"A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought mankind so wise and good that everyone deserved a share in the government. The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that they are not true...I do not deserve a share in governing a hen-roost much less a nation. Nor do most people...The real reason for democracy is just the reverse. Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters."Some writers don't believe Democracy Is Bad per se. They see it as the best system we've got. That said they don't think it is perfect, and they've written something to get this viewpoint across. Writers who are utilizing this trope will lay bare the flaws of democracy but not demonize it. They will point out the safeguard against tyranny it provides while pointing out that the influence of narrow interest groups, an unaware populace and a biased media can still lead to the people being manipulated into voting against their interests or even simply not having a candidate that represents their interests to choose. They will note that it allows the checking of unwise usage of power while at the same time leading to polarization and paralysis. The overall use of this trope is one that is in favour of democratic procedures (in fact, one of their main criticisms may be that the system isn't democratic enough) but that said procedures are still full of holes. More philosophical works may speak of the human element as reason for why democracy is flawed. For now, Real Life examples are permitted, as this is a politically motivated trope and they are helpful. Try to keep it to famous opinions on the matter rather than analysis of the actual systems. Failure to be civil will result in the Real Life section being nuked. Real Life examples are a privilege, not a right.
— C. S. Lewis, Equality
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Anime and Manga
- Legend of Galactic Heroes spends a lot of time showing that democracy at is best is nowhere near as good as the best that can be done with an iron fist, but it also is unlikely to sink quite as low. The Free Planets Alliance is corrupt to the core, but people can still complain about it without being sent to The Gulag. The Empire, in the meantime, can go from golden age to decadence all on the basis of who's in charge of it, and the rights of its citizens are tied to The Emperor's whims. Reinhart eventually enshrines said rights with a constitution, but he couldn't have done so without taking supreme power in a coup.
- When Papa Smurf is away, The Smurfs argue who should be the new leader. In the first round of voting, everyone votes for himself. The second round ends with a Smurf elected (by making empty promises) who installs a monarchy with himself as the king.
- In the IDW Transformers G1 continuity, Optimus Prime eventually renounced Autobot dominance over Cybertron and allowed its citizens to elect a leader. They chose Starscream.
- Starscream has since found himself somewhat beholden to the people he now rules, and the Council of Worlds that includes representatives from various colony worlds. He's unhappy about having to answer to people who have no idea what kind of stresses he's under to actually be a good leader, but surprisingly enough he actually is trying. If only to spite those who think he can't handle it.
- In Project Superpowers, Boy King claims that the only time that democracy is preferable to a monarchy is if the throne is occupied by an unwise king, because otherwise, democracy just invites mob rule. Of course, since Boy King is the unelected monarch of a small Eastern-European country, he may be a bit biased.
- It's not an uncommon theme for My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfics to use this trope, seeing as how Celestia is supposed to be a good queen (well, princess) but viewers tend to associate democracy with the "good" form of government. In some politically focused stories, Princess Celestia and/or Luna exhibits this attitude to explain why Equestria remains under an eternal monarchy/diarchy.
- In Equestria: A History Revealed, while it started off promising, the Equinus Republic quickly devolved into politicians holding their own private agendas, constant lack of consensus and progress, and pointless bickering in Parliament. This all sets the stage for the rise of Discord.
- In Sunshine and Fire, Celestia uses this logic to argue against the parallel universe version of Applejack and her plan to overthrow her own world's version of Celestia (a corrupt, insane tyrant) and install democracy in her place. She specifically focuses on how, in addition to democracy's normal flaws (aka susceptibility to inefficiency, corruption, infighting and mob justice), Applejack wants to install it on a world that has known nothing but tyranny and oppression for a thousand years, and in particular where "the majority" will be drawn from a species that was repressed for those thousand years and which would thusly be eager to oppress those who had power beforehand in turn.
- Then-Senator Palpatine uses the political mire of the Galactic Senate to ignite his scheme of overthrowing the Jedi and Senate to establish a Sith Empire. In the Expanded Universe, it's implied that a large amount of the corruption in the Senate for the millenium was due to the Sith. All Palpatine did was fulfill it.
