Local Democracy Notepad

Democratic perfectionism as a political method

"The public are wrong"

with 2 comments

It’s a view that doesn’t get much support amongst the blogosphere, but there is a Parliamentary perspective upon democracy that is rarely advanced or defended. Listening to the BBC’s Moral Maze programme – this week’s question “Can there be too much democracy?” (you will need to hurry – it’s not archived and will only be available for a few more days), a reference was made to an article by one of the witnesses (Matthew Parris) – it was too good to ignore. (Update 21.1.09: just seen that Daniel Heaf has the whole thing on his site here).

Here’s a sample:

“My worry is not about the unsettled but the settled opinions of the public. On a range of questions central to the working of a free market liberal democracy, the general public, if asked, will consistently give the wrong answer. These are neither illiterate nor capricious people. They understand the questions and have thought about them. And they keep reaching the wrong conclusions. They therefore have to be ignored. This is an uncomfortable conclusion for a democrat.

Here are ten examples:

  • The populace do not believe in free speech.
  • They do not believe in freedom of movement.
  • They do not believe in adversarial politics.
  • They do not believe in an adversarial legal system.
  • They do not believe a man is innocent until proved guilty.
  • They do not believe the market should determine prices.
  • They do not believe the market should determine wages.
  • They do not believe anyone should profit from scarcity.
  • They think increased productivity will increase unemployment.
  • They do not believe an immigrant should take a job for which there is already willing indigenous labour.

Many of these arguments are perfectly absurd; others are superficially attractive but dangerous; others are workable but only in a fascist state. But if you believe that you could persuade a town hall full of ordinary voters to reject any one of the contentions I have summarised above, then try it. I have.”

The whole thing is here.

Written by Paul Evans

December 23rd, 2008 at 6:11 pm

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  1. [...] appears to be a genuine chance that the Swiss – in a referendum – will give legal expression to Matthew Parris’ view of what the public believe. Last year, the Swiss nearly decided to do something a good deal more sinister than the current [...]

  2. [...] he echoes Matthew Parris’ views on the public perception of immigration – not understanding the more obscure economic benefits, and [...]

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