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Democracy - Pro et Contra (3)

John Stuart Mills and Alexander Tyler's Arguments for and Against Democracy

John Stuart Mill

John Stuart Mill John Stuart Mill was born in England and lived most of his life there. He died in Avignon in France. Together with his father, James Mill, and the friend, Jeremy Bentham, he represented the philosophical school, "Utilitarianism".

Any action in our lives is associated with both happiness and pain. When happiness exceed pain, we will get "utility", which we prefer.

This is similar to a financial action that is associated with both revenue and cost. When revenue exceed cost, we will get profit, which we prefer.

Mills political guideline was to support such laws, which would create maximum increased utility for as many people as possible.

John Stuart Mill had a seat in parliament, and he was the leading liberal representative. During the last one hundred and fifty years, he has been the big role model for the English liberals.

In 1859 he published his principal political work, "On Liberty". Faithful to his utility philosophy, he argued in favour of creating the widest possible freedom of speech for the maximum number of people. He wrote, that the state can restrict a citizen's freedom of expression, when it is clear, that the use of this expression would cause even greater harm to others.

Liberated woman in conflict with police Women's suffrage in the seventeenth century Stuart Mill defended the rights of minorities in a democracy and argued for equal rights for women.

John Stuart Mill has probably never felt serious doubt about the legitimacy of democracy. His main concern has rather been, if the democratic system was democratic enough.

But he probably felt, that he as a philosopher and Member of Parliament had to put forward arguments for a democratic system of society.


John Stuart Mills Argument I: "The laws of a democracy is of better quality than the laws of other society systems:"

John Stuart Mill was a member of the English parliament Democratic legislative methods are better than law practices of an aristocracy or a monarchy.

Since all groups in a democratic society have some political power, it will force lawmakers to take into consideration the interests of all these groups, their rights and attitudes.

Democratic legislative methods involve a lot of people in the creation of law. A Bill will be exposed to sound criticism from all interested groups. Democratic politicians can take advantage of evaluations and critical reviews from many different sides.

Therefore, the laws in a democratic system in general will be better than the laws of other social systems.

From Mill's "Considerations on Representative Government" (1861) page 74 - abridged.

PRO Democracy

John Stuart Mill was a very open person. It is said that there was not one trend in the contemporary life of society, not in some way represented in his writings.

He loved the intellectual quest for truth, for the right solution. He listened carefully to opposing arguments. He was always open to that he might have overlooked a fact, or there could be a flaw in his logic.

Democratic legislative methods involve a lot of people. Therefore, a lot of information will come to light. In a free society with a relatively free press, any bill, therefore, will be thrown on light, criticized and debated from all sides and by all political groups.

Thanks to this critical process, the democratic laws will achieve quite optimal formulations.

Our modern society is rapidly developing, and it is immensely important to adapt existing laws to the conditions of the new changing community.

Democratic legislation is not a revolutionary process. We do not throw all out and start from scratch every time.

Greetings from the welfare state Today's legislators stand on the shoulders of their predecessors. Virtually every new bill represents a modernization and improvement of older, existing laws.

For these historical reasons, the tax laws for example can well seem somewhat unclear and unmanageable.

But the laws about tax collection, public expenditures and transfer payments are laws of good quality. They are very much able to create the foundation for a happy life for the Danes.

Despite the high taxes the Danes feel happy One opinion survey after another has shown that the Danes are one of the world's happiest people. This is despite the high tax burden and the slightly complicated tax laws.

In fact, the continuous democratic improvement process is an iterative procedure that successively has sanded off the rough parts of the tax collection system.

First such details, that have appeared very unjust, have been improved. In the next sequential step, those details, which seemed a little less unjust, have been modernized. In this way the welfare system year by year, sequence by sequence, has been steadily adjusted and optimised, still better working and still more acceptable for the people.

Today, the taxes, the payments and other parts of the welfare system of society are so well adjusted that the vast majority of the Danes feel that the system is fair.

That is why so many Danes declare, that they in general feel happy, in spite of the heavy tax burden.

An ultimate objective of policy must be to make people rich and happy. And when the people declare that they generally feel happy, then legislation must be considered a success.

CONTRA Democracy.

Basically, democracy is a form of organized corruption.

