Thursday, September 27, 2007

MMP And The Philospher King Right

MMP has the authoritarians in Ontario worried. I am seeing, as we get closer to referendum day, things like the following showing up in comments and on other blogs.

lrc, a regular contributer to comments over at Political Staples, wrote this in response to Greg's support for MMP:
Majorities have no inherent moral virtue. Bad legislation passed by members representing 50% or more of the party preference of the general population will be no better than if it is passed by a legislative majority of individually-elected representatives whose broad party vote is some lesser number.
This is quite a revealing statement and I think it shares a similar origin to this one on Fuschi's Canadian Forum:
But, although democracy is far better than any of the alternatives, its intrinsic flaw is that it is subject to the skewing effects of lemming-like activity. As one of the Greek sages put it; ten fools can hold sway over nine wisemen. One dimensional thinkers can cause consequences to all, well beyond their scope of vision. Those whose attention span is torn between the future of our democratic progress, and the next episode of “American Idol”, can easily outnumber our wisemen.
Both writers harken back to Plato, who distrusted democracy and instead recommended strong rule by philosopher kings. Both lrc and Fuschi would rather have a strong ruler or a miniority group of "politically correct" rulers, than to trust the wisdom of the people as a whole. That may have been fine for 4th century BC Greece, but I trust the people of 21st century Ontario to make wise choices when they create a legislature. Trying to game the system to thwart the will of the people, as our current system does, just won't cut it.
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  1. Hmm, a desire to have government run by strong leaders or a clique of a minority eh? Not trusting the people to make their own decisions and choices?

    Gosh, there's a word for that. What is it again? Its right on the tip of my tongue...

  2. Even Plato didn't think there should be just any elite group running a state. His guardians were supposed to be ideally suited to rule by nature, and specially trained from childhood in the arts and knowledge required to rule successfully.

    At least, that's what we get in Republic. In Laws, the theory of the "second-best state", we get a different story. According to Laws, democratic votes should be taken for all leadership positions, but (1) the elections would not be general (only those who had the appropriate knowledge of what the post required were allowed to vote) and (2) some voters had plural votes (basically those with more relevant knowledge).

    Plato also assumed that the point of selecting leaders was to select the best leaders. If we abandon that instrumental justification, then his attack on democracy is irrelevant.

    So, people who oppose MMP in favour of FPTP because they want an elite group of rulers are being basically dishonest. We don't have an elite group, who are best suited to rule; instead, we have a select group, who use wealth and influence rather than actual ability.

    Furthermore, Plato's system wasn't even used in his own time. When he was living in Athens, the city-state was democratic in a much broader sense than our states. Legislators were chosen by lot, not by election; and the legislature would put laws to a vote by a general assembly. Much more like a participatory or direct democracy than a representative one. But, then again, representative democracy has efficiency gains that can't be ignored.

  3. Rick FuschiMay 31, 2008

    You incorrectly deduce that I prefer either a strong ruler (Chretien was such a ruler and left behind the legacy of a thug)or a minority group of politically correct rulers (???).
    What I prefer is to see a populus which is not so easily distracted from truth and conned with their own money. The inference from the Plato quote, is, quite simply, that our voters need to act more like wisemen when their own future and livelyhood is at stake. (Can it be our withering educational quality?)