China has been having a field day watching political events unfold in the US. There was a great piece in the Guardian recently by Tom Phillips (Democracy is a joke, says China – Just look at Donald Trump) depicting how Chinese leaders are laughing over what we call democracy.
The article tells how Chinese authoritarian leaders are looking at the US and saying: if you let the punters loose, you end up not only with a brash, racist leader upsetting global leaders, but also with a country running amok.
Phillips quotes the Communist party-controlled Global Times: “The rise of a racist in the US political area worries the whole world… He has even been called another Benito Mussolini or Adolf Hitler by some western media... Mussolini and Hitler came to power through elections, a heavy lesson for western democracy.” Phillips writes, “Trump, or ‘Chuanpu' as they call him in China, has been a gift to Communist party spin doctors paid to convince the country’s 1.4bn citizens that rule of the people is a sure path to chaos and destruction.”
This got me pocket-philosophising about one of my favourite topics: democracy. Where would you rather live, I asked my friends over dinner: a) in a society in which you have the right to vote, but where 75 per cent of the population feels that it’s the best idea on earth to, say, punch people from Country X in the face; or b) in a country where you have slightly fewer freedoms, but where your leadership is always benevolent and somewhere in the middle on the political spectrum.
We discussed this for a long time. Things got heated. Then an important point was made. Democracy only works when you have a society of smart people. Think about it. You (smartly, and with common sense) think it’s wrong to punch anybody in the face. But if 75 per cent of people around you think it’s an amazing idea, then what? Is democracy still ok? What happens when people in developed democracies suddenly start making unintelligent and demagogic decisions? Is this in the best interest of humanity and of the society we live in?
Some might argue that, if you can’t have an “intelligent democracy”, then you would be better off with a kind of “benevolent dictator” system. Singapore springs to mind as being a functioning and liberal society, even though a lot of things are decided for you. Maybe precisely because your rights are slightly diminished, you end up in a healthier society overall for the masses.
The next leg of the argument then becomes who decides what a good decision is, and why your way of seeing the world necessarily is any better or smarter than the 75 per cent. Perhaps the majority always is right. Perhaps if the majority is racist, then there is something wrong with me if I don’t share their views (I don’t think so though).
Think about it. And send me a line on Twitter @louisabojesen. Does democracy only work when you have a society of smart people?