Democracy: Utopia or Not? – The Debate

Before You Begin Read the Prelude here

Screenshot-2018-2-18 (10) How to recognize a dystopia - Alex Gendler - YouTube

Socrates compared democracy to a ship going on a voyage.

He argued, if you were to decide upon a captain of the ship, then how would you decide? Would you let anyone decide or perhaps, someone educated in the rules and demands of seafaring? Obviously, someone educated.


Then why do we think any odd person is fit to judge, who should be the ruler. Afterall, Voting is a skill unto itself, that should be taught systematically. If we let the masses vote without proper education, then they may very well, end up electing an imp as the captain of a ship heading into a storm.

But this doesn’t necessarily imply that only a select few should ever vote, instead only those who have thought about it rationally and deeply should vote. As it is written in arthashastra “One should not listen to the advice given by those ignorant of the science.”. Afterall there’s a distinction between intellectual democracy and democracy by birthright. A right which we have granted to all without thinking of the wisdom because we considered democracy as an unambiguous good, rather than something that is only ever good as the education system that surrounds it.

For example, if there were two candidates, a doctor, and a sweet seller. The seller would pitch “The doctor hurts you, gives you bitter potions and tells you what not to eat, He will never serve you feasts like me.”. Do you think the doctor will be able to defend himself by speaking the truth because the truth, “I hurt you to help you.” will cause an uproar.

Chanakya said, “A Nation is not built on good intentions. It is built on the knowledge, wisdom, and expertise of its leaders.”

And when we think about it, people rarely give time to think carefully and rationally before voting. They tend to go with populist opinions, not merit. As a result, we elected far too many sweet shop owner than doctors. These rabble-rousers eventually wreak fear above all, giving way to demagoguery. Demagogue’s who seek to exploit the fundamental weakness of democracy, its people.

How to Spot a Demagouge

  1. Look for these keywords in their speech :

    1. We can’t afford to wait or now is the time or we cannot wait for a discussion
    2. It’s a fact not a theory
    3. Tax breaks for the rich
    4. We have to change or make fair or “fairness” used in almost any context
    5. Healthcare/housing/food is a right, not a privilege
    6. We must take action now for those whom society has left behind
  2. They avoid using scientific arguments
  3. Try to win the sympathy of the audience by displaying emotional oratory and personal charisma, convincing people that they know what troubles them.
  4. Without any care for truth, they use plausible reasoning and Gross oversimplification to impress their audience
  5. They promise to make you happy by promising the impossible
  6. Personal insults and ridicule opponents, accusing them of weakness and disloyalty

They whip up the passions of the crowd by advocating immediate and forceful actions. Usually immediately without deliberations and self-restraint, shutting down reasoned deliberations to quickly sweep into power. And, bamboozled by their claims of representing the common people, the uninformed, ignorant, naive and beholden for easy answers, crowd ends up idolizing them. Revearing them as kings with heredity heirs; Heirs who are elected without deliberations or due-diligence.


Plato said, “The world will not be right until kings, politicians, and voters become philosophers.”

But, even if politicians and voters become philosophers, they will still bow to the whims of power. After all, power determines who gets to determine the rules of the game. Though in a democracy power resides with the people; but when we really dig into it, who really has it seems dirty and almost evil; because what one wants to do with power depends upon how adept they are with power. Power is not about strategy or purpose; it’s about character and benefits because power begets more power. Power is not merely a means to get the community or state to make choices and actions that you want but without power, you can affect nothing.

We always consider power only comes from force or money. But it also comes from social norms or what other people think is okay. Such power is subtle and without a centralized machinery. It operates peer to peer and can certainly make people change behavior as well as laws [e.g: old segregation laws in USA or laws on homosexuality in India].

It’s true that in a well-designed democracy power is fractured among many. The power, taken not with force but with words by persuading thousands or millions of citizens, to if not like you, at least like you better than the alternatives. Yet, the source of this power, “the citizens” are not considered as individuals with individual desires, instead as blocks with different agendas, desires, and motivations. Block that the elected can reward as a group or blocks, who with their money or influence or favors can keep them in power. Why? do you think, democracies have wildly complicated laws and tax codes? These are no accident they are so to reward the blocks that get and keep the ruling representatives in power. Do you think subsidies have anything to do with the money, food or nations needs? If so, then why do countries where subsidized fractions, like farmers, votes don’t swing elections, don’t have subsidies. In fact in democracies, political minorities are always oppressed by the tyranny of the majority. For instance, as younger citizens don’t vote, even if large in number. They for all practical purposes are irrelevant to gaining power, so rarely any rewards are flung towards them.

Keys to Power

Once a party is chosen to power it’s longevity depends on the balance of power amongst their key players. The balance that can be maintained, by making it easier for their supporters to vote and harder for others; or by passing laws to favor their supporters and dilute others. Though it may seem implausible that rulers in democracy would need favors, other than those of citizens to be in power. But remember the players needed to choose, and those needed to rule or to be in power are totally different. As far as democracies are concerned, there are mainly three types of players; those who have the right to vote but not choose, aka the interchangeable; those who actually choose the leaders, aka the influentials; and finally, those on whose support the survival of the leaders depends, aka essentials.

