Democracy across the West is under siege from nationalists – UKIP and Brexit, Marine Le Pen’s Front National, the Breitbart wing of Donald Trump’s combover.
Nationalists who profoundly distrust everyone who thinks differently from themselves – libtards, SJWs, etc. Conservatives so ideological, they prefer making their own country a functional one-party state to any compromise in running things.
There are many causes for why our society has become, in Machiavelli’s words, so corrupt. I’m going to get to all of those. Reading the Discourses on Livy today is like a diagnosis of our own time in someone else’s history. The institutions of his world were so different, but share so much with our time in the causes of their collapse.
|I have, when you have heard what I can say:|
And know it now: the senate have concluded
To give this day a crown to mighty Caesar.
How would democratic institutions engender trust? Contrast the republican assemblies and elected offices of 1530s Italy with their rivals – absolute monarchies. In a monarchy, a single person is the seat of all state power, so access to the prince is the only way to take part in government.
Not many people can occupy that space – not much space around one man. So only a few people ever make policy and decisions. There are no checks on their power, virtually no time between a command and an order followed. Whole armies can move on the word of an individual. The word could be a solemn choice. Could be a whim.
That’s serious instability. The quick time between command and action makes a dictatorship look stable and strong. But commands could be, and too often are, whims. A command affecting millions requires a small gesture, same as a reversal affecting millions more.
Your life could be upended at any moment, all on the word of a king. You’re always on guard, as if anyone around you could become the enemy, as if you could be declared an enemy yourself. A tailor or a merchant could find himself a soldier or a prisoner as casually as we get our electric bills.
In such a regime, your own fear and anxiety obliterates the difference between soldier, prisoner, and citizen.
There’s lots of room in a parliament, though. Lots of perspectives, attitudes, personalities. Some are organized into political parties, some political parties can barely organize themselves. In Machiavelli’s day, city-state republics like Florence were ruled by the assemblies and elected leaders of workers’ guilds.
All these different people and groups must have their hands in the decision process of the government. The institutions of the state put all these different people in charge of the decision process. It’s literally their jobs.
This slows down the decision process immensely. Legislation, policy, governance activities – all require the input of so many people and offices that it takes a long time to get stuff done. Government may appear decadent and impotent.
Democracy is remarkably stable as a government because it takes so much time to get things done. Everyone – legislators, officials, citizens – can all deliberate and debate on matters of state. So we can at least do our best to understand the effects of everything we do. Governance by whim is practically impossible.
Democracy institutionalizes solemn, patient decision making in government because it forces so many people to be part of the decision process. But will they always make the best decisions?