Rights of 1689, one of most important documents in U.K. politics still today.  The Glorious Revolution marks the end of the specter of absolutism in England, and the Bill of Rights cemented the status of the country as a parliamentary system in which the powers of the monarch would be heavily constrained.  The Constitutional Monarchy thus established has continued uninterrupted from 1689 until the present day.

Still, John Locke's notoriety, in contrast to Montesquieu, did not arise out of his political demarcations but rather because he articulated the conditions for what would become the Liberal State; for example, he wrote about checks and balances of power, the rule of law, the right to due process, and the necessity for Life, Liberty, and Property, which Thomas Jefferson rephrased as Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness in the Declaration of Independence for rhetoric effect, that is, naming property would not provoke a similar rise in the passions underlying public sentiment, passions that were extremely needed at that time as independence from British rule only enjoyed about one-third support from the colonist even though the war between imperial forces and the colonies had already been ranging for over a year, thus you can imagine how much the support for independence was prior to the start of the conflict.



As will be seen further along, it is actually the Liberal State that people refer to as democracies, with countries that do not abide to its tenants being labeled as nefarious or failing states even though their actual governments and political processes are identical to those of countries considered democracies.  This is, of course, a grave error, but if political debates centered around Liberal States, they would be unable to garner support for the position because of the unyielding opposition that exists to the term liberal. Democracy and democratic, therefore, are nothing more than euphemism for the correct term that people no longer want to use or rather, because some no longer wanted to use it, most people in our societies no longer understand what it means.

Be that as it may, it was Aristotle who provided the definitions that have stood the test of time. He did not create the terminologies, of course, as these were already widely in use long before his birth; rather, he properly compiled and defined them in a systematic manner, demarcating their mechanisms and also showing how these could be meshed to create mixed republics that combined qualities of the different sorts.

Sculpture that provides a portrait of Aristotle, the Macedonian philosopher who taught Alexander the Great and still lived half his life in Athens
Portrait of Aristotle, the man whose succinct arguments 
 allowed his copious written production to leave a
significant mark on almost every subject.


Defining Political Systems: Aristotle's Advantage over Modern Theorists

Today, our modern societies and even some of the world's foremost scholars find it hard to define the types of governments, a fact that often becomes a bit embarrassing when a nation's institutions are overthrown and a newly formed government takes over. An underlying debate often rages on how to refer to the new political system. That debate is always messy and, when it continues for a long time, borders on humiliating. Why is it so hard for us to define what form a new government takes? It isn't actually, but political loyalties and affiliations stand in the way of participants stating the correct terms outright, sometimes to the point that these affinities prevent people from even discerning what the proper nomenclature is.

If it is so problematic for us today, how could Aristotle do this task in an exacting way millennia ago?

Setting aside the power of propaganda that permeates politics everywhere at present, the answer to the aforementioned question is surprisingly simple. All the places where Aristotle lived are circled red in the map below.

Aristotle lived in all the places circled in red. Imagine how many cities he must have visited along the way.
Imagine how many city-states Aristotle must have seen through his journeys.

Ancient Greece had long been a loose collection of city-states, each with its own unique government.  The Greeks still had this fluid arrangement when Aristotle was born, and it was still thus throughout most of his life until the rise of his most illustrious pupil, Alexander the Great of Macedonia, who as an adolescent accompanied his father Phillip II of Macedon as they conquered the mainland Greek city-states using soldiers on horse's backs to route the famed formations of Greek infantries.  This marked the first end of the city-state arrangement and first rise of an actual Greek Empire.  But expansion beyond mainland Greece had not taken place, and upon Phillip and Alexander's return to Macedonia, a bitter family quarrel over succession took place that led to Alexander and his mother having to flee into exile.  Soon thereafter, while at the wedding of his daughter, Phillip II was assassinated by the captain of his own bodyguards. 

Alexander was proclaimed king, with support from the army and the Macedonian nobility, at the early age of 20.  His subsequent military incursions into Egypt, the Middle East, all the way to Iran (then Persia), stopping at the natural border of the Himalayas Mountains that had always protected the Indian subcontinent from invaders.  This march East is considered one the most culturally significant events in world history, and it also marked the beginning of a Greek Empire, asserting Greek culture as the new dominant force in the known world.  Though the Roman's would later conquer the Greeks, Greek culture nevertheless remained as the clear victor insofar as the cultural realm is concerned.

Prior to Phillip II and Alexander, though large alliances or leagues would form where one city-state such as Athens or Sparta often enjoyed overwhelming influence, each city-state still retained their own particular government.  Since these governments ruled a city and some surrounding farm lands, there was ample margin for the different states to experiment with all sorts of political mechanisms and government configurations.  As a result, the geographically tiny Greek territories arguably enjoyed a larger variety of types of governments than does at present the entire Earth.