In connection with an election, specific political parties and individual candidates turn to selected groups of voters. Some parties address the self-employed and senior officials; some present themselves as advocates for the business people, others address workers and government employees. The candidates make promises, which favour their chosen groups of voters. If a candidate or a party then wins an election, they must return the favour of their chosen group of voters on the expense of the people as a whole.

Candidates are proposed as representatives for specific cities or provinces of the nation.

In return for the favour of their voters from these cities and provinces, they are expected to show particular understanding for the special problems in their selected parts of the country during the legislative work of the period.

Therefore, the legislative process in a democracy tends to be compromises between different interests, and does not so much reflect an objective approach supporting the long term interest of the nation as a whole.

The nation must be built by law - the opening chapter of the ancient Jutland Law The opening chapter of the ancient "Jutland Law" tells how a good law must be: "The law must be honest and fair, endurable according to the customs of the country, appropriate and useful and clear so that everyone can know and understand, what the law says. The law should not be done or written to anyone's particular advantage, but to the best interests of all, who live in the country."

The laws about taxes are the most important laws in a democracy, and they certainly do not meet the criteria of "Jutland Law".

It is a typical result of decades, indeed centuries of compromises. There are no tax rules without exceptions. Often there are also exceptions to the exceptions.

It's completely confusing. No living persons have full knowledge of all the tax legislation's nooks and crannies. There are experts in personal taxation, in business taxation and experts in corporate taxation. But none are experts in tax laws as a whole. This topic is simply too large and unmanageable.

Thus, the democratic legislative method during decades has created some of our most important laws by extending existing laws by footnotes, exceptions and requirements for certain conditions, compromise after compromise and exceptions from the exceptions.

There are three arguments for taxation:

- To finance government expenditures.
- To influence people's behaviour.
- To establish a just distribution of income.

Initially a political coalition might create a tax law to finance government spending on defense, custom, police, education etc.

In the next legislative period, a new political coalition may change the law with the intent to influence people's behaviour. They might reduce the tax on interest in order to boost the economy or increase the tax on alcohol in order to discourage the citizens in becoming alcoholics.

In a future period, a third political coalition can decide to raise taxes on the wealthy in order to create justice.

After some time it will start all over again, with special regards being mixed up with the tax laws, perhaps more favourable taxation of export companies, new tax deductions for farmers or the like.

Tax is just as it is, and it is difficult to change.

So one have to say that John Stuart Mill was completely wrong. Democratic legislative approach does not seem particularly suited to create good laws.


John Stuart Mill's Argument II: "Participation in a Democracy Cultivates the Character of the Citizens"

Democracy works on improving people's character.

In a democratic system, citizens are more inclined to stand up and speak for themselves. They know that the final decisions will depend on them much more than it would be the case in an aristocracy or a monarchy. People are aware that in a democracy, their attitudes and opinions really make a difference, therefore they will in general think more carefully and rationally over the political problems.

In political discussions, they may listen to others. When they want to convince others about their own opinions, they must necessarily to some extent base their arguments on these other's interests and living conditions. Under such circumstances, the citizens will really consider justice and the common good of the society to greater extend.

Rousseau also believed that participation in a democracy, improves people's character.

From Mill's "Considerations on Representative Government" (1861) page 74 - abridged.

PRO Democracy

In modern democracies, citizens involve in political discussions at the highest moral level.

Citizens in democracies feel responsibble for the World's future The democratic citizens of the present are deeply and selflessly concerned with problems connected with the living conditions of future generations. Global warming is causing genuine concern. Everyone is worried about the impact of increased sea levels and increased extend of deserts. Many are involved in Greenpeace and other voluntary environmental organizations.

Citizens in democracies feel themselves responsible for the refugees Earth's millions of refugees stir up a sincere feeling of responsibility in the citizens of modern democracies. They are members of countless volunteers associations that aim to help the developing nations and the planet's poor.

Flea markets in supports of the poor people of the Earth are arranged everywhere. Collections for victims of disasters, famine and floods take place often. Famous artists organize concerts where the proceeds will go to refugees throughout the world.

There are many associations with idealistic purposes, which citizens of democracies support with great energy and voluntary funds. Just think of the world environmental organization "Greenpeace" which monitors the world's environment and bravely protect whales. Think of "Amnesty International" which consistently protects refugees, ethnic groups, minority religions and human rights throughout the world.