- This is a running theme through the Star Wars Expanded Universe. No one's debating the Republic doesn't have many, many flaws. However, they stood for almost thirty thousand years against many iterations of the Sith Empire. The Empire in all but the most recent form (that is, under the rule of the Fel family) is a brutal, racist, sexist, corrupt and self-destructive trash heap with crumbling or non-existent infrastructure, a house of cards economy built on eternal war and slave labor, wastes the talents of most species (remember: this is a galaxy with at least twenty million sentient species) by making sure anyone who isn't Human (or Sith species, when they were still around) is sent to a slave pit (if they're not Force Sensitive). Force Sensitives are conscripted to the Sith to be trained, target practice, and frequently both. Klingon Promotion is standard operating procedure, as is Chronic Backstabbing Disorder (no one can trust their underlings, as the underlings are just biding their time to stab the boss and take their job and the underlings can't trust the boss not to get them killed just to advance their prospects), and the whole thing is "ruled" by an Ax-Crazy theocratic cabal of Sith who don't give a bantha's arse about anything but their own (inevitably lethal) power games. The Republic looks like Utopia compared to that mess.
- One of the most overwhelming themes of the Legacy of the Force series, and one of the major criticisms of it. Pretty much every problem is caused by the Galactic Federation, and pretty much every one of those is because it's a democracy.
- Sunshine. When the Icarus II crew is discussing the option of diverting the mission to intercept the Icarus I so they can retrieve the payload and possibly save their crew if they are still alive, Mace wants to put it up to a vote. Searle points out that they are not a democracy, but a group of astronauts and scientists on a mission to save mankind. Therefore they shouldn't arbitrarily make their decision by popular concensus but to make the most informed decision possible, made by the person best qualified to understand the theory and complexities of the payload delivery, physicist Capa.
- This was a key theme of the late Allen Drury's Advise and Consent series (written between the late 1950's and the mid-1970's). He sought to show, sometimes Anviliciously, that American democracy, as inefficient as it often is, is infinitely preferable to the "efficient" tyranny of Communist regimes.
- Discworld: Lord Vetinari mentions a town voting to make itself democratic, then immediately voting to no longer pay taxes. Given the general Humans Are Bastards and Morons tendencies on the Disc, the only viable forms of government are monarchies and dictatorships.
- The Ephebians have an elected head of state (elected by a very small minority of rich men, that is) but as it's a parody of Athens' own democracy in ancient times, it's hardly a democracy as we'd understand it: the head of state has the official title of "Tyrant" and doesn't appear to have any checks on his powers other than a fixed term in office.
- Referenced in The Fifth Elephant:
Vimes had once discussed the Ephebian idea of ‘democracy’ with Carrot, and had been rather interested in the idea that everyone had a vote until he found out that while he, Vimes, would have a vote, there was no way in the rules that anyone could prevent Nobby Nobbs from having one as well. Vimes could see the flaw there straight away.
- King Verence II of the Lancre is a well-meaning fellow that attempted to implement a parliament. His subjects however, clearly have no interest in doing what they think is his job for him. Ironically, this (along with other implications) clearly implies the populace already have some sense of self-determination.
- In Robert A. Heinlein's Glory Road, a doctor of sociology of a highly advanced civilization mentions to the hero (who is from present day Earth) that democracy is "a good system for beginners", while stating that advanced civilizations have far better ways of government.
- In Time Enough for Love, Lazarus Long makes the following comment regarding democracy:
"Democracy is based on the assumption that a million men are wiser than one man. How’s that again? I missed something."
- To his credit, he also shows doubts regarding autocracy:
"Autocracy is based on the assumption that one man is wiser than a million men. Let’s play that over again, too. Who decides?"