Aristotle didn't have to guess, infer, theorize or speculate; he was a witness and observed.  He saw the different types of governments at work.  For further information, he would consult then recent historical documents as testimony for how configurations had shifted and changed - and why. As an avid reader with an analytical mind, this wasn't a particularly daunting or consuming task.  He simply needed to create another taxonomy - a political taxonomy - and he was quite skilled at developing taxonomies; for instance, our current classification system for living beings owes its origins to the taxonomies that he developed.  He wrote most of these and of his great works, including Politics, upon returning to a changed Athens under Alexander's rule, that is, after having traveled Ancient Greece more extensively than most.  He would only move once after that long stay, to his mother's family estate, fleeing an Athenian populace that was hostile to him after Alexander's death not only because of his close ties to the imposed viceroy but also because he was Macedonian himself.  Though he died within the year, he fled the city because he would not accept Socrates' fate, stating - "I will not allow the Athenians to sin twice against philosophy."

 

The Definition of Democracy

The basic typology in Politics divides states along two axis: quantity of political decision-makers and whether the specific configuration was good (i.e., correct or virtuous) or bad (i.e., perverted or vicious).  These two parameters generate the following table.

CorrectDeviant
One RulerKingship
(Monarchy)
Tyranny
(Dictatorship)
Few RulersAristocracy
(Meritocracy)
Oligarchy
(Plutocracy)
Many RulersPolityDemocracy

Since Monarchy and Tyranny remain pretty much self-explanatory, a brief observation regarding rule by the few ought to be made before delving into the systems of rule by the many. 

Aristotle argued that, wherever a talented, skilled and virtuous subset of the population exists, the government that yields the best results is Aristocracy, which literally means "rule of the best" qualified citizens.  Currently, such configurations are typically called Meritocracy instead because the concepts aristocrat and noble were erroneously and arrogantly conflated for centuries in Europe.  This mistaken entanglement has been so frequent and constant for so long that it has made it into most English dictionaries as the standard and only definition of the word, thus shamefully disregarding the word's etymology altogether.  Nobles, to be sure, are almost always oligarchs, that is, rich landlords and business owners, with very few among them qualifying as aristocrats in the original sense of being among the best, given that greatness in skill is obtained through relentless practice and hard-work, that excellence cannot be bought or inherited.  Thus, Sparta was a crystal clear Oligarchy even though it was governed by elected noblemen alongside two kings in charge of the military that counterbalanced one another at home and during military campaigns (a trait later replicated, it is worth noting, by the two consul system of the early Roman Republic in a similar though not exact or hereditary manner).


Types of Government and Constitutions, and their defining characteristics, according to Aristotle's Politics
Click to Enlarge.
Main types of governments and their defining
characteristics according to Aristotle's Politics.

Though it is obvious that a benevolent, unselfish, and capable group of highly skilled rulers would be the most likely to articulate and successfully implement policies that would benefit and further the interests of a society as a whole, not being naive Aristotle recognized that these ideal conditions are a rarity in reality and, therefore, considered mixed republics as the most optimal systems regardless of the peculiarities of a specific society.  A mixed republic combining mechanisms of all the types in the table above could presumably be successful anywhere because it could satisfy the interests of all sectors of society.  Today, it is this recommendation that conforms our governmental model, not the creation or preservation of Democracies.

Returning to the topic of the rule by the many, please note that Democracy is placed as the deviant form of the many rulers category because it is the configuration where the majority overpowers the minority.  By etymology, Democracy means "rule of the people".  Most frequently the majority ("the people") consists of poor citizens owning little property or none at all; given the opportunity to decree via majority-rule, these would typically proceed to oppress or dispossess the wealthier classes.  This Aristotelian argument is the very same offered by then would-be President of the United States, James Madison, in the Federalist No. 10, widely considered the most important among The Federalist Papers, a collection of newspaper articles that disseminated arguments in favor of the ratification of the constitution still in place today and was published under the pseudonym Publius, being written mostly by Madison and Alexander Hamilton, with only 5 out of the 85 articles having been penned by John Jay who fell ill soon after the project began.

The 4th President of the United States, widely considered the "Father of the Constitution", made explicit the claim that the proposed system of government would wipe out the democratic tendencies that could take hold in the smaller states by federating them under the regulation of a Republic, thereby vanishing the specter that some -- or all! -- states could eventually reconfigure into democracies. Setting that aside, the question of concern here is whether democracies (or even polities) exist in our contemporary world.

"Democratic", Propaganda, and the Republic

Many of us alive today are bombarded daily with the frequent use of the word "democracy" and its variants, such as democratic society or democratic principles or representative democracy or electoral democracy, ad infinitum.  It isn't just politicians and media repeating these terms endlessly; we even do it to ourselves, and our friends and acquaintances often employ them too.  Unless you tune yourself out completely, it is unlikely that you will not hear some variant of the word "democracy" today, or any other day for that matter.  It's everywhere! 

