In debates about monetary policy, there is an old saying about the fundamental flaw in hard money arguments. “If your government is so corrupt you need a gold standard to keep it under control, your government is corrupt enough to find a way around the gold standard.“ It is an observation that is fundamentally true about the reality of ruling classes, regardless of the political system. It also speaks to the way liberal democracy warps the way the intellectual classes think about the relationship between ruler and ruled.
In all forms of government prior to the Enlightenment, the defects of the state were assigned to the people in charge of the state. In a tyranny, problems in one of the provinces meant the tyrant replaced the local governor. In a monarchy, bad policy coming from the crown meant the king was the problem. If he was enough of a problem, he would have a hunting accident and there would be a new king. In all forms of personal rule, the assumption is the problems arise from the person doing the ruling, not the system.
Since the Enlightenment, in contrast, whenever problems in governance are discussed, it is assumed that the system is the issue and not the people. This is true within various forms of socialism or liberal democracy. The one obvious exception is Chinese communism, where changing the people is still the rule. Thar’s mostly due to the fact that China was always Chinese first, communist second. Otherwise, the debate about government is about systems rather than the sorts of people who should rule.
All forms of communism start from the assumption that property arrangements, and relationships between property holders, is the basis of human society. This was certainly true of feudalism, but communists picked up where Rousseau left off and assumed property is the fork in the road of human societies. The communist solution is to get rid of property. This allows the scientific socialist to create new social arrangements that are beneficial to all of society. It’s a property solution to the human condition.
Similarly, libertarians start from the assumption that property is the basis of human relations and human society. Contrary to the communist, libertarians see the violation of property rights as the source of human misery. Their solution is to sanctify private property, by re-establishing it as the basis of human relations. That’s the thing about libertarianism. When you strip away the window dressing, it is simply a system property relations. Like communism, it is a property solution to the human condition.
Democratic systems are an effort to address the natural inequality of society by harnessing the will of the majority in the political system. The notion of “one man, one vote” acknowledges that all men may not be equal in wealth and status, but they have an equal stake in society, so they get an equal vote. The flaw is that what is good for the individual is often bad for society. If everyone votes their interests, or what they think of as their interests, you may end up invading Sicily and losing the Peloponnesian War.
Even if democracy does not result in a catastrophic failure, as with the Greeks, the system we call liberal democracy produces unfavorable results. A long observed problem with democracy is something called the Condorcet paradox, where the results swing between two fixed extremes. We see this in American democracy. We get one party in charge for a few elections, then for some reason, the results of the next election go the other way. The last two elections are pretty good example of cyclical results.
That’s the motivation behind schemes like quadratic voting, which seek to tie economic interest to the weight of the vote. The very short version is that everyone gets so much vote capital to spend on the issues they think are important. The greater the interest in an issue, the more voting stock you invest in it. Presumably this means people with no interest in some topic, will not vote on that topic. It is an interesting theory that is not based in reality and could never work in the real world. It’s a fun exercise for the bored.
Again, what you see here, and quadratic voting is a good example, is an effort to arrive at a system solution to the human condition. We know some people are not very smart and are not going to make rational choices when voting. We know there are evil people who will exploit dumb people. Democracy allows for no way to address this, as the starting assumption is all votes are equal, because everyone has the same stake in the outcome of elections. Quadratic voting is a clever attempt at vote-stripping that will fool no one.
The central defect of all political and economic systems since the Enlightenment is they assume there is a rational system that can address the human condition. Whether it was socialists trying to solve the problems that arise from material inequality or the humanists, who seek to address the biological reality of man, the assumption is there is a system that once in place, people will voluntarily support, thus making authority unnecessary. At the heart of all western political philosophy is the dream of voluntarism.
The funny thing is there is never much speculation into why it is or how it is that men voluntarily cooperate. The fascists, to their credit, looked at the brotherhood of trench socialism, as a model for voluntarism. In times of crisis and great danger, men of all classes and interests will join together in the struggle. Marxists came to rely upon perpetual revolution as a way to maintain discipline, but that hardly qualifies as a voluntarist solution to human cooperation. It’s an excuse for state terror.
French conservatives, writing in the later years of the Revolution, probably came the closest to understanding this problem. Joseph de Maistre looked at society as an organic thing, where the parts were defined by their relationship with one another. Individually, they could not exists, because their form and purpose was defined entirely within the state and in relation to the other parts of society. The members of society voluntarily participated in their role, because it is what defined them as human beings.
The fact that the old aristocratic order, that conservatives came to represent, collapsed in the face of Enlightenment radicalism, suggests it either had different defects or never addressed the problem of human cooperation. The long experiment that followed the French Revolution, all the murder and mayhem that defined it, has arrived at the same point as the old aristocratic order. The question is what will come along to push over the liberal democratic order, promising to solve the problem of human cooperation.
Perhaps it is just voluntary, cooperative suicide.