How Modern Democracy Is Tyranny

The oldest trick in democracy is deciding that certain people aren't people at all

Bullies, by Todd James

Imagine a playground. Some bullies walk in, beat-up the other kids and take over. They kick out the kids that were there, stealing their stuff. Any new kids get trapped under the jungle gym, forced to do their bidding, to join the cool kids. Anyone that resists gets a bloody nose for not 'playing by the rules'.

Now wake up. This is where you live. This is what we call modern democracy.


I'll start with the worst democracy in the world, because it's the most obvious. Here's Hagai El-Ad describing Israel:

It is a commonly accepted falsehood that Israel is a “Jewish and democratic” state. In fact, it is neither: It is a binational, inherently undemocratic entity governed through an apartheid regime. The fragmentation of Palestinians may serve to obfuscate the truth, but how can a reality of demographic parity — some 7 million Jews, some 7 million Palestinians — be considered only “Jewish”? And when most of those Palestinians are kept disenfranchised, how can it be considered “democratic”? - Washington Post

To return to our playground metaphor, Zionists first walked in and ethnically cleansed over 700,000 people in 1948. Taking over their farms, their land, their homes. The refugees were herded into open-air prisons, where Israeli's control their movement and kill or imprision them at will. A few live as second-class citizens, the garnish on an apartheid plate. If anyone rebels, everyone gets bombed.

El-Ad rightly asks is this a democracy at all, but the sad answer is historically, yes. Israeli apartheid is more than the settler-colonial template; it goes back to the idea of democracy itself.


In Athens 2,500 years ago the compound word dēmokratiā was recorded, meaning people (dēmos) rule (kratos). They also recorded the oldest trick in the book. Call it a democracy, but violently limit who gets to play.

What Athenians actually practiced was a heriditary monarchy of families. Instead of one ruling family, every citizen could rule, but only a minority were citizens. Women, 'foreigners', and the enslaved were pointedly excluded under law. The latter two were explicitly allowed to be tortured. Only the male sons of male citizens (eventually of two Athenian parents) could be proposed (like for the mob), and then they had to have their birthright credentials checked. If you failed the check, you were probably sold into slavery (re: The Origins Of Citizenship in Ancient Athens).

Hence we get to the real meaning of Greek democracy. Monarchy of the minority. Better than absolute monarchy I guess, but not the holy good we believe in.


Around 2,300 years later, America started an even more restrictive democracy than Athens, with the same bullshit flowery speeches about how free it was. At founding only 10-20% of the population could vote. Native Americans were excluded (the original kids on the playground, having their stuff taken), as were the enslaved, whose children were sold from out their arms. They also had a land-owning requirement, which even Athens didn't have.

Even today, more people are disenfranchised by their brutal prison system than at any time under slavery. They exclude over 10 million brown settlers (called illegal immigrants, doing the same shit their white ancestors did), despite being a literal settler colony. This is not to mention casual and now very public voter suppression. What Republicans are doing today with voting restrictions is simply playing the oldest trick in the book. Enabling citizen tyranny, by violently defining who gets to be citizens at all.


If you look closely at the idea of citizenship, it's tyranny. Dimitry Kochenov has an excellent and readable book on this called Citizenship. Personally, I just call it Citizenshit. Here's a quote from him:

Proclaimed a servant of the great ideals, citizenship is a very effective abstract legal tool to justify essentially random violence, humiliation, and exclusion.

Kochenov says random because you can't choose where you're born, and that determines most of your citizenship options. We have this illusion that you can naturalize, but please be from a colored country and try. Maybe 2% of the world has naturalized. He says violent because this is what borders are, men with cages and guns. Then he says humiliation and exclusion because this is how it feels, and what it does. And yet we are perversely proud of citizenship.

We like the idea of being a good citizen, without understanding that our good deeds are just the cherry on an oppression sundae. Your citizenship is necessarily defined by violence against someone else, to keep them out. Good citizenship is like the feudal idea of noblesse oblige, and they're both bullshit. As Kochenov continues:

Non-citizen residents, even if they spent their entire lives in the polity and share with its citizens the same streets, meals, and beds, are the sorry spectators of such glorious acts of self-governance. They merely inhabit the territory citizens claim for themselves, officially having no say in what goes on there. Non-citizens are thus not (and cannot be) "free" as long as citizenship remains an indispensable condition of political participation.

Hence we rally around citizenship as freedom, without understanding that it is chains. As Kochenov goes into in detail, citizenship can't be 'improved' any more than slavery can. It just needs to fuck off and die. We read about Athenian apartheid and think 'that's awful', but then we literally put people into cages for having the wrong papers today. History will not absolve us.

Your Democracy

But that's not my democracy you might say. Well, uh, look at it. Every democracy with any restrictions on voting or any citizenship requirements is fundamentally oppressive. Just not to you. People with power are deciding who gets to play the game, who gets rights and who doesn't. These restrictions almost always break along lines of class, race, and sex, so empathize with those people, even if it's invisible to you.

Take me. I live in Asia's oldest democracy, in Sri Lanka, with full citizenship, and the whole thing is built on a crime. After Independence we disenfranchised nearly a million people of Indian origin, an ethnic cleansing by stroke of a pen. These people were rendered stateless because elites of all races didn't like them, and were worried about how they'd vote. So they just made them non-citizens. Can you see how the game is played?

Even if your country isn't founded on exclusion, it's excluding some people right now. Why do migrants live among you with lesser rights? Do you realize it doesn't have to be like this, that legal residents can also vote in New Zealand? Why shouldn't you be able to vote if you live somewhere, just because you haven't been inducted to some special club?

Then there's young people, the homeless, the people that are too damn busy to fill out the forms, these people are all excluded by law in modern democracies. Modern democracies differ in degree, but we're still playing the same trick the Greeks did. We still decide who counts.


An ideal democracy is actually the simplest. Just walk in and vote if you're there. No ID checks, no registration, no one saying you can't. That's actual power, that's how you exercise an actual right. You can have suggestions (like don't let your five year old vote), but no coercion by violence (ie law). That's freedom. And don't talk to me about voter fraud. Right now our entire system is a fraud.

In fact, put your own name in the ballot box. Most offices should be alotted like jury duty (like in Athens). Why have your betters represent you? Have you seen our politicians? Random people could not be worse.

This logical freedom also means open borders, because citizenship is more repressive outwards than within. Getting rid of it means that people have their human right to move, not just rich or white people. This is a very simple proposition really, which makes people very uncomfortable. Freedom. It would change things, obviously, but how can you see big problems and not imagine big change? We're capable of conceptualizing this for white people (the EU), just extend it to the world.

The alternative is the historical monstrosity we live under. The tyranny of modern democracy. We adults live under systems that would horrify us on a playground, because we don't listen to what we tell our children. Play nice with whoever's at the playground. Don't use violence to get your way, don't piss on the slides so no one else can use them, and have fun. Like any game in life, democracy is much more fun when everyone gets to play.

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