The following map is an example of how the global stage is prototypically painted to people living in the Occidental (and Occidentalized) world.

Political world map characterized by propaganda. Countries portrayed by government class in the fashion typically presented to people in the Western world.
Political world map characterized by propaganda displaying countries by government types
in the fashion typically portrayed to people in the Western world.

This map is brimming with the propagandized view disseminated nonstop throughout Western nations, a fact that may be readily appreciated by considering the definition of Anocracy.  Even if the map above strikes you as all-too-familiar, it is very likely that you've never heard that label used before, but this shouldn't faze you one bit.  The word "Anocracy" is so recent and of such infrequent use that it isn't even recognized as a real word by most English dictionaries; in fact, the word was first used in 1946, appearing in a reprinted translation.  Anocracy allegedly refers to a state configuration that blends democratic and autocratic principles in a way that is incoherent and hence ineffective, leading to political instability.

In the map above, both Russia and Venezuela are stated to be closed Anocracies, which one may guess is the worst form of Anocracy.  You may not agree with the policies of Vladimir Putin or Hugo Chávez, and you may also object to the means employed by their governments to enforce such policies.  I feel the same way.  Nonetheless, is this cause enough to label those states "closed anocracies"?  To find that answer, we ought to ask ourselves the questions that relate to the proposed definition of the made-up word considered.

Is Russia politically unstable?  Not at all!  The opposite is true.  In 1999, when President Boris Yeltsin nominated Vladimir Putin to be Prime Minister, he became the Russian Federation's fifth Prime Minister in 18 months.  Now that is political instability!  Putin actually became president, also in 1999, because Boris Yeltsin was forced to resign, which is another sign of political instability.  Since then, Putin has won 3 presidential elections with such overwhelming support that a second round of voting to achieve a majority has never been necessary.  For his second term, he received an awe-inspiring 71% of the vote. 

Since in the Russian Federation a person can only be president twice in a row, Putin backed Dmitry Medvedev for that office, who received 70.28% of the vote in the first round with his closest opponent garnering only 17.72% support.  Under Medvedev, Putin was nominated and confirmed as Prime Minister, completing a four-year term before running for president again, winning easily once more.  He currently enjoys approval ratings that his Western counterparts can only dream about.  Does this sound like political instability?

What about Venezuela?  The map above is from 2011, that is, before Hugo's cancer-related death in 2013, the first year of his 4th presidential term.  He held the highest executive office for almost 13 years, from 2000 onward.  Though a presidential term in Venezuela now lasts 6 years, Chávez was elected four times because he unseated himself during his first term after only two years in office by creating a new constitution that required new elections to be held.  Autocrats aren't known for giving the populace extra chances to take them out of power, but Chávez did just that and he did so early in his first presidency, way before he could have successfully coerced the population into reluctantly supporting him.

Immediately after becoming president on February 2, 1999, he called for a referendum on whether to create a Constitutional Assembly, referendum that took place on April 25 of that very same year and in which the proposal garnered 88% voter support.  That extremely high percentage evidences that a new constitution was seen as necessary, and that fact ought to give you some idea of the political instability that Venezuela had been suffering up to that point. 

Another referendum to choose delegates for the assembly was held as soon as possible, on July 25; an overwhelming 900 out of the 1,171 nominated candidates did not support Chávez.  Even with this numeric disadvantage, the candidates he supported won 125 seats, that is, 95% of total assembly, including all the seats that were reserved for indigenous groups that have historically been excluded from the political process altogether.  This inclusiveness and support from marginalized group indicates a "closed anocracy", right?  The citizens voted on whether to adopt the resulting constitution in December 1999 with 72% of the voting citizenry casting their ballots in favor of constitutional change.  A mega-election that included all possible offices was held on July, and 60% of the participants cast their ballots for Chávez. 

In 2002, a military coup d'etat took place and Chávez, having himself tried to overthrow the government a decade earlier, agreed to be arrested by the high-ranking officers spearheading the charge.  A pro-business oligarch was immediately sworn in as president, and his first order of business was to decree the new constitution as null and void.  However, just mere days later, popular backlash forced him to step down amid nationwide protests.  Hugo Chávez returned to power in less than a week. Autocrats aren't known for giving themselves up; they usually fight to the bitter end and prolong civil strife as they cling to power, like the autocrat Bashar al-Assad of Syria is doing now, and he is winning thanks to both Russian and "Allied" Western military support. Does any of this sound like "anocracy"? Hugo won the next presidential with an even larger majority and higher voter turnout.

