Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. — Lord Acton
Thus is born the idea of the “philosopher-king”, the wise person who accepts the power thrust upon him by people who are wise enough to choose a good master. This is the main thesis of Socrates in the Republic, that the most wisdom the masses can muster is the wise choice of a ruler. — Wikipedia, Plato.
Let’s start at the beginning. What are the first principles? We are trying to put together a template of democratic governance for which we pinched a 17th century title: Political economy. The successful economic system must best meet the population’s realistic expectations and aspirations. It’s all about people.
The essential principle of democracy is this: It is a systematic reflection of the will of an identifiable group of people in a particular territory. Democracy comes in a variety of flavours, but they all start from there. Ideally, the ballot should inform rulers, and their style of government should reflect the aggregate opinion of citizens.
If a leader imposes on his people that which they desire, it is not tyranny; it is the opposite. If a system provides infrastructure for the electorate to sell their labour so that they can in return improve their lot in life, it is not slavery; it is the opposite. If an enterprise employs people for two dollars a day who prior to that employment had only one dollar a day, it is not a pittance; it is a 100% improvement in their material circumstances.
All good so far. Then we factor in human nature and it starts to go haywire.
If we were to devolve power down to grass roots, the corruption unfortunately passes with it. When human nature has the muscle to unilaterally impose its will, the result is seldom pretty. We are in that age right now; disproportionately effective power vests in the hands of mere individuals, commoners in the herd. It’s just a short hop from zealous activism to über-violent terrorism, where deadly forces that formerly belonged exclusively to the leaders of nations now empower ordinary citizens. The anonymous, skulking ideological foot soldier is now master of all he surveys, and he makes mockery of our dearest democratic principles.