Yes, people in democracies voluntarily take on themselves also responsibility for animal rights. Famous actors give strong support in the campaigns against the use of fur. Reportedly women in fur can't walk in the streets of London without being addressed about their crime against the animals.

Democratic citizens feel responsible animal rights Hardly any social event, celebration or party can take place without the future of the planet, refugees, human rights of minorities or similar issues will be lively discussed.

Citizens in democracies are simply idealistic and willing to sacrifice for a good cause. It is perfectly reasonable to argue that they possess better moral qualities than citizens of other society systems.

Democratic citizens fight for the rain forrest

Contra Democracy.

Tordenskjold and his men at Marstrand Can it really be so that Tordenskjold and his contemporaries were less autonomous and less responsible than Danes and Norwegians are nowadays, just because they did not live in a democracy? (Tordenskjold was a Danish/Norwegian hero from the eighteenth century).

We believe, that if people live in a society that is run according to law and not by unpredictable and changing decrees, then they can predict the impact of their actions, and so they can find the courage to come forward and speak up for themselves. In Denmark we have had the ancient Jutland Law, Zealand Law, Scania Law and later Danish Law for many hundred years. Although we have not always had a modern democracy, we feel sure that in all that time the Danes had the courage to come forward and speak their case when they found it necessary.

We are some, who believe, that the moral qualities of a human mainly depend on the upbringing, they have received from their parents and teachers, their experience in life and their innate personality. We think it has very little to do with democracy or not democracy.

A Chinese during the cultural revolution makes self-criticism Around the world we can meet friends and partners from other countries that are not democratic in our understanding. Many Chinese, for example, grew up under very uncertain and certainly very undemocratic conditions during the Cultural Revolution.

But those we have met, seem to be of no inferior moral qualities, than many persons who grew up in democracies. In fact, an industrial development can not take place, if not the people hold it for an honour to keep promises and do their duty.

In the welfare state elderly people are often neglected by their relatives Most East Europeans are also not raised in a democracy, but there is nothing suggesting that they have a lower moral level than most West Europeans.

It is probably true, that many people in Asia and South America do not talk so much about global warming or human rights in far off parts of the world, as citizens of the Western democracies do.

In the welfare state old people often feel themselves neglected by  family But they are usually good in taking care of their own family and others, for whom they feel responsibility. They do not deliver their grandparents at a nursing home, paid by public funds, and then forget to visit them.

In general, it is very difficult to measure whether a particular people have a high or low moral standard. It will in any case be a very arbitrary and subjective assessment.

If we have been robbed at a railway station in a certain country, we will be inclined to mean, that the people of this country have a very low moral standard. Contrary, if private individuals in another country have helped us out of a difficult situation, we will be inclined to mean that people of this country have a very high moral standard. But this can all be very accidentally.

Rousseau also wrote about democracy's beneficial effect on people's morale. But it seems to us that both he and Stuart Mill are on very thin ice in this case.


Alexander Tyler

Alexander Tyler (Alexander Fraser Tytler - 1747-1813) was a Scottish economist, from the eighteenth century, one of Adam Smith's contemporaries.

Professor Tyler wrote some books about the ancient history of democracies. He demonstrated that democracies in general, only existed for a period of about two hundred years.

It is well known, that the Roman republic ended, when the people required "bread and circuses". We remember also, that Plato disgusted democraticy, because his beloved teacher, Socrates, was executed after a popular democratic demand in the ancient state of Athens.


Alexander Tyler 's Argument against Democracy:

"A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship.

The average age of the world's greatest civilizations from the beginning of history has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence:

From bondage to spiritual faith;
From spiritual faith to great courage;
From courage to liberty;
From liberty to abundance;
From abundance to complacency;
From complacency to apathy;
From apathy to dependence;
From dependence back into bondage.

It is quite certain, that Alexander Tyler did not write exactly such. It is not possible to find a document from his hand, which contains this passage. It is probably a made up quote.

But of course it does not exclude, that Tyler might have meant something like this. In any case, the "quote" found its way to the Internet and are mentioned in numerous pages.

There is something that strikes us by this argument. Just because it has been so popular, there must be something about it. Therefore it is relevant to discuss it.

