Stories & Fables which highlight the imperfection of Democratic decision making and government.
April 29, 2010 8:42 AM   Subscribe

Stories & Fables which highlight the imperfection of Democratic decision making and government.

I am looking to collect any stories, fables & parables that highlight the problems of all democratic decision making.


Philosophical criticisms of Majority/Mob Rule
Practical criticisms such short-term decision making & appeasement

Down to the eugenics of treating all people within a group as equal.

This can include any form of democracy thoughtof, including representative and republics
posted by complience to Law & Government (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You need this book.
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:55 AM on April 29, 2010

"Majority rule will only work if you're considering individual rights. You can't have five wolves and one sheep vote on what they want to have for supper." - Larry Flynt
(slightly different version is often attributed, probably erroneously, to Benjamin Franklin)

And of course, "Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut (available in Welcome to the Monkey House).
posted by Etrigan at 9:25 AM on April 29, 2010

Aesop's fable The Mice in Council:
LONG ago, the mice had a general council to consider what measures they could take to outwit their common enemy, the Cat. Some said this, and some said that; but at last a young mouse got up and said he had a proposal to make, which he thought would meet the case. “You will all agree,” said he, “that our chief danger consists in the sly and treacherous manner in which the enemy approaches us. Now, if we could receive some signal of her approach, we could easily escape from her. I venture, therefore, to propose that a small bell be procured, and attached by a ribbon round the neck of the Cat. By this means we should always know when she was about, and could easily retire while she was in the neighbourhood.” This proposal met with general applause, until an old mouse got up and said: “That is all very well, but who is to bell the Cat?” The mice looked at one another and nobody spoke. Then the old mouse said: “IT IS EASY TO PROPOSE IMPOSSIBLE REMEDIES.”
posted by hayvac at 9:54 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

“When the people find they can vote themselves money; that will herald the end of the republic.” Benjamin Franklin
posted by Fortnight Bender at 9:59 AM on April 29, 2010

“When the people find they can vote themselves money; that will herald the end of the republic.” Benjamin Franklin

This is probably a misattribution. I could find nothing identifying a specific work of Franklin's which contains it, and it's been discussed by the good folks at Wikiquote on the Talk page for Franklin, without anyone being able to verify it yet.

A similar quote ("A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing, always to be followed by a dictatorship, then a monarchy.") is variously attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville or Alexander Fraser Tytler, but neither attribution has been verified.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:12 AM on April 29, 2010

Look at the history of ancient Athens, which was a direct democracy. Being democratic had its pros and cons. One of the cons was that they got themselves into a war (the invasion of Sicily) which sapped their resources and turned out to be militarily disastrous. (I'm no historian, so you'd want to judge the details for yourself as to how much the democratic decisionmaking contributed here.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:42 AM on April 29, 2010

Aristotle's Politics is full of suspicion of democracy, and arguments in favor of what we would today consider non-democratic government.

Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France is arguably the classic text of conservatism (as opposition to liberalism, democratic government, etc).

More recently, there's Mein Kampf, if you can get past the racist bits (and the part where Hitler thinks German lads and lasses should wear shorts more often). Check out the section on representative government.

Mussolini's Fascism: Doctrine and Institutions is another classic piece of anti-liberal anti-democratic polemic.

I haven't read it myself, but Against Democracy and Equality is a book on the "New European Right," and it might have some interesting material for you, too.

I also highly recommend Allan Bloom's essay "The Democratization of the University," which warns of the dangers of egalitarianism seeping into the university setting.

There's good stuff against representative democracy in the anarchist camp as well:

Thoreau's "Essay on Civil Disobedience," which has likely informed all libertarian and anarchist writing in the United States ever since.

Petyr Kropotkin's Mutual Aid, which argues against the underlying liberal assumption of "each-against-all" in a Hobbesian state of nature.

Mikhail Bakunin's "Scientific Anarchism," which criticizes the state, property, and civilization as we know it.

These aren't stories and fables, but I think they all count as philosophical and/or practical criticism of democracy. Hope this helps!
posted by edguardo at 11:14 AM on April 29, 2010

I can't believe Edguardo forgot The Unabomber Manifesto and Kaczynski's short story on the perils of democracy, Ship of Fools.
posted by sunnichka at 11:45 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

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