The nearly unanimous condemnation of democracy in past history which Black (accurately) mentions was in all cases in contrast to elite rule, whether monarchy, oligarchy, or republic.
He then points out that democracy has been largely corrupted, that most societies that use it today are representative / republican, that not everyone who claims it actually practices it, and points out that there has rarely if ever been universal enfranchisement.
Again, all accurate points, but none of them is an actual criticism of direct democracy, its simply saying that not all of what people call “democracy” is the same thing.
He gives the lack of successful urban direct democracy as a reason it could not possibly happen. That’s just silly. Nothing exists prior to the first time it exists, that is certainly not proof that it couldn't possibly ever exist. It may well be an “abstract ideal”, but no less so than anarchy, or any other ideological potential organization of society. He acknowledges that direct democracy has in fact existed, but implies it ‘doesn't count’ because “Every known instance has involved a considerable admixture of representative democracy which has sooner or later usually subordinated [direct] democracy where it didn't eliminate it altogether”
But of course there is exactly zero cases of anarchy which did not “sooner or later” succumb to another form of social organization.
If the masses aren't always right, why would the masses acting as individuals be any more right?
2. Democracy does not, as is promised, give everyone the right to influence the decisions afflicting her, because a person who voted on the losing side had no influence on that decision
4. Majority rule ignores the urgency of preferences.
5. There are no self-evident democratic voting rules.
Voters are fungible as well, which means it makes absolutely no sense to talk about “the one vote that counts”. A 50.01% to 49.99% split may come down to a single vote, but it doesn’t come down to any specific vote, as Black suggests. Because votes are fungible, even in the 50.01 to 49.99 split, every single vote still counts.
Second, this is not remotely a critics of the concept of democracy, it is a critics of its practice. The solution would be universal enfranchisement.
How would eliminating democracy in favor of either oligarchy or anarchy give children or lunatics any more power than they have under democracy?
Also the claim that those people listed (including foreigners, transients, and felons) are “everywhere denied the right to vote” is simply false. For example, many countries of the EU allow a resident who is a citizen of other EU countries to vote in their elections. Several
9. Then there is the Voters Paradox
In practice, outside of a extremely small group in which all individuals know each other personally, this would be close to impossible to pull off. If voting is done in secret, game theory would tell us it would be completely impossible, in any size group. But even if it were to happen – so what? Individual can choose to compromise if they want to. Why shouldn't they be allowed to?
11. In the unlikely event a legislative body eschews logrolling, it may succumb to gridlock.
Capitalism and democracy did not develop at the same time, they aren’t equivalent, and in fact – despite everything
A lack of concession in order to benefit society as a whole is the best possible example of selfish individualism. Agreeing to concede when most of the group wants something different is the opposite of selfish individualism. Claiming the two are equivalent makes no sense! On the spectrum of political autonomy, moving toward authoritarianism decreases selfish individualism, and moving toward anarchy increases it.
Granted, “In a winner-take-all system there is no incentive to compensate or conciliate defeated minorities”, which is why few if any advocates for democracy advocate a winner-take-all system. The
“Deliberation "can bring differences to the surface, widening rather than narrowing them.”
True enough. If everyone kept their mouths shut and never talked about politics or race or religion, no one would know that other people disagreed with them. So then this is an argument for each individual to live as a hermit, never collaborating with any one else.
“but nowhere would they be more destructive of community than in face-to-face assemblies and neighborhoods.” This theory does not hold up to observed practice. See SummerHill.
13. Another source of majority irresponsibility and minority indignity is the felt frivolity of voting, its element of chance and arbitrariness.
14. Under representative democracy with electoral districts, malapportionment - the creation of districts with unequal populations - is possible and, even if they are equal, gerrymandering is almost inevitable.
Obviously a criticism of representative democracy.
16. Direct democracy, to an even greater degree than representative democracy, encourages emotional, irrational decision making.
Its true; humans have a lot of cognitive biases and logical fallacies built in. Some more than others, and all in some situations more than others.
Again, this is an argument towards authoritarianism.
When you, for example, move from socialism to capitalism, there is no trend of consumers to become less emotional and more rational because of their new found freedom. If anything, quite the opposite occurs. Why would we assume that greater autonomy and greater individualization, less socialization and group dynamics would result in less emotional impulse and more correct reasoning?
But, wait, what are we talking about? Oh right, democracy. What does this have to do with it exactly? How is it an argument for any other form of government? Its basically pointing out that humans naturally develop homogenous culture, and tend to trust large enough groups over even their own senses. This phenomenon is known to increase in minimally permissive cultures, and decrease under liberal democracy. For example, the effect is far more pronounced in
As far as it’s relation to voting, a secret ballot makes the experiment referenced irrelevant.
18. Another inherent flaw in direct democracy, partly (not entirely) a consequence of the previous one, is the inconstancy of policy
That will always be equally true under any possible system of social organization other than strict and detailed constitionalism. What, if you remove democracy, all people’s opinions and desires would become fixed?
“Majority rule is as arbitrary as random decision”
As in point 6, this belief stems from not understanding large complex systems, the collected impact of small influences, and the fungbility of votes. All processes of all kinds are made up of microscopic components.
“A celebrant of Swiss direct democracy at its height admits: "Corruption, factionalization, arbitrariness, violence, disregard for law, and an obdurate conservatism that opposed all social and economic progress were pathologies to some extent endemic to the pure democratic life form."”
Yet again, an argument for authoritarianism. Are we to believe that “disregard for law” would be less a problem if there were no laws? Social conservatism is a personality trait, with multiple sources, which is based fundamentally on an individuals approach to morality, not politics.
“The believers claim that democracy promotes dialogue, but where is the dialogue about democracy itself”
There is also “The Irony of Democracy” by Dye Ziegler, “The No-Nonsense Guide to Democracy” by Richard Swift, and Freedom-vs-Democracy
“That's why you didn't learn it in school”
The Irony of Democracy (Ziegler) was one of my textbooks in school.
The majority of the issues described would be as bad or worse under anarchy, (and many solved by a benevolent dictator) and yet Black comes to the conclusion that government itself must be the problem.