- In Time Enough for Love, Lazarus Long makes the following comment regarding democracy:
- Niccolò Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy suggests that unrestrained democracy would lead to anarchic chaos, but it was necessary for liberty in balance with aristocracy and monarchy in a true Republic. In contrast to his more famous work which sidestepped the issue entirely (and was probably meant as satire). It is worth noting that Machiavelli’s ideal form of republic is a notable forerunner of the modern idea of checks and balances in government, and he may be argued to have been Vindicated by History, as many of today’s political systems seem to have taken his ideas to heart. For example, the American Political System can be argued to have elements of monarchy in the presidency, of aristocracy in the court system (originally the Senate), and of democracy in Congress. Meanwhile, the British Political System, at least in theory, has monarchy in the prime minister (and the actual monarch), aristocracy in the House of Lords, and democracy in the House of Commons. Of course, people’s opinions may vary wildly on how truly effective these systems are.
- in The Bookof Mormon, when King Mosiah abdicates in favor of a democracy, he notes that while "the voice of the people" will usually work, there may come a day when majority vote will support wickedness. He also notes that when a king is righteous, a monarchy is preferable; democracy exists to avoid the inevitable wicked kings that lead the people into wickedness.
- One traditional interpretation of Thucydides' writings has been that democracies need leaders, but that leadership itself can be fundamentally dangerous to democracy. This does not appear to be intended as a condemnation of democracy in and of itself, but a warning to the electorate of the need for vigilance.
- In So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, Douglas Adams presents a lengthy parable about first-past-the-post voting systems (see Duverger's Law under the real life section below), in which people are ruled by lizards, whom they universally hate. They all have the vote, so they assume the government they have resembles the one they actually want, but they persist in voting for lizards, because if they didn’t vote for a lizard, “the wrong lizard might get in”.
- Victoria showcases the full spectrum of democracies and their strengths and weaknesses. In the backstory, the failing representative democracy of the United States had good intentions originally, but became deadlocked and corrupt when the legislators and bureaucratic leviathans of the federal government grew too distant from the people and were bribed by the special interests. The main story line features the titular Victoria, a direct democracy building on the Articles of Confederation; it has less corruption and unelected buraucracies, but is correspondingly more vulnerable to populist demagogy, racism and the influence of political generals. And then, of course, there is their enemy: the Democratic Republic of Azania, a Lady Land that starts out as a democracy but soon is one in name only, after fascists take over its elected assembly.
Live Action TV
- Luka Kovac expresses a belief similar to this to John Carter in the first episode of the "Doctors Without Borders" arc of ER. It probably helps that he's lived through a time in his native Croatia when there was no democracy.
- It's not clear if this was an intentional Aesop, but a great many of the Rag-Tag Fleet's problems in Battlestar Galactica could have been avoided if President Roslin would favour expert advice over public opinion.
- Yes, Minister played with this one, as neither idealistic front-bench rookie Jim Hacker nor his much more experienced and rather jaded Permanent Under-Secretary Sir Humphrey were ever consistently in the wrong.
- Adam Ruins Everything: "Adams Ruins Voting". Adam explains the problems with the American electoral process, from the racism and elitism of the Founding Fathers, to the irregularities of the electoral college, to disenfranchisement of minorities and felons, to gerrymandering. But then Adam talks about how the system and the franchise has improved greatly over the years, and how voting can solve these problems.
- Black Sails: Pirate Captains are democratically elected, and the crew can call votes for a change of leadership if they so desire. This causes all sorts of problems for the captains, particularly Flint, who's grand vision for Nassau and the future of piracy is frequently threatened by his greedy and short-sighted crewmates. But on the flip side, many of the captains -especially Flint- will abuse their position when they can get away with it. This rule exists to ensure that the Captain is always acting in the best interests of the crew.
- Dice Funk:
Jess: The problem is—Austin: Democracy!Jess: Well, that's part of the problem....
- TNA had pulled out all the wrestlers it had under contract, so at ROH Generation Next a poll of the fans was proposed to decide who was the top up and coming wrestler in the company, since that was who was mostly on the card only for Austin Aries, Roderick Strong and Jack Evans and be declared the best things in Ring of Honor by Alex Shelley, who claimed he had talent on loan from God before trashing the ballots and proceeding to highjack the show to prove it. The fans who were denied their voting, approved.
- The Shield's motive was to destroy fan favorite wrestlers because they realized their company had become a popularity contest whose direction was determined by audience popularity. However, they turned face when they saw what The Authority felt was "best for business".
