Is democ­racy the en­emy of the peo­ple?

Pas­sion­ate polemic is thought-pro­vok­ing and en­ter­tain­ing if not en­tirely con­vinc­ing

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polity should func­tion. Peo­ple need to know if they are living in a pres­i­den­tial sys­tem, a par­lia­men­tary democ­racy, con­sti­tu­tional monar­chy, a plebisc­i­tary democ­racy or what­ever. If they don’t, there isn’t pure democ­racy, there is pure chaos.

Hume claims to be a Marx­ist, but he doesn’t seem to be in­ter­ested ei­ther in Lenin’s ideas on demo­cratic cen­tral­ism or soviet worker democ­racy. Nor does he con­sider whether sin­gle party democ­ra­cies, like the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China, are in any sense demo­cratic. I as­sume he doesn’t, but you can’t be sure with the “editor at large” of the con­trar­ian web­site, Spiked!.

He seems to re­serve par­tic­u­lar scorn for rep­re­sen­ta­tive democ­racy in the UK, which is why he was so out­raged at the judges of the Supreme Court up­hold­ing par­lia­men­tary author­ity. He says those who ar­gued that par­lia­ment is the source of demo­cratic le­git­i­macy were try­ing “jus­tify their at­tempt to over­turn a [ref­er­en­dum] re­sult they did not like”. Need­less to say, Hume voted for Brexit.

He also cel­e­brates Don­ald Trump’s vic­tory as a revolt of the demo­cratic masses against the wicked elites. But here he con­tra­dicts his con­sti­tu­tion­pho­bia by giv­ing the thumbs up to the Amer­i­can sys­tem un­der which pres­i­dents are cho­sen, not by pop­u­lar ma­jor­ity, but by elec­toral col­lege. You might have ex­pected this rad­i­cal demo­crat to be ar­gu­ing that Hil­lary Clin­ton won the 2016 Pres­i­den­tial elec­tion be­cause she re­ceived nearly 3 mil­lion more votes than Trump. But no.

You might also have thought that a rad­i­cal demo­crat would favour pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion, rather than the un­demo­cratic first-past-the-post­sys­tem in which the num­ber of MPs in the House of Com­mons bears no re­la­tion­ship to the ac­tual num­ber of votes cast. But again, no. PR is an­other dis­trac­tion, ap­par­ently, by “pol­icy wonks and aca­demics”.

He rails also against those who seek to limit the fran­chise in elec­tions. Some peo­ple, in the wake of Brexit and Trump, have ap­par­ently been call­ing for un­in­tel­li­gent peo­ple to be de­prived of the vote un­til they wise up. I don’t know who he has in mind here be­cause I’ve never heard of any­one se­ri­ously ar­gu­ing that we should re­strict democ­racy to cer­tain cat­e­gories of vot­ers.

But then it turns out that Hume is against ex­tend­ing the demo­cratic fran­chise to 16 and 17 year olds, on the grounds that this “in­fan­tilises” pol­i­tics. The Scot­tish ref­er­en­dum surely demon­strated beyond rea­son­able doubt that peo­ple who are old enough to marry and join the army are also ma­ture enough to vote. He doesn’t even ad­vo­cate abol­ish­ing the monar­chy on the grounds that “elected politi­cians are held in such low es­teem that many peo­ple would vote for the monarch any­way”.

So what kind of democ­racy does match up to Hume’s ex­act­ing stan­dards? Well, through­out the first 200 pages of rant­ing against the left, lib­er­als, the Euro­pean Union, BBC, stu­dent rad­i­cals, philoso­phers from Plato to Noam Chom­sky (all en­e­mies of democ­racy), he re­peat­edly writes ap­prov­ingly of the “red in tooth and claw” democ­racy of an­cient Athens. Per­i­cles had the right idea. “Let’s re­vive the spirit of Athens,” he pro­claims, “mi­nus the slav­ery and misog­yny”. Well, quite.

Every­one was equal in the Athe­nian cit­i­zen’s as­sem­bly he says, where “peo­ple’s ju­ries made most laws; jurors were se­lected by lottery and left to leg­is­late with­out the guid­ing hand of any au­to­cratic judge”.

We’ll set aside whether this is a re­li­able ac­count of demo­cratic prac­tice in an­cient Athens and take it that he sup­ports di­rect democ­racy through

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