Is the “will of the people” really captured by 51% of the voters?

Is Democracy Democratic?

When we look at our political order, we may truly ask if this is what we really wanted, if the true will of the people is expressed in our institutions. Oddly enough, both Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, express grave doubts that this is so. Indeed, this may be the only point of agreement between the two sides; they both conclude that something has gone terribly wrong.

Let me suggest that the answer lies in modern absolutism. A thing is known by its proper limits, and a thing without limits becomes its own opposite. Thus democracy, sacralized and absolutized, becomes its own opposite, a thinly disguised oligarchy of power which uses all the arts of propaganda to convince the public that their votes matter. There is precedent for this. The Western Roman Empire maintained the Republican form and offices. Consul, quaestor, aedile, and tribune remained and there were hotly contested and highly expensive campaigns for these offices. The army still marched under the banner not of the emperor, but of the SPQR, “The Senate and People of Rome.” But of course it was all a sham; real power lay with the emperor and with the army and the merchant/landowning classes whose interests he largely represented, while buying off the plebs with the world’s largest welfare state. But at least the Romans could see their emperor, could know his name, could love him or hate him. We are not permitted to see our real rulers, and never permitted to name them. The democratic sham covers the oligarchic reality.

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