Leaders must forge symbiotic relations within all three because more often than not, their money, influence, and favors keep them in power. After all, politics is nothing but politicians, trying to survive by hook or crook. Even if certain actions by ruling parties look altruistic [Demonetization in India, 2016] while, others contradictory and stupid [100% FDI or GST in India], but their job isn’t to have a consistent understandable ruling policy, instead to balance the interests of their keys to power, big and small. They can’t just promise to give them treasures directly, but they sure do create loopholes for their investments [2G Spectrum Auctions, India: $27 billionRef, The Rafale Deal, India :$162 millionRef] pass laws that they’ve written or print get-out-of-jail-free cards. They may not hande over a wheelbarrow of gold to their doors but, at least contracts for their business.

Since the real selectorate [influentials] is almost the same as the nominal selectorate [interchangables], and the coalition [essentials] pool is large, rulers in a democracy have to balance between social responsibilities and individual liberties such as education, healthcare, and a welfare safety net to benefit their supporters. And you thought, the leader cared about social justice and welfare out of the goodness of their hearts?

Well, actually they don’t. The truth is, the more productive citizens are, the larger is the treasure for representatives, and their supporters to loot from. But despite democratic representatives cutting into public funding, democracies are far better places to live than dictatorships. Not because democratic representatives are better people but because their needs happen to align with the larger portion of the population. After all, things that make the citizens more productive, also make the lives of their leaders better. Therefore they build universities, hospitals, highways and grant freedom. Whereas the incentives in a dictatorship are aligned with the fewest citizens, who are the keys to power, making them the worst to live in. For instance, all dictatorships have something in common, that is their wealth is mostly dug out of the ground, like gold or oil or diamonds or similar., which can be exploited even with dying slaves or foreign companies without any citizen involvement. So, with the citizens, outside the production cycle, they can be ignored by the rulers.


To understand, what separates democracy from dictatorship, we must understand why only the best & smartest democracies and the worst & richest dictatorships are stable.

The best democracies are stable, not because a large number of supporters and their competing desires make dictatorial revolt impossible. But because such revolt would destroy the very wealth it intends to capture. The more educated and freer citizens of democracy understand the fact that, once a dictator is in power he is very much likely to cull key supporters of the coup. So, these potential supporters must weigh the probability of surviving the cull and getting the rewards versus the risk of being on the wrong side. Which is a terrible gamble, as they already have the resources and freedoms that people lack in other regimes, so why risk it [e.g: Turkey’s failed coup].

The more the wealth of a nation comes from its productive citizens the more the power is spread out. So, the ruler must maintain the quality of life for its citizens if he wants to remain in power. But, if the same democracy becomes very poor or a resource that dwarfs the productivity of its citizens is found then the odds change making it possible for a small group to seize power [e.g: zimbabwe]. You see, democracies fail not because some men are monsters while others merciful; after all, no king can be good, kind or glorious if his subjects are poor but because states don’t have interests, people do. Everything in politics, from war to foreign aid to political dynasties to corruption is about survival and power.

Resource-Rich dictators build roads only from their ports to the resources and from their palace to the airport and the people stay quiet. Not because this is fine or even because they’re scared, but because starving disconnected and illiterate don’t make good revolutionaries [e.g: North Korea, Iraq]. Whereas a middling dictator without resources has to take a large amount of wealth directly from his poor citizens, so he must maintain some minimums of life for the citizens. And keeping them somewhat connected and somewhat educated and somewhat healthy makes them more able to revolt [look at the two Congo’s in africa].

But understand this, people storming the gates and overthrowing their overlords is fantasy because people never replace the king, the court replaces the king using the people’s protest. The only reason people storm the palace and remove dictators is that the army lets them because the leader has lost control over his keys and is being replaced. In fact in almost all cases of revolts [like in middle east = Arab Spring] dictators were replaced with someone same if not worse, often ending in a stronger ruler less likely to build bridges and more loyal to his keys who put him there [e.g: Iran].


Agreed, there is no “perfect democracy”, and democracies have their strong and weak points, but in comparison to other regime types, democracies tend to provide the most checks on the authority of government while providing the most protection of the civil rights and liberties of individuals. For rulers come in many forms and the rules of politics apply to all and explain their actions and If you ever want the change you dream about, then you cannot ignore structures of power because without power you can affect nothing.

All in all, you be the judge, whether a democracy is a utopia or not? One man’s utopia can be someone’s dystopia, aptly portrayed in 1997 – Gattaca and 2002 – Equilibrium. We the citizens of the democracy do enjoy many liberties but are much more ignorant of the power structures and laws that govern them. The book: “The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics” if not the best, one of the best books on politics. I have got an audiobook if you want you too can download it from here.

Reference :

  1. Socrates : The School of Life
  2. Power : Ted-Ed
  3. Rules for Rulers : CPGrey
  4. The Dictator’s Handbok by Bruce Bueno De Mesquita, Alastair Smith
  5. How to Spot a Demagouge



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