PRO Democracy

The ancient meeting place of the head of farms in the village of Martofte on Fyn Social solidarity has grown organically out of the Danish culture and history. It is and, in general, it has always been, an integral part of Danish society.

In the old village communities the heads of the farms met on the ancient meeting place in the middle of the village. Among other problems they decided what to do with the poor, widows and orphans of the village.

Members of the blacksmiths' guild In the cities merchants and craftsmen were organized in Guilds. In the ancient regulations of the guilds rules were stated for social solidarity.

If a brother of the guild became poor, and he had no relatives, who could help him, so he had to eat in the homes of his guild brothers in turn. If a brother became sick, his brothers of the guild would watch over him in shifts. If the house of a brother burned, his brothers of the guild would help him to build it up again. If a brother felt himself threatened on his life, he was to be followed by two armed brothers; whereever he was standing or sitting. (Slesvig Merchant Guild)

Kerteminde Skipper and Corpse Carry Guild's The stretcher - Kerteminde Church "Kerteminde Skipper and Corpse Carry Guild" was founded in 1739 with permission from king Christian the Sixth: "We Christian the Sixth, by the mercy of God king of Denmark and Norway, of the Vends and Goths, Duke of Slesvig and Holsten, Stormarn and Ditmarsk, Count of Oldenburg and Delmenhorst, make public for all: " - that we in our great mercy allow them to found a little society - ". The members of the guild have he duty to take part of deceased members funerals. Members, who do not show up, will be charged a fine. The guild gives financial support to the widows.

The co-operate Mutual health help association Unity in Farimagsgade in Copenhagen - 1900 The ninetieth century's private mutual health help associations, "Syge-kasser", "Arbejdsløsheds-kasser" and "begravelses-kasser" were popular movements, born as spontanious organisations in connection with the rural co-operative movement, the new workers unions in the cities and a rich cultural tradition for mutual help and co-operation in small communities.

From the very beginning the mutual help organisations had no connection with the state and the government.

"Sygekasser" were local associations for the purpose of mutual financial support in case of sickness.

The young workers unions created the associations for mutual help in case of unemployment, "Arbejdsløsheds-kasser".

In a similar way they created the mutual help organisations "begravelses-kasser", which made sure that also lonely persons in the growing cities could have a decent burial.

Board meeting in Skovshoved Sygekasse As recently as in the middle of the twentieth century it was still a matter of course, that neighbours helped each other by looking after each others children, repairing of the houses and the like.

Very early the democratic politicians saw the possibilities in the fast-growing number of spontaneously created mutual help associations. They offered every association financial support from the government provides that they agreed to line in their statutes after the government's guide lines.

Already in 1892, it became possible for the mutual help health associations with approved statutes to receive government subsidies.

One by one the spontaneously created mutual help associations were joined together to the great wonder of the twentieth century's political science, "The welfare State", wisely managed by enlightened politicians.

The modern welfare state is so ingeniously designed, that the free democratic citizens can enjoy the benefits of solidaric mutual support just as before but without to suffer the disadvantages.

They can receive free of charge health care, free education for their children and youngsters, the old, the disabled and the unemployed receive automatically social benefits from the welfare state, and from the state only.

Family visit elderly people in a nursing home The citizens do not have to take part in small provincial and narrow groups in order to get social support. All the payments and service come from the state only, the bills are not signed by any individual taxpayers, neighbours or colleges, and therefore the modern democratic individual does not have to feel grateful to any named persons, he only receives what is his rights.

The modern democratic individuals are therefore truly free and can choose their friends as they like. Yes, even with family they can freely choose, if they want to have real relations or not.

The new nation-wide welfare system made it possible to exploit the given resources more efficiently and to distribute benefits more fairly, than the original small local associations could do it.

The old communities and the eighteen hundred century associations supported only their own poor.

Democratic citizens feel responsible for people from all over the World The development of political science has made such narrow collective selfishness obsolete. The open democratic society of today's world, where people come and go, requires a much more universal and international solidarity.

Already the French Revolution politicians held that it is a duty for the government to help the poor.

Social solidarity is a natural and inseparable part of democracy, with deep roots in the history of Denmark.

CONTRA Democracy.

