Thursday, February 22, 2018

revolutions and democracy

Rebellions were not uncommon during the Middle Ages. There were quite a few. They all had one thing in common. They all failed. Peasants with pitch-forks don’t do very well against well-armed disciplined soldiers (and even medieval soldiers were well disciplined compared to a mob of peasants with pitch-forks).

The ruling class wasn’t too worried. There was no real threat to the social order. They made sure they always had those well-armed disciplined soldiers on their side.

Then things started to change. In the late 18th century a peasant’s revolt actually succeeded. OK, the French Revolution was much more complicated than just a peasant’s revolt but the important thing is that the social order really was overturned. The ruling classes started to get nervous.

From then until the mid-19th century (1848 being the celebrated Year of Revolutions) there were more revolutions. They met with mixed success but the fact that any of them enjoyed any success at all was enough to send a chill up the spines of the ruling classes.

Some way needed to be found to nip this revolution business in the bud. The answer was democracy. Parliaments and congresses already existed but they were not the slightest bit democratic. Now they would be made democratic. Now the peasants wouldn’t be tempted to resort to pitch-forks. They would have a say in the government.

Of course it goes without saying that the ruling classes did not have the slightest intention of allowing those nasty smelly peasants (or those nasty smelly and increasingly numerous workers) to have an actual say in the government. It was all a game of make believe. Representative democracy was in fact a system set up to ensure that the people would never actually be asked for their opinions. The people would be passive observers but they would think they were active participants. Instead of manning the barricades and cutting off aristocrats’ heads they would vote. Their votes would be meaningless. That was the whole point of the exercise.

It worked very well indeed in countries like the US, Britain and Australia. The masses became docile and compliant. They believed the lies about democracy. They kept away from pitch-forks.

This has turned out to be very unfortunate. Sometimes the only way to persuade the ruling class that the people are seriously angry and discontented is to man the barricades. But we now have a population so drugged by the illusion of democracy that they will never man those barricades, even when their ruling class has declared war on them and intends to destroy them. Instead they dutifully show up at the polling booths, filled with the touching belief that if only they can throw out that nasty Mr Tweedledee and his Liberal Conservative Party (or his Democratic Republican Party) and vote in that nice Mr Tweedledum and his Conservative Liberal Party (or his Republican Democrat Party) then everything will be fine.

In the latter part of the 20th century the ruling class really did declare war on us. And we did not take to the streets. We did not man the barricades. We voted. We are now paying the price for our naïvete.

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