- WWE has held events where fans can vote on future matches (opponents, stipulations,etc.). Typically, the choices will be such that one choice will obviously get the most votes in order to maintain their planned storylines.
- A variant occurs in the Vampire: The Masquerade Brujah clanbook, in which the narrator admits that, while the Camarilla is flawed and there are many things that the Brujah don't like about it, its still the best idea that vampires have come up with so far and should be maintained until something better is created.
- In BattleTech, the Free Worlds League is the closest thing to a democracy in the Feudal Future. Nobility does not necessarily imply planetary lordship, and there is a strong planetary democratic tradition. However, prevalent sectionalism ensures that the FWL is the most unstable state, having succumbed to repeated civil wars that its neighbors are keen to exploit. Initially, the Captain-General was a temporarily military posting, but during 300 years of total war it became an executive hereditary position occupied by House Marik, and slowly became more powerful than the elected parliament.
- And, as always, Shakespeare did it ages ago in his famous To Be Or Not To Be speech:
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,The insolence of office...
- This trope is also significantly part of Coriolanus' motivation, as he believes the people are too stupid and petty to be allowed to vote.
- The musical Knickerbocker Holiday has as its primary moral that a government run inefficiently by a council of fat and stupid men is better than one run efficiently by a dictator.
- Referenced in 1776, the musical about the founding of America, when Franklin quotes Plato:
"What do you think, Doctor? Democracy. What Plato called 'A charming form of government, full of variety and disorder.' I never knew Plato had been to Philadelphia."
- The New California Republic in Fallout: New Vegas is a democracy styled after pre-War America (as it was perceived by most survivors. That the actual America in the days before the War was was not so much flawed as almost as much an authoritarian, nigh-totalitarian regime as the Communists it decried is a recurring plot element in the series), and most characters in the game say it's flawed but a hell of a lot better than suffering under a military dictatorship like some other areas.
- The other choices in the Mojave wasteland are under the usually-benevolent rule of autocratic Mr House, or totalitarian slavery under Caesars Legion. In-universe characters non-aligned with either faction will generally see flaws and strengths all factions, but while both NCR and Mr House are regarded as morally gray, Legion is near universally condemned as evil. At least in-universe.
- In Transistor, people in Cloudbank can constantly vote on different things in the city. This gives the citizens the power to change everything in the city on a whim, whether it be the weather, the architecture, or the color of the sky. Reacting to this is the main motivation of the antagonists; their motto is "When everything changes, nothing changes."
- In Civilization, Democracy has the highest output for productivity, population growth, trade, and science. However, it is incredibly hard to keep your citizens from rioting and even more difficult to wage war due to the high cost of maintaining an army and the unhappiness of your citizens.
- In Twitch Plays Pokémon, Democracy Mode was originally met with contempt and scorn. The Mob learned to live with it after a week, decrying it as slow but having formed a common enemy in the form of The PC. On the 16th day, with the end so close at hand and the nearest checkpoint a full three hours away, the Anarchists begrudgingly agreed to let Democracy go off during the boulder-pushing puzzles.
- In Justice League episode "A Better World", when Batman Prime fights and argues with Batman the Justice Lord, they briefly touch on the topic of democracy, which BtJL quickly dismisses, because "it has other virtues, but it doesn't keep you very safe". He eventually defeats BP by pointing out that in his totalitarian world, no 8 year-old boy would lose his parents because of some punk with a gun. Batman Prime has to admit that he has a point.note
- From The Simpsons:
Homer: When will these people learn? Democracy doesn't work!
- A common joke when someone is moving slowly is to say he's moving at the speed of government. In Fascist Italy, Mussolini is said to have made the trains run on time. He didn't, but the belief reflects this trope, and the perception at the time (i.e. 20s-30s) that choosing democracy over fascism was choosing Liberty Over Prosperity, summed up by Harry Truman who argued, "Whenever you have an efficient government you have a dictatorship." As well as Winston Churchill:
"Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."
