Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Dictators and "democrats"

The only difference I have found between nations called "dictatorships" and nations called "democracies" is that the democracies have a mechanism for settling grievances between competing elites, whereas dictatorships do not.

A dictatorship will view any challenge as illegitimate, and murder or imprison the challengers accordingly. A democracy will permit challenges that are endorsed by some portion of its ruling class. It will not permit challenges which are not endorsed by some portion of its ruling class. Hence presidential candidates which have only popular, but not institutional, support are acknowledged to have no real chance.

Of course, this is not real democracy. It is the "democracy" of different groups within a single class, to the exclusion of other classes. It is a democracy of those who monopolize economic power, and compete -- albeit in a civilized way -- for state power.

A more accurate name for this might be "polyoligarchy." But because enlisting public support (for example, through political parties) is part of how elite groups establish their supremacy, "democracy" is an easier sell.

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