Voting is dumb and Aristotle said so. He said, “all the magistrates should be chosen out of all the people, and all to command each, and each in his turn all: that all the magistrates should be chosen by lot, except to those offices only which required some particular knowledge and skill.” His preferred method was sortition, something closer to jury duty than the periodic anointing of the rich we call elections.
Old Aris continued,
The Athenian ideal of democracy was that every citizen had power. They didn’t delegate it to rich dudes who put their faces on the most vases. The people went to ‘parliament’, they served as magistrates, they had direct power. That’s the idea of democracy. Power to the people.
The common retort when Aristotle is brought up is that ‘they had slaves back then’, as if we don’t. Greek democracy was at least openly awful. We’re just hypocrites. Citizenship is still violently exclusive, look at all the ‘illegal’ people in America that are simultaneously ‘essential’ workers. Millions of people live like this, as wage slaves. As Dimitry Kochenov says in his book Citizenship, “citizenship is a very effective abstract legal tool to justify essentially random violence, humiliation, and exclusion.”
Democracy is just a set of rules for playing the game of class struggle. That’s all it is. Rich people have rigged the game so that we stage a big bribery festival every four years, anoint one or another rich guy, and call it a democracy. It’s a farce. To paraphrase Aristotle, voting is fucking dumb.
What Does Voting Get You?
Just look around. Elections in the US cost billions of dollars. Roles as ‘high magistrates’ (committee chairs) are openly bought and sold, while representatives openly take bribes (donations) and insider trade stocks. It’s a farce. As Tom Ferguson wrote in 2011:
Our Congressional parties now post prices for key slots on committees. You want it — you buy it, runs the challenge. They even sell on the installment plan: You want to chair an important committee? That’ll be $200,000 down and the same amount later, through fundraising…..
The whole adds up to something far more sinister than the parts. Big interest groups (think finance or oil or utilities or health care) can control the membership of the committees that write the legislation that regulates them.Outside investors and interest groups also become decisive in resolving leadership struggles within the parties in Congress. You want your man or woman in the leadership? Just send money. Lots of it….
As Aristotle said (describing Carthage), “in this particular the state inclines to an oligarchy: but as they are not elected by lot, but by suffrage.” Just like eating cookies in bed is how you get ants, voting is how you get oligarchs.
It’s like this the world over. White think tanks only find corruption in African or Slavic countries, but look at where the corrupt money flows back to. The heart of whiteness. London, Paris, and Washington are the most corrupt places on Earth.And it flows out of the very model of ‘liberal’ democracy that they so merrily load into bombs. Just look around. It doesn’t work.
The fascinating thing about Aristotle’s Politics is how diverse Greek democracy was. There was one type in Carthage, one in Athens, it was different all over. While Aris talked about ideals, he was quite practical. He said
“Some persons think that there is only one species both of democracy and oligarchy; but this is not true… All laws are, and ought to be, framed agreeable to the state that is to be governed by them, and not the state to the laws.”
There was no idea of ‘one’ type of democracy for everyone, and the one type liberals chose is actually one of the shittier ones. Nor was there the idea that this idea scaled beyond cities. And it’s not clear that it does.
The somewhat mind-boggling truth is that the Greeks would consider China a democracy, as many Chinese scholars do. Just a different form. And within the democratic space, you can have socialist or communist control, ie dictatorship of the proletariat. Indeed, this is closer to the ideal wherein Aristotle said “in a democracy the poor ought to have more power than the rich, as being the greater number; for this is one mark of liberty.”
The model of keeping the rich and powerful from buying elections is a restriction of their freedoms, but this misses the point that every democracy restricts freedoms for someone. We think of liberal democracy as some magic thing that technically eliminates class struggle and that’s bullshit. The truth is that in our electoral democracies, the rich have just won.
As A.D. Lindsay said in the intro to Politics:
“When we come to Aristotle’s analysis of existing constitutions, we find that while he regards them as imperfect approximations to the ideal, he also thinks of them as the result of the struggle between classes. Democracy, he explains, is the government not of the many but of the poor; oligarchy a government not of the few but of the rich. And each class is thought of, not as trying to express an ideal, but as struggling to acquire power or maintain its position.”
If we start to see democracy like this—as a game of class struggle—we can stop playing it by the rules of the rich, and change the rules. And that is where democracy is actually lost or won. Not going through the motions of voting, but through the (generally violent) motions of people taking actual power. And to me that has an end, a goal.
Not ‘electing good people’, who still have to go through a system that requires hefty bribes every time they pass GO. But returning to the Athenian ideal of sortition, of putting random people in power, like jury duty. As it was intended. As is clear from any reading of the original writing about democracy. To people who say this sort of wild-ass freedom would be crazy, I have just one question. How could it be worse?
I have written more about democracy here, and old Aris’s Politics is well worth a read, or at least a skim to find quotes to throw at people on Twitter.