Democracy/dictatorship - special interest groups loyalty and war

The assumption that a democracy is less aggressive and better governed than a dictatorship is quite widespread, and if wrong may lead to wrong interpretations of international security situations.

Thus my 50 cents...

There's always a difference in regard to civil liberties (although not necessarily for all; minorities may find their right to vote pointless, and a semi-democracy may even withhold suffrage from a minority such as convicted felons etc.), and this is clearly in favour of a democracy. This is no indicator for a government's aggressiveness, though..

The mechanisms of loyalty is a better indicator for this than civil liberties in my opinion.

A classic monarchy (think: European middle age, Pharaoh's, Chinese emperor) rests its legitimation on a divine order illusion. This has clearly lost its effectiveness during the last thousand years, and enlightenment did a lot to finish off the legitimacy of most such monarchies. Ideologies such as Fascism and Bolshevism developed into substitutes for the 'divine' aspect, but they proved to be much less durable.

A classic monarchy had a huge advantage over more modern dictatorships with its imaginary divine order; it did not require much effort on part of the dictator. The loyalty was mostly for free (the reformation changed this for a while; monarchs and princes had to fight for their divine monopoly during the 16th and 17th century).
Modern autocrats rule differently, mostly through two immensely wasteful approaches:

(a) Terror. Stalin and later Mao developed this path. The terror wasn't only a direct terror, but largely a scapegoating and ever new waves of purges, crisis, scapegoats - permanent revolution, with permanent turmoil. Extremely wasteful.

(b) Cronyism. Autocrats have the wealth of their country under their control, and they buy the loyalty of special interests in order to maintain a critical mass of supporters. The others suffer accordingly at the hands of such a redistribution of income and power.

The latter method (government buys special interest group's support with wealth and positions of power) extends into some politically unstable democracies as well.

Nevertheless, a democracy CAN (but does not necessarily) rest the loyalty of the people on the democratic legitimation of the government. This CAN (but does not necessarily) free the society of wasteful political efforts aimed at loyalty-sustainment.

A democracy (or rather: Republic) can swing to the other extreme as well: Special interests can begin to buy the loyalty of the government - a reversal of the modern autocracy pattern. This, too, can be extremely wasteful.

Wars of choice fit into the category "wasteful government activities" and can easily be launched by a monarch (most unpredictable), an autocratic ideologue (somewhat predictable thanks to the published ideology), modern autocrats (if it enhances, not risks, the loyalty of the targeted special interest groups), stupid modern democracies and corrupt republics (especially if war serves powerful special interests).

The true, non-corrupted and non-cronyism-riddled democracy can be expected to have the least systematic inclination towards wars of choice. It may still be stupid enough, though.

It's too bad that the usual pundit comments on whether a democracy or a dictatorship is more dangerous in international affairs do not look at the issue at a greater resolution. I think it's necessary to take the loyalty mechanisms into account or else the patterns won't be significant.

S Ortmann

edit: Could have been written much better. It happens.


  1. illusion?

    1 person tells 99 people that no one may buy product X on Friday. (King, autocrat)

    8 people tells 92 peole that no one may buy product X on Sunday. (oligarchy)

    12 people are elected by 50 people ther others didn't vote, but still no one may buy product X on Wednesday. (Representative democracy)

    51 people tell the other 49 people that no one may buy product X on Monday. (Direct democracy)

    What's the differance?

    It is the will of the one, be it one person, one
    group(s) it is all one will over the others will. My/our way not your way.

    It is never the "will of the people" it is the will of a group of people forced on the others. It makes no sense, if me and say 5 others can't make 10 people or 2 people do what we want because we told them to, then how can 51% of a population tell the 49% this is how it will be (or else you will suffer, be it prison, fines, or etc...). If you and some friends were hanging out outside and a larger group came up and to do something because we decided that is our will, would you and your friends feel that democracy has won, the will of the peole has spoken? If one person told you to do the same thing wouldn't you tell them to go away or who are you to tell me anything, then how is it different really?

    King gives nobles a tax advantage, special interest groups get them form the congress, duma, etc...

    The kick the can down the road, exapmle in the US despite the need to fix (the US isn't the only country that could be used)

    Politics does not mean good governance, we get that we can not spend so much money and that things need to improve, but since every time you want to cut something people complain not my program. Those in power try to keep their power.

    People use to complain that the king was fighting wars and spending too much money, yet they complain of the same things now too.

    Politicans bring the pork to their constituents so they can use it to get voted back in again.

    People in this or that party do things that really should be look into to see if it was against the law, but they don't. The papers and news site are filled with the bad behavior of the politicans, people say you can kick them out of office, but for decade after decade after decade election after election and it still seems the same.

    People are loyal for many reasons, deeply ingrained notions (Long live the King or the will of the people) are hard to shake.

    Consent of the governed is an illusion, people are forced to do things without their consent. Some are too poor to leave, some can't leave because where could they go that they wouldn't be forced?

    When you vote aren't you trying to force your will on others and arent' the others trying to force their will on you?

    It's late here so I got to go, could add more.


  2. For an argument against democracy in general, I think Lysander Spooner explains it very accurately in "NO TREASON: The Constitution Of No Authority".
    I disagree with the book on some fundamental issues but it is still a good book to read or listen to even if you are pro-democracy.
    I think Tim will appreciate his arguments.