Again, you may not agree with the policies of Vladimir Putin or Hugo Chávez.  There is no shortage of solid reasons from which to raise objections, particularly regarding policy implementation and enforcement.  But is that sufficient ground to classify entire nations as "closed anocracies"?  No, it is not.  Personally, I am highly suspicious of all political personalism because of the immense potential danger involved; I also abhor populism, deeming it one of the worse forms of pandering, since time after time populist agendas have provided little in the way of long-term benefits - at great costs!  Most of the strategies of both Putin and Chávez are counterproductive, and some seem just not right.  (Not to mention that the historical and international law implications of Russia's almost overnight annexation of a piece of European soil scares the bejeezus out of me.)  Nevertheless, propaganda is propaganda and ought to be called out whenever it's spotted.  The fact remains that Putin heads a semi-presidentialist republic (i.e., one that has both a President and a Prime Minister, like France's current Fifth Republic), and Chávez governed a presidentialist republic (i.e., where the highest executive is endowed with both foreign and domestic policy powers, like USA).  Though we may have our qualms with the particular choices of a nation's citizenry, do we really need to unleash disrespect over their entire state?´

[For those interested in the previous line of argument, please note that Ecuador is also listed as a "closed anocracy", and this categorization is entirely due to the developmental economist Rafael Correa having won the presidency in 2007 as an independent candidate without any party support and offering no legislative candidates.  That case, more than those above, illustrates the propaganda. Correa quickly brought political stability to a country that had had 7 presidents in only 10 years, an extremely political unstable situation.  I urge you to research that case.]

In contrast to the typical map above, the one below - from the List of Countries by Government System Wiki - uses more accurate terminology and sheds most of the propaganda (sadly, a footnote was added to let the propaganda back in).  It is worth observing that neither Democracy nor the nonsense term Anocracy is used once in its entire legend, yet Monarchies are listed, as these very well should, despite the fact that these are nowhere to be found on the prior map.

Political world map depicting countries as Presidentialist, Semi-Presidentialist, Parliamentary, Constitutional Monarchy, Monarchy, Single-Party, or Dictatorship
A more accurate political world map.
Countries are depicted by the constitutional form of their current government.

Democracy is by definition a system of government, so why isn't the term employed in the map above?  The short answer is that it would be inaccurate and misleading.  There are no democracies in the world today -  none, zero, zip, nada, not a single one. 

Why are most people told on a daily basis that we live in democracies?  I will not address the propaganda purposes as I am sure that you can figure those out by yourself; however, it is useful to address the common justifications that have led the vast majority of the population to believe that some democracies do exist.  There are two main justifications.

Against Two Justifications of Why Democracies Exist Today

  • Justification #1:  Citizens vote to elect their leaders; therefore, everyone is free to participate in determining the fate of their nation, a trait that is obviously democratic.
Aristotle was very clear with regards to the role that elections play in determining which class of government takes hold. The mechanisms of a democracy are lottery and open participation, the latter meaning that any citizen that showed up to the forum could equally take part in the public decision-making process. In the Constitution of 4th century Athens, free participation was the way that the Popular Assembly (Ecclesia) operated, in which every male citizen above the age of 18 could show up to speak, scrutinize, propose, and vote on: 1) law proposals submitted to the Nomothetai, whose members were chosen by lottery, 2) decrees and treaties, and 3) the election of the city's ten Generals and all except the lesser magistrates.  Every other government job was chosen by lot (i.e., allotment / lottery) from among citizens more than 30 years old, with the only exception being the Ancient Tribunal (Aeropagus) whose sole job was to judge murder trails of Athenian citizens and the members of which were retired Archons - 9 seats that were filled by lottery and the function of which was to organize feasts in the city and preside over the Popular Tribunal (Heliaia) only when the case dealt with issues of family and inheritance law. 

This diagram depicts the institutions of 4th century B.C.E. Athenian Democracy, along with their characteristics and the selection process of its officials
Click to Enlarge.
Diagram depicts the institutions of the Democracy in Athens
during the 4th century B.C.E., what these institutions did, 
their makeup, and how the officials in each were selected.

Having explained what the mechanisms of a democracy are, let's return to the topic of voting and elections, which is the principal justification offered nowadays for "representative" democracy.
What is an election?

By definition, an election is a transfer power from the voters to the elected individual or, differently stated, from the many to the few.  Throughout Ancient Greece it was recognized that elections virtually always favor the rich and those with long-standing known family names that were raised in privileged environments.  It is easy to deduce by logic that people with such traits cannot possibly represent the bulk of the citizenry because their life experiences do not resemble even slightly that of the rest.  Given these facts and remembering the Aristotelic table presented earlier, it is clear that elections are the defining mechanism of oligarchies.  Aristotle states -

"That all offices are filled by election and none by lot [lottery] is one of these oligarchical characteristics; that the power of inflicting death or banishment rests with a few persons is another; and there are others. In a well attempted polity there should appear to be both elements [democratic and oligarchical] and yet neither" (Politics, Book IV, Part IX)

In this quote Aristotle opens the door to our being able to consider a polity instead of a democracy, polity being a more mixed and balanced form of government.  Are our current "democracies" in fact examples of polity?  This question is easy to ask now that exact conditions were provided. Three simple questions need to be answered.


