Democracy Is Flawed

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.
C. S. Lewis, Equality

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 utilising 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 polarisation 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.


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 still can talk about it without being sent to GULAG. The Empire is becoming a great place to live, but this follows a period of despotism.

Comic Books
  • 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.

Fan Works
  • 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.

  • 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, that is. Sensitives get sent to the Sith to be training, 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 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.
  • 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.

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'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.

  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • Niccolň 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).
  • 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.

Tabletop Games
  • 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.

  • 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...
  • 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."

Video Games
  • 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 totalitarian rule of Mr House, or slavery under Caesars Legion.
  • 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."

Web Original
  • 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.

Western Animation
  • 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!

Real Life
  • The alternative summed up by Harry Truman:
    "Whenever you have an efficient government you have a dictatorship."
  • Trope originating quote:
    "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." - Winston Churchill
  • 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.
    • Yeah, and Hitler invented the Autobahn after all. Actually the first Autobahn in Germany was built one year before Hitler's reign, but Hitler downgraded it to a highway, so that he then could "officially" build the first one. Regardless of the historical inaccuracy, some Germans still seem to believe that improving your country's infrastructure somehow makes up for the death of millions.
    • There is one instance where the Mussolini claim was proven true. When the King of Italy surrendered power to the Black Shirts and decided to make Mussolini the Generalissimo, Mussolini immediately got on a semi-private train at his home (what, you didn't think he was actually leading the army in person, did you?) and demanded that he make it to Rome immediately in order to be there for the transference of power. Which the train managed to do, in almost record time. So we can say that, in the case where it's a personal demand by the dictator itself, the trains can be made to run on time once.
  • 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 aftermath of The French Revolution, and possibly during the Revolution itself, was seen as this at best, as the "democracy" essentially amounted to people letting mob rule get to their heads and then orchestrating several large amounts of deaths. At worst, it has also been labelled as Democracy Is Bad. There is also a third view that states that while the democracy of the First Republic was bad, and ultimately transient, the massive shock waves that it sent across Europe forced reforms in governments and political systems, either from a genuine interest in the ideals of the Revolution, or from a more Genre Savvy desire to avoid the carnage that a reactionary response brought.
  • 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 today).note 
  • 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.
  • 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 Defender 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.