Democracy Under Fire

Democracy in Crisis and Why Democracy Matters

Educate the next generation so as to cope intellectually, morally, and politically with the messiness and complexity of the world.

            Yehuda Elkana

In developing democracy in the United States and Europe over the last few centuries, the people of both continents have forged five fundamental safeguards against the tyranny of those with dangerous personality disorders. These safeguards are: representative democracy, in which leaders are freely elected and freely removed by the people; the separation of church and state, which limits the ability of tyrants to wield the power of the state on behalf of sectarian causes; social democracy, in which the state has the responsibility to redistribute wealth in order to minimise poverty and ensure social cohesion; pooled sovereignty, which reduces nationalist sentiment and deprives tyrants of a rallying cry to arms; and the protection of individual human rights in law, including the rights of minorities, which deprives tyrants of their most vulnerable scapegoats. Although the mix of safeguards varies between the United States and Europe, and between countries in Europe, they together characterise the Western democratic model.

A number of insights can be gained from this psychology-based perspective on democracy. First, democracy emerged as a result of a process in which the psychological majority challenged the power of personality-disordered elites. The development of democracy in Europe and the United States took place over centuries and involved a long-drawn-out struggle between pathologically disordered and entrenched elites and the majority populations. The process was protracted and violent, primarily because it is not in the nature of those with dangerous personality disorders to compromise or relinquish power readily. The development of democracy also involved profound social and cultural changes, including the development of a democratic culture which empowered the majority population to challenge authority and demand to be treated as equal citizens, rather than as objects to be abused by those in power.

photo credit: RamyRaoof via photopin cc

photo credit: RamyRaoof via photopin cc

Second, the establishment of elections is not enough to unseat pathological elites and establish democracy. Effective democracy requires the establishment of law and order and the application of the law to all, regardless of wealth or status. It requires the inclusion of all ethnic and religious groups in the democratic process on an equal basis. It requires the collection of taxation from all citizens on an equitable basis and the redistribution of wealth to ensure social cohesion. It requires the passage of laws to protect the human rights of all members of society, particularly minorities, to ensure protection from persecution and discrimination. And it requires the establishment of institutions capable of enforcing and administering all of these essential democratic functions.

In attempting to establish these institutions and practices, the citizens of a newly democratising nation will come up against strident opposition from people with dangerous personality disorders on every one of these issues. Pathological individuals will inevitably hold positions of authority in the army, police and judiciary; they will be profiting from the vilification and persecution of those of a different ethnic or religious background; they will vehemently oppose any redistribution of their wealth and power; and they will reject the basic principle of equality underpinning democratic governance as threatening and offensive.

Pathology as Anti-Democracy

Psychologically normal people may also of course oppose each of these developments – on the basis of self-interest, prejudice or even reasoned argument. But psychologically normal people are capable of conceiving of the democratic principles of equality, power-sharing, compromise and concern for the rights and aspirations of others. Psychopaths, pathological narcissists, and people with severe paranoid personality are psychologically incapable of conceiving of these fundamental essentials of democratic citizenship and will therefore be at the vanguard of those opposed to the success of democratisation.

This psychology-based perspective helps to explain why mass protests and violent revolutions are often necessary preludes to democratisation. And it helps to explain why the process of democratisation is protracted and can readily fail.

Read excerpts from Chapter 7 ‘Taking Leave of God’ here.

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3 thoughts on “Democracy Under Fire

  1. The psychologically-disordered support democracy when they are able to use their abilities of amoral manipulation to maintain power over the masses under the cloud of Enlightened Values which democracy creates. Such is how the present system came to be. Though I assume you realize this, I didn’t see it in the text above. I’m unconvinced that democracy has yet really upheld the values you wrote about above, either, for the reason of sociopathic interests being common among the Founding Fathers of the US who far from liberated many people from the rule of England.

    • I agree with you that in many places democracy has not yet really upheld the values of accountability, fairness and equality, which together make it difficult for those with dangerous personality disorders to play the system to their advantage. In countries emerging from authoritarian rule, tyrants find it relatively easy to manipulate elections, and present a gloss of democracy while continuing autocratic rule. Many western democracies too – particularly, but not only, the United States – have gone backwards in recent decades, with rising inequality and the enormous costs of standing for election undermining the role of democracy in protecting society from those with dangerous personality disorders.

  2. The bullies will always find a place in any system from which to dominate or engineer things to their advantage. How else would they become president? The Founding Fathers did not foresee that one day there would be over 300 million people to administer (read: rule). How can one man do all that and keep his soul? And the majority is easily seduced with magical benefits that charismatic candidates so glibly promise.

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