1) Are all important public offices filled by elections?

In most contemporary Liberal States, juries are the only exception, but some contemporary "democracies" do not even have juries, such as the Republic of Chile in which judges are not elected but appointed; moreover, in some countries that do have juries, there are also military tribunals that do not use juries or that use juries not chosen via lottery.  It could be further argued that our current systems are even worse, or more oligarchic, because the vast majority of public positions are not elected at all but rather appointed by elected officials or, more problematic still, chosen by civil servants appointed by elected officials, and that chain actually goes on several more degrees in a way that promotes favoritism, clientelism, and even nepotism, a tendency that if taken to extremes straddles the line that demarcates Fascism. And I didn't even mention the mechanism of a Court of Appeals where a judge may overturn a jury's decision without using or even consulting a jury.


2) Is the power of inflicting death in the hands of few people?

Yes, it clearly is.  Even if someone were to make the case that juries have that power in some places (not most) -- conveniently ignoring the power of the police, armed forces, and intelligence agencies to inflict death with impunity -- it perhaps may be sufficient to note that the least amount of people that an Athenian jury may have had was 201 jurors, a number that would climb as high as 1501 jurors on really important cases like those involving murder.  Even the lower number is quite far from the contemporary 12 juror system, and the democratic nature of the larger number becomes clear when we consider that the Athenian Democracy included around 30,000 to 50,000 citizens throughout its history (about 10% of its total population.  And no, that low percentage is a null issue, even if it included slavery.  If you had a country largely populated by immigrants, like Luxemburg, Qatar and United Arab Emirates, would you say that non-citizen immigrants need to be given the right to vote in order for democracy to exist?  No, you would not.  The demarcation issue rests on citizen power and participation, not on who are citizens or the ratio of citizen to residents.).

3) Do contemporary "democracies" appear to have truly democratic alongside oligarchic elements in such a way that these do not appear to be either democracies or oligarchies?

Not only are there no meaningful democratic elements in place, current systems appear thoroughly oligarchic to anyone that studies them to any significant extent.  The oligarchy and current oligarchic policies are out of the open for anyone to see.  Thank you Internet!


  • Justification #2: Universal suffrage (i.e., no gender or race conditions on eligibility to vote) and the elimination of property and education requirements for voting and to hold elected offices transformed Liberal States that tended towards oligarchy into de facto democracies.
This is a much more sophisticated justification grounded on historical events such that it is scarcely offered and, when it is, it commonly operates as a recourse after the first justification got shot down.  Though it is more reasonable, it isn't frequently offered as a first resort because it has various pitfalls.  Perhaps most important among these pitfalls is that deploying this argument requires admitting both that most Liberal States today were not democracies to begin with and that there were no democracies until a very short time ago.  New Zealand was the first nation to grant full universal suffrage... in 1893. Switzerland did not implement universal suffrage until 1971! 

Consider the United States of America for example.  USA natives do not say or want to say that their democracy began in 1920, but that is when a constitutional amendment guaranteed women the right to vote.  Yet that may be giving too much credit since it wasn't until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that discrimination based on race really began to be enforced.  People there say (and are frequently taught in school) that the Declaration of Independence gave birth to their democracy.  Most USA natives aren't even aware that their current national system is in fact their second one because the original Articles of Confederation failed miserably, being unable to pay the outstanding debt from the Revolutionary War amid a constitutional powerlessness to collect taxes. "Americans" want to believe the foundational myth that their forefathers created a most perfect union from the get-go, a union that will last forever.

That country's elimination of property requirements is a more complex story because prior to the 20th century each state had the right to place their own restrictions on the right to vote as they saw fit.  Creating a federation, not a centralized government, the Constitution of the United States of America did not originally state anything about voting rights, requirements, or qualifications.  Only when faced with the death of their nation via fragmentation did that change, with the Civil War of 1861-1865 triggering a process of federal encroachment on state self-determination that continues its march to this day.

Regardless of the dates, is there a basis to accept the justification?  Did the expansion of the voter base and of those qualified to hold public office bring about the existence of democracy (or polity) in the modern world?  Aristotle writes -

"On the other hand, that some should deliberate about all is oligarchical. This again is a mode which, like the democratical has many forms. When the deliberative class being elected out of those who have a moderate qualification are numerous and they respect and obey the prohibitions of the law without altering it, and anyone who has the required qualification shares in the government, then, just because of this moderation, the oligarchy inclines towards polity. But when only selected individuals and not the whole people share in the deliberations of the state, then, although, as in the former case, they observe the law, the government is a pure oligarchy." (Politics, Book IV, Part XIV)

As can be appreciated from this excerpt, the issue of demarcation is not about the size or breadth of the eligible voter pool but rather about how many elected officials there are in relation to that constituency.  This is a matter of proportions.  It was already explained above that the mechanism of election is prototypically oligarchical.  However, if there are a lot of elected officials in relation to the total quantity of citizens, then the balance tilts in favor of a government of the people.  On the contrary, when the quantity of people in charge of making the decisions that guide a state and its government is small when compared to the overall population of the citizenry, that is an oligarchy.  Do current ratios of voters to elected officials reflect a rule of the many?  No, they clearly do not, even in small countries.  Most people do not feel represented by their elected officials, and the reason they feel this way is... well... because they aren't being represented.

