Beyond Democracy

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The idea of democracy is the least questioned political doctrine in the modern age. Everyone thinks it is the best system because it is better than any other. Now one book dares to take on this doctrine in a devastating and truth-telling work. It is called Beyond Democracy: Why Democracy Does Not Lead to Solidarity, Prosperity, and Liberty but to Social Conflict, Runaway Spending, and Tyrannical Government. It is by Frank Karsten and Karel Beckman, two Dutch scholars who have studied political systems all over the world. They conclude that democracy makes no sense for anyone. Under democracy, they say, no one and nothing is safe.

For example, why do we vote for people and not policies themselves? Karsten and Beckman say it’s because the system is designed to support an administrative apparatus that brings about wealth redistribution. That’s the only real bottom-line guarantee that democracy gives us: You will be robbed. The vote is to provide a stamp of approval and moral cover. Otherwise, the people don’t really rule day to day, say the authors. “Voting is the illusion of influence in exchange for the loss for freedom.”

Why do we go along? The authors speak of the Stockholm syndrome. People “come to love their captors and don’t realize that they are trading in their autonomy for the power that politicians and administrators hold over them.”

Democracy is a system that has been around in its present form for only about 150 years. The generation present at the U.S. founding would never have gone along with such a thing. They tried to set up a system that would be immune from precisely what democracy has given us: an administrative apparatus that sees all private wealth and power as available for the taking.

But does democracy limit the rulers’ power? Evidently not. Does it permit the people to rule themselves? Quite the opposite. Does it assure peace at home and abroad? Actually, it divides people into warring tribes at home and ends up being extremely aggressive abroad.

Perhaps its most deadly dimension is how it provides cover and blessing for terrible things. No matter what happens in an election, we are told again and again that the system worked. With that knowledge, we are supposed to set aside all our differences, forget all the expense, ignore all the lies and coverups, and breathe a big sigh of relief that, in the end, all is right with the world.

There is a strong reason to think that the authors are right: Democracy is not so much a system of government as it is a faith to be believed. Not a single postulate of this faith is true, but people go on believing it anyway. And why? Because they’ve never really considered the case in detail. To question democracy is just not something we are permitted to do.

Well, this book changes everything. Even if you think you know the case against democracy, there are things you will learn from this book. It is an easy read, presumes no prior political commitments, and offers vastly more light than heat. That is to say, this book makes a lot of sense, far more so than the political system we know all too well.

People are accustomed to fighting back against this kind of thinking by asserting that for all its limits, democracy is still the best system we have. That is absolutely not true. Think of the systems we use to select what we eat, what we wear, whom we marry, and where we will live and work. Whatever system we use for these decisions seems to work pretty well. We get what we want without harming others. This system is called liberty, or liberalism, or the market, or just freedom itself. It works. And democracy is its opposite.

Even if you think you disagree, you owe it to yourself to consider their argument. Their prose is clear. The evidence is compelling. The logic is challenging, if not impeccable. If you still want to believe after reading this book, that’s up to you. But please accept the intellectual challenge.

Author: Karel Beckman