- A lot of this has become Dated History. Fascism and Nazism appeared to be successful because both came to power in developed nations with republican, democratic, and constitutional monarchical institutions that had done a lot of the heavy lifting trains. Hitler took credit for the Autobahn, but the first was built one year before Hitler's reign, which Hitler downgraded it to a highway, so that he then could "officially" build the first one. The first Autobahn (or, Autostrada in the native language) in the world was proposed in 1921 and completed in 1924-1925 in Italy, Mussolini having gained power in 1922.note
- After World War II, the new German state simply kept most of the existing laws but made significant changes in regard to elections and the power of major offices in the new constitution, to prevent the rise of populists in the future. While many aspects of national and state election and lawmaking are now frequently described as undemocratic, it was regarded as a necessary move. In late 2011, the Pirate Party unexpectedly came in fifth in the Berlin state election and fourth in the Saarland, winning seats in both states and are expected to get similar results in North Rhine-Westphalia and Schleswig-Holstein. While rightfully described as a populist movement, the Pirate Party of Germany differs from other such parties in Europe by having the increase of democratic participation in Germany as their primary (and some even say only) aim, instead of handing all power to strong leaders who know "what's best" for the country.
- The French Revolution did much to popularize this image and it gave an image of "democracy" as amounting to mob rule orchestrating several large amounts of deaths. Researchers who know the actual history see the Revolution's failures as stemming not from mob rule but poor leadership made by the "leaders" who made things worse by declaring war on the rest of Europe. The third view these days is the democracy of the First French Republic was bad, self-destructive and transient but given the circumstances it operated under, achieved a lot more than it had any right to expect or hope for and that, despite reversals, it codified modern democracy (anti-racism, abolition of slavery, people's right to protest, universal suffrage) and through its military successes, it proved that democracy could rule a large nation and lead it to war and it generated massive shock waves that forced nations across Europe to reform or go the way of Louis XVI.
- From John F. Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech:
"Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect. But we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in, to prevent them from leaving us."
- And then there's good old first-past-the-post, which operates roughly thus: if there are three large and a multitude of small parties and Party A gets 34% of the vote, Party B gets 33% and the remaining 33% goes to Parties C through K, Party A gets to make all the decisions by itself until the next election, unless Party B or C can herd together enough allies in the smaller parties to form 34% or more of the vote between them. Constitutional monarchies usually give the sovereign the casting vote in this eventuality; the decision-making process elsewhere varies. Either way, the 66% of the population who didn't vote for the people now running the show are kind of screwed.
- Which is why, by Duverger's law, democracies whose elections are determined by first-past-the-post tend towards two-party systems (the United States being the prime example): groups of like-minded voters tend to congregate together into broad coalitions in order to reach that 50%+1 threshold that would guarantee victory. Note that this is not a hard-and-fast rule - countries with parties having strong regionalist platforms tend to break this rule (e.g., the US in the 1860 presidential election, Canada and the UK today).note
- Canada and the UK have what is sometimes called a two-and-a-half party system. That is, there are two dominant parties that regularly win most or all of the elections, but one or more smaller parties also regularly win a significant number of seats. These parties sometimes hold the balance of power when neither of the two largest parties has a majority.
- To avoid this, some countries opt for a proportional representation system, but this has flaws of its own. Chiefly, small parties are given disproportionate power, since as it's very difficult for any party to get a majority they need their support to form coalitions. This means that small parties that don't represent most citizens' opinions can have a major hand in government decisions, and even control over certain ministries as inducement to support the ruling coalition.
- When there are only two physical choices for a given vote (i.e., "yes" or "no"), simple majority vote generally works fine. But by Arrow's impossibility theorem, when there are three or more possible options which each voter personally ranks in order, it's impossible to have a voting system that can convey the sum of each voter's ranking of choices into a "fair" community-wide ranking. Any voting system you design will violate at least one of the following aspects of fairness:
- No one voter gets to pick the whole electorate's preferences without input from others ("Non-dictatorship").
- If every voter individually prefers option A over option B, then the election will always pick A over B ("Monotonicity").
- If every voter previously preferred option X over option Y, then the election will always put X over Y whether or not Z is a pickable choice. ("Independence of Irrelevant Alternatives").
