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Legitimacy of the mob

Previously published on the

Legitimacy of the Mob

Democracy and the validity of rule.

It is apparently the most important election in modern history, a divisive crossroad between good and evil. Corrupt and past glories. The establishment and populism. It is another time for change versus an extension of the promise for change, two elections ago. It does not matter whether you are an American or not, for the rest of us we now live in a world where for better though often for worse US elections and the elected administrations influence and affect us all. In a time of perpetual war where the United States and its proud flag wavers lead so many charges the rest of us are either with them or, it is assumed, against them. And regardless of being an American or not, we are told that our vote counts and that voting, that democracy is worth killing for.

Somewhere in the historical lexicon of the past century the United States went from being a Republic to that of a democracy. As though the historical debates and lessons that inspired their sacred founding fathers were unimportant and a distinction is not worth reviewing. As the United States enjoyed a transition inside the popular minds and practices from Republic to Democracy much of the World, whether ‘free’ or not they also explored and utilised the language of democracy so as to validate what it was that a regime did or its very legitimacy. As many inside the West celebrate the apparent supremacy of Western Civilisation it seems that much of the history of the West and its philosophical lessons are all but forgotten. So long as the mob determines it, then one should be made to sip from the poisonous chalice.

For those inside of the United Kingdom a singular referendum was apparently supposed to be an example of democracy in action, when with a slim margin one side gained the vote. The other side, many from within it with loud twitter accounts, cried not foul but booed the bigotry or clout mindedness of the masses. It was because of the biased media or the fear mongering extremists from within the political establishment. Yet if the outcome was the other way around, the condemnation and outcry would be the same. Perhaps the majority of both are right and wrong. Now it seems with home rule determination and domestic sovereignty, what the ‘winning’ side sought in the referendum is most likely going to be overturned. It was a good bit of theatre, the exercise of mob decision making that is.

It is a farce of the democratic process to consider the results of dictatorships where the tyrant gains an 80% or 95% election win, whether this is in Egypt, Iraq, North Korea or Turkmenistan. It is hard to take such a majority win legitimately. They still held them. The process, the theatre for all its futility is important. It in some ways helps to legitimise these regimes to some of the people and to much of the world. That matters currently in our World. Let us however make some assumptions. Let us look at say a 90% win. We are not privy to what votes were counted as like most governments and electoral processes some are often eliminated. It’s not like everyone is allowed to vote in the US elections through their selective processes either. So, if a small percentage or any percentage of the population of the nation is denied the right to vote, does this make the legitimacy of the democracy any more or less valid? It most likely does not matter because criminals, immigrants, mentally deranged, certain ethnic groups, marginalised communities and so on are not trust worthy or have surrendered their right to vote in most cases, right?

Moving past that. Let us imagine that in the case of the 90% outcome, that everyone did in fact vote and there was no voter fraud or rigging of the process. Perhaps we should discuss this for a moment. Yes, rigging results. It’s common. In fact even in the US, the nation that spends so much time rigging foreign elections while also murdering in the name of democracy, has itself in its own past experienced democratic corruption. And while some may look at the Gore-Bush incident of 2000, I was thinking more of the Battle of Athens in 1946. This occurred in the US state of Tennessee when corrupt and abusive public officials through aggressive policing stirred up the local populace, culminating in the rigging of a local election. It was then that armed members of the populace seized the votes so that they could be legitimately counted. Just an extreme example of a response when apathy and faith in the government and its institutions were properly challenged and not further validated, as was the case in say the 2000 example. Whether you believe the election was stolen or not, those who contested the Bush win certainly believed in the institutions enough to trust the entity, that they deemed to be corrupt, enough to investigate and arbitrate their fears and concerns. In the end the outcome remained the same as the election process. Bush won.

So ignoring the fraud and rigging, imagining that you had no stupid American style election circus. No theatre, no denial of votes. Just a good old fashion yay or nay. Let us also imagine that multiple, i.e. more than two, candidates or platforms are also allowed or invited to run. So, that a population of millions or hundreds of millions has more than JUST two choices. So, choices. Let us make believe that we have this perfect depiction of democracy. The one that does not really exist ANYWHERE as far as national elections go. BUT one where votes are honestly counted, anyone can run and nominate themselves, none have an unfair advantage and the electoral college or commissions are not complex and self-serving so that all voters are ready to vote. And one candidate under those circumstances wins by 90%.

Pretend that the lesser of two or sometimes three arguments is not a factor. Nor pragmatic voting to stop Him or Her from getting in. Let us pretend that those who claim to be a dye in the wool socialist would not need to compromise or those claiming to be a free market minarchist not forced to make the same and stupid arguments. Let us pretend that so many choices are apparent, whether as leaders of their parties or as independents void of having any parties of which to earn the leadership and still this candidate wins by 90%.