Oh, the Irony! 
What eliminating indirect elections and formal requirements accomplished

Most of us agree as a matter of principle that landownership and amounts of property shouldn't be requisites for elected office.  If a citizen has the will and talents to labor towards the common good, he or she ought to be able to so... possessions or no possessions.  Similarly, that the highest positions steering state policy and action be appointed by career politicians and apparatchiks instead of chosen by the general public is a proposition that many feel uneasy with.  Yet these judgments, as categorical as they may seem, display a gradient structure of degrees.  Should high offices require a minimum age, perhaps to discourage lack of experience and temperamental attitudes?  Should the ability to read and write be required?  Surely, few object to the currently standing literacy constraint or to the age minimums; therefore, the moral qualms do not rest on having conditions beyond citizenship and adulthood, but rather with the content, in particular the property requirements.  Even the Founding Fathers of the United States had their issues with such stipulations, which were rampant in England around that time, so they did not postulate them formally but rather delegated the right to set conditions to each member state for their federal high offices.  Still, does this mean that the Founding Fathers thought that the states would not pass similar requirements to the English?  You'd have to be delusional to think that they were not well aware that strict barriers to entry were going to be erected, and this did surely did not bother them; hopefully, the states would formulate qualifications that were less excessive than the English standard, but even if these chose to be harsher, it wasn't their problem, avoiding political responsibility or blame.  There is a saying for that - it's like having your cake and eating it too.

Even today, a lot of the most powerful roles around the world are assigned through appointment. Setting aside the pivotal higher offices of the European Union, in both parliamentary and semi-presidentialist republics, the Prime Minister in charge of domestic policy is chosen by legislators, not by universal suffrage.  Still, that is a far cry away from, say, the United States in the 19th century, when the eligible, literate, male property owners could not choose not only the President (which voters still don't elect, it is done by delegates that ordinary folk don't even know that they really exist, or who the delegates are, or the fact that there is no law forcing them to vote for the candidate that won the popular vote in their state; see the comic video below), they also couldn't elect their senators, supposed representatives that used to be handpicked by each state's legislature.  Were these mechanisms an encroachment of political power?  Yes, of course they were, but they were also something else.



"Adam Ruins Everything: 
Why the Electoral College Ruins Democracy"
(Mobile user: if the video isn't embedded, follow the link above.)
The video's title is a prime example of how even those 

who criticize current systems  have become just as blinded 
by the frequent repetition as uncritical individuals. 
The title of the video implies that direct elections 
would be a democracy; however, this is nonsense. 
Elections transfer power from the many to the few.
Given the advantages of the rich, powerful, and famous 
in garnering votes, elections ultimately generate 
Oligarchy as the form of government.


The aforementioned mechanisms were - and still are - intended to tilt the balance a little towards Aristocracy by placing conditions on mechanisms that have been known to otherwise ultimately lead to pure Oligarchy.  The success of constraints has been, of course, partial at best and futile at worst, or we wouldn't be in the strange, dire situation we are in today.  Varying conditions from country to country and sometimes from district to district were influenced by what constraints others had implemented and also by many other factors like popular sentiment, civic culture, and in some cases the high ethical values of some influential individuals.  For example, those non-technical factors were key to the early success of the Republic of Chile in the 19th century, a republic that emerged from a reputation as "the land of anarchy" acquired shortly after independence and became the most stable state in Latin America for over a hundred years, a stretch that ended with the election of the Communist Party's Salvador Allende and the subsequent overthrow by - and two-decades long dictatorship of - General Augusto Pinochet.  With different conditions came disimilar levels of success; nevertheless, the oligarchic nature of the mechanism itself will always overpower whatever brakes are placed, and once that is achieved there is no going back short of regime change or rewriting constitutional law.  But these options seem to be futile too considering the historical track record of not having had a democracy in millennia.  Besides, how would current citizens create a democracy if they no longer know what it means?  Prior to the 20th century a vast majority of the people articulating new forms of governments for their countries did indeed know what democracy was, and they still chose against it!

The elimination of many of the constraints set during the 19th century, supposedly in the name of democracy, has translated to a surrender of the keys to power to the oligarchy.  The irony is not lost on me, and I hope it is no longer lost on you.   At least aristocrats are highly skilled people, with intelligence and wisdom, and many care wholeheartedly about the common good.  In contrast, oligarchs, with few notable exceptions, work tirelessly to grow or preserve their own wealth, status, and power, to secure the passing of their privilege to their children, and to repay other oligarchs that supported them during their rise by furthering the specific special interest these deem important inasmuch as politically feasible.