It is hard not to think about the episode with the so-called "Efterløn", an arrangement, which makes it possible for Danish persons to retire from the age of sixty. A massive and decisive group of voters had decided to retire early paid by government funds. They had generally good health and planned to spend several years on the golf courses before they became really old.

There were shortages of labour force and especially demand for the older workers experience and expertise. Yet politicians dared not to touch the "efterløn" arrangement. They were afraid that in that case, they would not be re-elected.

Demonstration in Greek against cuts in the welfare benefits In fact, most modern voters political attitudes are dominated by demands for greater benefits from the public funds. It may be shorter waiting lists in hospitals, more home help for old and disabled persons, longer paid maternity leave, lower prices in public kindergartens, more government support to immigrants and refugees, or free of charge hang-out places for youngsters.

In the Danish democracy, the taxpayers to their resentment must see close to half of their income disappear into a seemingly insatiable public treasury. Much of the money will paid as benefits to other people, whom they do not know, and who are not even grateful.

A majority of voters often believe that the rich should pay for the welfare benefits That has apparently been the case in democracies at all times. The voters seem to have disposal over each other's income and wealth.

The ancient Athenian author Xenophon let in his "Memorabilia" Socrates tell Critobulus, a rich and self-important citizen, that he is really restricted by his wealth and position, and it would have been better for him to be definitely poor.

"You are obliged," says Socrates, "to sacrifice many and brilliant gifts to the gods; you have to receive and entertain a lot of foreigners, and to organize celebrations for your fellow citizens. Socrates You must pay large contributions to the public administration, keep horses, equip choirs in peacetime and in wartime you have to bear the maintenance costs of warships and pay the special war tax, if you do not do all this, they will punish you with the same rigour, as if they had taken you in stealing their money."

In the classical Greek democracies the citizens considered themselves as the rightful owners of all property in the state and demanded their part as a matter of course. It was common to confiscate private property and distribute these funds as they found it appropriate.

Aeschines was a politician from Athens, one of Plato and Socrates contemporaries. Three speaks have been conserved from his hand.

In a reference to such taxes, and confiscations, he commented. "The Athenians come out of Ecclesia (Athens People's Assembly), not as they come from a political assembly, but if they come from a business meeting in which the profit has been distributed."

The politicans offered the original health- and unemployment mutual help organisations subsidies from the state provided that they regulated their statutes according to the requirement from the state. One by one they were fitted into the big state system, which later should be expanded and refined to the "Welfare State"

Manager of the daily business in Vejle Sygekasse The political strategy of offering the original mutual help associations government support, provided they agree to adjust their statutes to the welfare states requirements, has been used by the politicans for hundred years.

As early as in 1907, it became possible for the workers unemployment funds with approved statutes to receive government subsidies, and the strategy is still in use.

The politicians or the government did not have any money, they just finance the support with the general tax provenue, which they had collected from all citizens, among others the members of the mutual help organisations.

The welfare state has weakened and dissolved all basic human connections in the society. The individuals do not any longer need to have stable relations to family, colleges, neighbours or friends, because with no special effort they will receive all kinds of social support from the almighty welfare state.

Rave party Parents are afraid of making demands to their children, basically because they fear the youngsters will turn away from the family. The almighty welfare state is standing in the background ready to supply the young independent persons with all they need, free of charge education and health care, financial support, subsidized rent of apartments, subsidised sports offers, free of charge hang-out places and much more.

Young girl takes stimulating medicin during a rave party Of course, nothing is really free of charge, the taxpayers pay, among others the parents of the young people, who receive the payments from the welfare state, but they cannot control the flow of money, and therefore they cannot make conditions.

The politicans have derailed the Danes traditional social solidarity. They have misused the enormeous flow of money, which circulates in the complicated systems of the welfare state, New British citizens enjoy full welfare to support the hundred thousands refugees and muslim immigrants, whom they have invited to settle in the country.

In the American debate on the Internet they seem to think, that the American democracy has reached the stage, which Alexander Tyler describes as dependence. This is because the Americans, as well as the Europeans, in so many businesses areas have abandoned their own production and instead have become dependent on credit and imports from China, Japan and India.


See also arguments for not to vote: Why not vote?

And Jørn K. Balterzen 's mathematical calculations of the responsibilities in a democracy:

Binary Math Against Democracy - JK Baltzersen articles

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