    However I think S Ortman focuses more on the "practical" aspects of Democracy in this post.

    "The true, non-corrupted and non-cronyism-riddled democracy can be expected to have the least systematic inclination towards wars of choice. It may still be stupid enough, though."

    -Is democracy less likely to lead to war?- A lot can be said about this, from many perspectives.

    It reminds me of this quote:
    “Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” Hermann Göring

    SO anticipated this by saying "It may still be stupid enough, though."

    Thus the issue is also essentially one of human nature, "loyalty mechanisms".

    I do think
    “Every nation has the government which it is fit for.” which includes the individuals in power and the form of government itself, since every government is supported actively or passively (by non-resistance) by its people. If nation is understood as the majority of the people in terms of influence.

    "The true, non-corrupted and non-cronyism-riddled democracy can be expected to have the least systematic inclination towards wars of choice. It may still be stupid enough, though."

    However living in a democracy myself I see that democracy does have a systemic corrupting influence on itself and its people. I used to think that people would vote for "what is right" (whatever that is). But the more I discussed this issue of voting with people I realized that the vast majority of people will vote for their own interest regardless of any bigger universal truth or justice. Of course this is only anecdotal evidence.
    The best leaders are those who least desire power and authority. However all modern democratic systems promote the opposite. Only those who strongly desire power actually will succeed in becoming leaders in politics. You have to actively promote and 'sell yourself'.

    Of course you may argue that democracy it the best of the worst. But my point is that from a practical standpoint there is an inherent instability in the system, which needs to be actively balanced by the people themselves.

    Each political system has its own instabilities, and it is important to be aware of them.

  3. And what about a democracy farce a la the gorgeous EU?

  4. The EU's democracy deficits have two natures.

    a) Very indirect representation. Germans elect a parliament which elects a chancellor who chooses a minister who sits in a EU council and has but one of many votes. Afterwards, the parliament is expected to follow the EU council guidance. Awfully indirect, but in theory still based on suffrage.

    b) Different weight of votes. A citizen of Luxembourg is weighed heavier (or was, didn't check this since the Lisbon treaty) in EU parliament elections. A small country minister in a EU council has the same vote weight as a big country minister. That's a typical small state representation issue, similar to the U.S. senate where the tiny population of Wyoming has as many senators as the populous Texas.
    This got its roots in the representation of states (even though they're mere illusions in comparison to real voters), and states are on paper equals.

    Neither defect is relevant for security policy though. The EU parliament is still being perceived as unimportant and thus not nearly as much subject to lobbying as the EU bureaucracy. It cannot buy political support either, not the least because the EU budget is rather small.
    Finally, the EU is a defensive alliance, but it has no aggression potential of its own due to a lack of own forces.

  5. Katana
    I read a bit of the book and I agree with some of it, but not all of it.
    "But my point is that from a practical standpoint there is an inherent instability in the system, which needs to be actively balanced by the people themselves."
    But many people have throughout history shown a lack of desire to play their part, if they did then election after election bad politicians wouldn't get reelected. A better system of government is needed. The instability is its own liability, sometimes war is the right thing to do, but the people may not want it regardless.
    “Each political system has its own instabilities, and it is important to be aware of them.”
    The majority of the people don’t seem to be up to the task of running a democracy for different reasons.
    Democracies have in order to achieve their goals been known to support coups and fund wars with others (even if not directly in the war themselves), and other things to get what they want like autocrats. Autocrats and democracies are a reflection of who or whom runs them, if a benevolent person or group runs them or non-benevolent person or group runs them. Love your neighbor as yourself vs. I’m number one. I would think that both dictators and democracies are more likely to go to war when it suits them to (meets their goals, they think they have the ability to beat the other country, etc…). The benevolent dictator/democracy will not go to war unless they have to, the non-benevolent ones will if they think it will benefit them. I was trying to show how dictatorships and democracies have more in common than a lot of people seem to think.
    “Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the arc of the covenant, too sacred to be toughed. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment. I knew that age well; I belonged to it, and labored with it. It deserved well of its country. It was very like the present, but without the experience of the present; and forty years of experience in government is worth a century of book reading; and this they would say themselves, were they to rise from the dead. I am certainly not a advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions. I think moderate imperfections had better be borne with; because, when once known, we accommodate ourselves to them, and find practical means of correcting their ill effects. But I know also that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind.” - Thomas Jefferson
    I’ve heard the Herman quote before and have always liked it (though I’ve never liked Herman).
    Can the people in the EU have referendums on laws at the EU level? I have heard of national ones, but never a EU one. The US has a senate, but also a house of representatives that does the population aspect where the senate is for the state part, both the senate and house together make up the congress and most bills must be passed by both to become law.


  6. EU Council ~ US Senate
    EU Parliament ~ US House of Representatives

    We had no EU plebiscite yet, and I don't recall any provisions for one in the Lisbon Treaty. A plebiscite would empower the people at the cost of the states (their governments), and this is the direction that offers the most resistance. It's got its advantages and disadvantages; after all, Europe is still very diverse.

    Germany has a 'senate' (Bundesrat) which represents states, but does so with weighting; the smaller state's governments have less votes. This successful ~60 y.o. design was not adopted in the EU because the EU Council is still a minister club, not an assembly of full-time senators.