With oligarchs in charge around the world, it is not surprising for mass media outlets to bombard the general public through repetition, turning democracy into a mere public relations spin campaign, or to actively disseminate propaganda labeling any country with a government that disagrees with the precepts of the Liberal State, such as the republics of Russia, Venezuela, and Ecuador, as autocratic, undemocratic, anocracies, as threats to democracy that must be dealt with harshly, and so on.  The very existence of oligarchy necessitates the motto: the more things change, the more they stay the same.  The recent leaders of those "undemocratic" states have taken actions that threaten entrenched interests and sometimes even the very foundations of the Liberal State, and it doesn't matter if they abide by the laws and the constitution in place. 

Chávez wanted to create communal property, a concept adversarial to the private property foundation of the Liberal State.  Putin has arrested billionaires and nationalized their conglomerates, strengthening state power and its role in the economy, contra the 'leave everyone to their own devices' perspective that oligarchs favor.  [Digression: The rise of the so-called Welfare State is a progressive continuation of the Liberal State and, thus, did not change this.  What exists now is more or less a 'leave everyone to their own devices and provide basic support when many fail such that they don't starve, freeze to death, or crowd our lovely streets, mainly because that is bad press and also bad for business.] 

As for Ecuador, one of the first actions of Correa's government was to analyze International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank debt contracts and the conditions under which those negotiations and signings took place, and what was found were many cases of obvious fraud, bribery, coercion, traffic of influences, and numerous violations of the stipulations of the Ecuadorian constitution.  Those contracts were the authorities managed to gather sufficient evidence of wrongdoing were, naturally, declared illegal or sometimes unconstitutional, unchaining the nation from a significant portion of the external debt that had crippled prior administrations into doing the bidding of World Bank and IMF structural reform "recommendations" (though these practices have been going on for around four decades, currently the most salient example of this type of international blackmail is Greece where the "Troika" formulates reforms that the Greek government must make into law or else face default, economic isolation, and have very large segments of its people fall into ruin almost immediately) .  Other countries do this kind of auditing and investigating all the time and we not only do not treat them harshly and neither does the mass media; in fact, we praise them for the courage to undertake these necessary yet politically inconvenient efforts. However, Ecuador is not awarded similar treatment because their president openly admits his disdain for liberalism as a political and socio-economic philosophy and what its framework entails in practice, that is, growing social inequality, the rise of corporativism and clientelism in public service, debt-slavery, and the growing social costs that inevitably result. 

An enormous and respected scientific literature exists within economics and political science that overwhelmingly shows that all of the issues mentioned are real and widespread.  There are even plenty of studies that provide evidence that the framework of liberalism has detrimental effects over the elections processes (an area of research that is mistakenly framed in terms of liberalism being incompatible with democracy).  Correa knows this and has surely read a lot of the related work, having earned M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Economics from the University of Illinois.  Considering Ecuador's political instability and the dire economic conditions of the majority of its citizens at the time he returned to his country of origin, it is not surprising that his road to power had few stepping stones and was as short as they come.  [Note: I have chosen not to link to scientific articles on the aforementioned topics because the existing literature is too large to list even as an approximation and I do not want to give the impression that the linked peer-reviewed papers are more important than other similar works.  Please, do you own research responsibly.]

These leaders we are being asked to hate rule over Liberal States, the same as the leaders we are supposed to like; they have not changed this fact, nor have they changed the systems of their republics into something different or new.  The fact that undemocratic is an insult hurled at any leader whose policies most Occidental leaders do not like is, in itself, evidence of the propaganda role that this term has been made to take on.  By repetition, as soon as the term undemocratic is emitted and repeated, an emotional reaction is triggered in vast swaths of our citizenry that is followed by the categorization of the thing being referred to as an evil that must be neutralized, isolated, crippled, or destroyed outright.  Yes, Operant Conditioning works like a charm, and it is so easy and fast to carry out that it can be done on a society, a set of societies, and even entire civilizations at costs far outweighed by its benefits.

The word Democracy needs saving.  It has been mutilated and made into a mockery of itself.  The meaning of democracy is, I regret to report, basically dead. 

Luckily, unlike organic bodies, words, concepts, and meaning may die but they may also be brought back to life.  The first step is to understand what the term means, what mechanisms lead to its existence, and to visualize what governments like that would look like.  The second step is to share your newfound knowledge with as many people as possible.  Even if you wouldn't like a democracy, you should still share what the term means, at the very least to help those around you be less manipulated.  Democracy is dead, but it can be brought back to life.