Now, that would be an impressive feat. Whatever that leader wishes to do thereafter has the complete sanctioning of 90% of the population. They are considered legitimate and valid; they could be considered truly popular and would have the self-confidence to be a strongman of national might. But for that 10%, then what? If those terrible despots had a legitimate democratic mandate would that make any of what they did better or worse? Would this somehow validate their rule enough that the suffering and plight beneath their leadership could be ignored and omitted? Or does suffering, murder, theft and impingements of liberty only matter so long as the mob’s wisdom steers its leaders into the paths of a common good? I am not attempting to answer these questions. I am just curious to know how a minority, however great or small, should suffer beneath the mass of a majority, however benevolent or terrible they may be?

Simplified examples certainly but is that not the nature of politics? The crude compression of a complex the polarising of subtle nuances. What if a majority of the populace did yearn for a communist dictatorship, whereas a minority sought a libertarian capitalist paradise? What if the reverse was true? Would the libertarians allow those from the communist elements to secede to form their own utopia? We know that the reverse would not be true. With a 90% win would all of that belief and faith in one person and their cabinet be so valid that the mob could then outsource their own personal philosophy and morality to this and these people? Could all the coercion committed be then better legitimised? Could all of the murder, prohibitions and breaches of liberty then be looked at as being a valid action because of the miracle of popular will?

Those that rule and seek to rule, whether the faceless public servants who are entrenched inside the safety of public life absent of any vote or process. To those who more publicly rule with a politician’s charm and strength all seek legitimacy from the process and the belief in this process, whether it is rigged, biased or on the level. The authority somehow comes from it and all of us give them the sanctioning to do as they wish, through whatever majesty of rule and law. Occasionally some are overthrown to be replaced by less terrible rulers, the internal apparatus objects to the instability and unpopular nature of the figure heads so a coup, whether legal or not occurs. But the process and the institution remains very much the same. Whether it is an extreme example of suffering as is the case for those beneath communist dictatorships to a more gentle and slow burning form of leadership as is the case of most ‘liberal’ democracies where regulations and prohibitions take their time to erode the society. In the end, we all suffer. Most of all, those of us who are unable to vote.

And taking this present election in the United States, seeing as it is taking so much focus of the World’s media attention. What are the pertinent issues? Stopping war? Ending prohibitions? Peace? I do not recall either of the major candidates discussing with any detail or sincerity stopping wars. No mention of Yemen, Afghanistan let alone the deployment of US troops in Africa. Instead the spectre of ISIS, Immigration and the usual at home adjustments to domestic policy was the theme hidden beneath blathering rants and marketing of scandals. Is this the fault of the candidates or the mob that adores them? After all, if the candidates need to appeal to voters then clearly scapegoats and specific issues and rhetoric are what matters most to those who vote. At least in previous elections, candidates lied and promised withdrawals and peace. Are American and other coalition partner electorates so indifferent to war and the suffering of their foreign policies that they just do not care? Well, many beyond their borders do care and will not forget. Is this the wider wisdom of the mob? To not care about war and mayhem? To disregard the open support of despots, terror groups and wider instability, the destruction of hospitals, torture, extrajudicial executions and mass killings of civilians? None of these cold realities resonate among the populace who vote and whose important votes matter to the candidates?

This is not an exclusive condition for the US electorate, in Australia federal elections were in recent times run on the promise of ‘fast’ internet, where a submarine project will be built or who can stop the most refugee boats. Never once is it considered that these are complex matters that go beyond the blunt stupidity of policy. Instead it is short term, short sighted desires to torrent faster and game better. The promise of industrial jobs and state investment despite what the best options may be for National defence and the sailors operating in the boats, or if the submarines will be viable by the time they reach the water. To scapegoating entire collectives of individuals as barbaric outsiders, threatening a culture, ‘stealing’ jobs while also looking to laze about on generous welfare. The naïve fears are married to the simplistic selfishness of ‘I want it better for me now’. Yet, wisdom is somehow meant to come about from a populace who is only interested in sound bites, rhetoric, pre-election squabbles and pitches made by interests that will either benefit or lose out. And, the outcome is always a failure or slips with scandals of corruption, cost over runs or over ambitious goals. The other side is blamed, more money is needed or new projects begun to better improve the previous one sought. The same liars and constantly incorrect experts and talking heads are never questioned and the very same institutions and political elites remain to improve or fix their problems. So long as we have the power to vote and ‘keep them honest’ with these scribbles of pencil to validate it all.

So, as the United States participates in the finale of what has been a long and boorish election process the rest of the World watches on. Whether we are deemed as friends, enemies, potential enemies or victims in waiting we have no real say. None of us know what new war will be fought by the biggest war maker on this Earth, just how cold a new Cold War may chill the planet, what regulatory acts will be enforced in the name of better American protectionism, what prohibitions will be imposed on all of us in the name of United States moral puritanism and where more US troops will be stationed to determine our apparent safety. So, while in theory a small percentage of 320 million people out of about 7 billion will vote in a less than stable election to determine which candidate will be in charge of an Empire on its journey to an inevitable nadir. An election out of basically two candidates who are not even supported convincingly by their own political parties, our history books assure us that many of the wars in the last century were about this one process. Democracy. But one thing of which all of us can be sure is that no matter the outcome more war will come and more innocent lives will be destroyed but that is okay because we had a democratic process to legitimise it all.

Kym Robinson, 2016

Published inAll Articles and EssaysPhilosophy, Society and Liberty