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Mykola Zharkikh (Kyiv)

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Limited democracy

Nicholas Zharkikh

It is said that a monarchy would be the best form of government if it were not for the coincidence of birth. That is why, they say, there is no alternative to democracy.

I agree that democracy would be the best form of government – if it were not for the coincidence of elections. And I often see the election of people who can’t be trusted with even a hundred dollars, not the government.

I don’t even mean the story of the election of green mold in Ukraine. Trump’s election to the United States alone can shake anyone’s faith in democracy. And the United States is not only the longest-running and most developed democracy in the world, but also the mainstay of democracy around the world.

Democracy is said to be good because one bad choice can be corrected in the next election. Well, the Germans who voted for Hitler in 1932 also thought to themselves, "If we don’t like him, we will vote differently in the 1934 election." And the democratically elected Hitler simply canceled the next election.

Where newly elected leaders are not so bold, elections are not canceled, but leaders either secure automatic re-election (Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan) or elect worse populists, then previous ones (France, Greece).

The root cause of the inefficiency of a democratically elected government is its populism. To win the election, you need to win as many voters as possible, but how to do it?

The universal recipe was discovered by the same Hitler: it is necessary everyone promise all. And immediately, because voters are not able to plan their lives for years to come, and those who promise improvement in years to come will surely lose. Voters are not able to decide whether it is really possible to give it to someone all, but they are glad to hear that someone promises to make them happy – without the slightest effort on their part.

People who come to power on a wave of populism are smart (very rare) and stupid (very common). When intelligent people come to power, they reject all election promises and pursue rational policies (as they imagine it). They are sure that by the next election in 4-5 years all their previous promises will be forgotten and it will be possible to go to the new elections with new promises.

Stupid populists are trying to keep their unrealistic campaign promises, and these attempts are only making matters worse. In a few months, they will have to return to rational politics, explaining to voters that promises have not been fulfilled either through "predecessors" or "enemies", or through "predecessors who are also enemies", or because of adverse climatic conditions.

In the next election, stupid populists are forced to promise even more – and we see the result in the example of Greece, which is getting worse and worse debts to maintain the unbearable level of social benefits for the country.

And the problem of democratic representative government is that some people vote, deputies are others, members of the government are the third, and when you have to pay for mistakes, others die in the war.

What can be done and can sober-minded, responsible and far-sighted people be brought to power in a democracy?

I think this is possible with some reform of democracy itself.

General and equal elections must be abandoned and replaced censorship and curial elections.

Once upon a time, the ancient Greek city-state of Athens was governed by a popular assembly, and it was actually called then democracy. There was no representative government then, and every citizen represented himself. So, when it came to the war, everyone understood that not someone but he personally would have to fight, and accordingly took the matter seriously. This did not mean that no mistakes were made in such a rule, but the Athenians had to blame themselves for these mistakes.

For larger states, governance through the National Assembly was and is impossible, and to maintain the responsibility of voters for the consequences of their voting, it is necessary to abolish universal suffrage and introduce a curial system.

Since I am well aware that this idea is unpopular, I deliberately avoid all technical details. Who likes the idea – he will be able to come up with them himself, and who does not like – these details will not convince or become the subject of ridicule.

I imagine two main curias: the curia of professional warriors who, like the ancient Athenians, will be responsible for their choices with their lives; and the curia of the rich, who pay high taxes and are responsible for their choices with their wealth. Such people have something to lose, and therefore they must be responsible for the candidates they elect to power.

I hope that the curia of warriors will be able to recognize candidates who cannot be intimidated. And the curia of the rich will be able to recognize candidates who cannot be bribed.

(I do not think that the curia must elect representatives from among its members; passive suffrage, the right to be elected – this is no less responsibility and there is also a need for selection, qualifications, without any "equality". Well, I didn't want to go into details, but I had to make something…)

And each curia must have its own qualifications for new members. This is the simplest example with curia of the rich – the right to vote is given to those who pay taxes at least the established level.

"Democratic" nakedness, which votes on the principle of "at least a punch", should be removed from the election. Service in the professional army will become a permanent social elevator for all those who want to acquire active suffrage (somewhere as knights acquired in medieval Europe).

The advantages of such a system are significant and obvious. First of all, political parties in the usual sense will disappear (they will probably be replaced by some curial organizations, because the curia of voters is a party in itself). The age-old problem of all parties in all countries of the world will disappear – where to get money for party work, and accordingly will disappear (or greatly reduce) political corruption, in which wealthy people buy the right number of parties in their country and in other countries.

Further, since the number of voters will be a small part of the total number of citizens, the need for mass political agitation will disappear, in those constant television hysterics "Anyone but Poroshenko!"

And this is not so small, given that even the United States can not find resistance to Russian information attacks, both on public opinion and directly on the election. And this inability is seen by other enemies of democracy and they draw their own conclusions.

The problem of oligarchic influence on democracy, or masking the oligarchic system under democracy, will disappear. If the oligarchy cannot be defeated, it must be legalized, introduced into the law, and we must say that this is what we wanted.

There are also many problems with such a reform, because it essentially means a return from a society of general equality to a class society, to a society of nobles and plebs.

But is all happiness really in general equality? Is it true that plebs that are hiding from mobilization, that they are proud to have four times ignored summonses from the military commissariat, which called Ukraine a porn actress – should have the same rights as our soldiers who fight for our right to independence and pay for it with their own blood? Perhaps it still makes sense to write the former in cattle, and the latter – in the nobility?

I want to believe that after the war, our nobility, born in the battle with the Muscovites, will become the leading class in Ukraine. I don’t know in what form this can happen, but it should. Lions must control millions of hares, not hares – millions of lions.

Is the introduction of such a limited democracy possible?

No, it is impossible.

This is impossible because the United States is the guarantor of democracy around the world, and so far it is – no significant changes in suffrage are possible.

The electoral system in the United States itself needs to be repaired, but since it has not changed for a quarter of a millennium, it has become so rigid that no reforms are possible.

When we have a rubber rod and try to bend it – it bends, but retains its integrity, everything remains the same rod. When we try to bend a glass rod, it does not deform at first, and then suddenly breaks, losing its integrity, and its fragments are already not the same rod.

In the case of the US electoral system, we are dealing with a glass object that can be destroyed but cannot be changed.

And recalling the history of 1917-1918, when all the world’s leading monarchies collapsed in less than two years, one fears that the same fate may befall democracy, which must change but is unable to do so.

And this will be the "End of History", I will repeat – perhaps not quite as Harvard liberals imagine. And maybe not all these liberals will like it.

June 15, 2022 in Kyiv.