- George W. Bush once commented -jokingly, one sincerely hopes!- that his job would be easier if he were a dictator. Cue the Conspiracy Theories. LBJ also made a statement on what he would do if he were a dictator, and Harry Truman also made a comment about dictatorships being more efficient than democracy, as noted above. Even Barack Obama said, "I've got a pen and I've got a phone - and I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive actions and administrative actions that move the ball forward." In fact, most democratically elected leaders have most likely fantasized that they were dictators at one point or another, if only to cut through all of the red tape. And let's just leave it at that.
- The Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth was an Elective Monarchy that represented a "nation of nobles" where each noble was equal, and had voting powers and deliberative powers in the quasi-parliament, the General Sejm, with each noble having Liberum Veto to unilaterally cancel any policy it dislikes so any decision passed must have a total consensus. This was supposed to act as a check on the power of the King/Grand Duke: if he wanted a law passed, he needed the consent of the Sejm, who would grant or withhold approval through simple majority vote. However, this handicapped the King from having any executive power. If the King wanted to make reforms for the general benefit of the entire realm, he would face backlash from those nobles who perceived that said development would take away influence and importance away from it. This effectively paralyzed the realm. Moreover this system allowed neighboring powers to easily bribe one or two of the nobles. This allowed Russia, Austria and Prussia to start messing in the nation's internal affairs. Likewise, while the Commonwealth and its Sejm had a bigger franchise than UK's Parliament and had 300 members, but on the other hand it was a system coterminous with serfdom, which comprised 80% of the population who had zero rights and no representation. Enlightenment thinkers such as Rousseau and in America, Franklin and Madison, cited the Commonwealth circa 1700s as a system that was both feudal ''and'' republican possessing none of the advantages of either system and the flaws of both, citing the Liberum Veto and foreign influence as part of the justification for a strong executive in America as well as the Emoluments Cause.
- Indonesia puts a high emphasis on how much they love democracy. When it was revealed that Suharto's reign was in fact a facade of dictatorship, and a few incidents proved this, they were pissed, removed Suharto from power, and strove to be as democratic as possible. Happy ending? Nope. Turns out that even the democratic parties were also flawed, Indonesia's advancement has been kind of stagnant and it allows several annoying factions like the Islamic Defenders Front to be very open in how much they think Indonesia should just take the method of Taliban Islam and causing general ruckus everywhere "in the name of God". It says something that despite Suharto's dictatorship and fake propaganda, some people agreed that he did a lot more for Indonesia's advances, to the point of wanting a new Suharto-like leader to rise, just without his questionable traits.
- The Electoral College system in the United States was designed to serve as a check against Democracy. The founders did not want one region to dominate by virtue of most people live there, so they didn't want to use a pure popular vote. The TL;DR version is that the President is determined by winning more smaller, regional popular votes, than the other candidate. Usually, this falls in line with the popular vote, but in 5 occasions, there was a difference between the two numbers. There are theoretical situations where one can become president while winning only 23% of the popular vote. This requires some numbers that are so precise (not to mention a political alliance of several states that traditionally would be laughable) that it's safe to say it could never happen. That said, Nixon was elected by carrying 49 out of 50 states.
- To scare you even more, that 23% assumes only two candidates. You only need to win the 11 most populous states by 1 vote each, and win by a plurality, not a majority. If you have three or more serious candidates (think 1992 with Clinton, Bush Sr, and Perot), you can do it with even less than 23% in theory.
- It's also worth pointing out that the system originally did not have any popular vote requirement. Instead the members of the Electoral were selected in a manner chosen by the State Legislature and as such were only indirectly elected.
- While the Electoral College was designed to prevent a few small regions with the highest populations from dominating the vote on a federal scale, the idea of one small region eclipsing a lot of less densely populated regions is still an issue on a state-wide scale, as most states determine their votes for the Electoral College on a winner-takes-all basis. This means that any city or region that holds most of the state's population (one example being Chicago for Illinois) can effectively dominate their state's vote even if the rest of the state voted differently than that city, and the less populated parts of the state can be effectively ignored from campaign groups.