Why this discussion matters for your Cognitive Dynamics

Language is the greatest tool human beings have ever developed or will ever develop.  Language massively augments our inborn cognitive capacities.  They allow us to better remember things that we would otherwise forget.  They help us make fine-grained distinctions that allow us to think about things that would otherwise never pass through our heads; more important still, the fine-grained distinctions each of us has managed to accumulate directly affect the way you perceive the world, such that the more accurate concepts you gather, the richer and livelier your surroundings become.  That cognition and perception are separate things is a myth.   To avoid getting technical and give the simplest example possible, Chinese people can distinguish speech sounds that you are simply unable to, and you can distinguish speech sounds that they cannot no matter how hard they try.  If you hadn't learned a language, how many less sounds would you be able to perceive?  A richer lexicon that refers to more concepts and makes slight distinctions inside a concept greatly increases your cognitive abilities and even increases the size of your brain.  Thus, a fully bilingual individual is far less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease later in life, and, were they to develop that condition, the onset would be on average 5 years later than a person that speaks one language.  However, if the bilingual speaker starts mixing both languages, using them in tandem such that code-switching between the two effectively means that they supplant the concepts of one with those of the other, melding both into a single entity, that speaker has effectively wasted his linguistic knowledge and future benefits to health via sheer laziness and convenience, as happens to a lot of Spanish-speaking immigrants to the United States.

The shared, public, externalized, and externalizing nature of any language means that we use words as clothe hangers or anchors.  Words become places that connect meaning and particular thoughts and specific emotions and detailed attitudes.  It is through concepts that we are best able to bring all these pieces together, pieces that our brains would find it difficult to associate without words.  Moreover, because words are external and tools for communication, these anchors are crucial throughout our decision-making, planning, and the execution of courses of actions.

Most of us have been taught to believe that intelligence is a natural trait, like height or feet size, and the amount of intelligence you have is a gift or a curse that you received just by being born.  Except in the cases of genetic mutations producing gross mental deficits, the nativist conception taught to us is wrong, and not just a little wrong.  Your intelligence may go up in time and it may go down.  IQ scores can fluctuate wildly if a few years have passed.  The scores of the aptitude tests that you take to get into college can also fluctuate wildly.  Though these scores often do not fluctuate that much, that reflects the fact that your habits and your internal cognitive dynamics probably did not change that much during that amount of time, not that there is something genetic keeping you in your place.  That view is highly convenient to the people selling the tests, and it is also convenient to the people that do not want to change or grow.  But the fact remains that intelligence is not a trait, it is a skill - the ability to discern, to make what happens around and inside you intelligible - and every skill can be vastly improved with practice and proper materials.  What would be proper materials, in this case?

I find it odd that people speak often of others being intelligent, but rarely do people say anymore that someone is wise or unwise.  The fuel for intelligence is accurate knowledge, and that is wisdom.  The better information you have gathered, the wiser you are, the better distinctions you can make, and thus the more accurately you are able to weave the distinctions you have made and the information associated with these.  Intelligence without wisdom is like owning a private jet that has no flaps or landing gear.  Sure, you have this wonderful tool at your disposal, but you can really use it properly, and then the jet just sits there (because you were told throughout life that having the tool is enough) until the gears start to rust and the components begin malfunctioning.  Suddenly, your tool is all but gone because you did not acquire what you needed for it to work properly.  Well, losing your intelligence because you failed to gather variety in your information or because you did not check to make sure that the information acquired was accurate is already bad enough.  But isn't it worse to have a massively important word, denoting a concept with a long, rich history, a word that has been made to have such far-reaching implications that it often means the difference between war and peace, between living or dying for an immense number of people... to have this beautiful word and hear it all the time and have the concept be taught to you incorrectly every single time?  That borders on the criminal.  The result is warped perspectives that actually guide people to making important decisions and take defining stances.  That is democracy today.

If it serves to console you, go ahead and blame the French historian and sociologist Alexis de Tocqueville, whose book Democracy in America, published in 1835, began the trend of misrepresentation that now stands as an inherited semantic error that grossly distorts both history and etymology.  Or blame vanity, because if calling United States of America a democracy had not been used to distinguish it from European societies with their strict class system, perhaps people would have not been so flattered and would have seen the description for what it was, a mistake.  Since the United States had basically the same government system as most other emerging republics, it is no wonder that the flattery spread like wildfire.  But this is here nor there; it is irrelevant now.  Save democracy or let it die.

A dead meaning for democracy means that it is unlikely that you, your children, grandchildren, and so on, will ever have the opportunity to see one in action, much less live in one.  If you want to go ahead and keep calling an oligarchy democratic, you are free to do so; the Liberal State grants you that right and no one can take that away from you.  But if you want clarity, a more accurate perspective, more detailed awareness, and you want those around you to discern and partake of that understanding in order to avoid conditioned responses, please, I beg of you, go out and tell anyone willing to listen what the word democracy actually means... go out and tell as many people as you can, as often as you are able to, and do so to the best of your human capacity.  History may thank you one day.