The perfect democracy myth

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Graham Smith rebuts the monarchist myth that we need to create an absolutely perfect democratic system before we can replace the current undemocratic one.

THE OTHER DAY David Soutter, one of the few monarchists on our (UK Republic) Campaign Facebook page, made the following comment:
"I am firmly convinced that anyone who seeks election should be prevented from standing. The unelectable in pursuit of the support of the unrepresentable. There is no such thing as true democracy. Therefore I am happy with the current system."

David's comment is in fact quite common, yet it is among the most absurd arguments monarchists have in their well-worn armoury of defences.

What is David saying here?

Firstly, he is saying that he only wants only those who don’t want to be elected to be elected, as in a kind of democracy-press gang. He shows complete contempt for both voters and politicians by describing them as unelectable and unrepresentable (quite clearly neither is true as we elect and represent each other regularly). He then says that as there is ‘no such thing as true democracy’ he will support the system that is possibly furthest from ‘true democracy’ as we can find (without actually descending into dictatorship).

The monarchists are saying here that they don’t like or trust politicians, that if someone seeks power they shouldn’t get it, yet they continue to support a political system that gives those who seek power all the power they want. It is a nonsensical argument, but a common one nevertheless.

It is part of a fantasy constructed by monarchists that the monarch somehow denies the politicians something they crave: unfettered power. Monarchists kid themselves that their beloved monarch acts as a break on the ambitions of politicians, when in fact the monarchy shrouds and conceals the excessive nature of our politicians’ power. It is their desire to defend the monarchy come hell or high water, and their desire to construct ‘democratic’ arguments in its defence that leads them to stoop to such absurd arguments as the one above.

There is another common fallacy built into this statement: the idea that if perfection cannot be achieved we should stick with what we’ve got. Very often monarchists will concede that the monarchy isn’t perfect yet they’ll defend it in perpetuity. But if they find even one small problem with a republic they will jump on that as reason to dismiss the whole proposition. They want to believe that in order to replace something that is clearly imperfect and deeply flawed, such as the monarchy, we must design a system that is completely watertight and for which all questions and concerns have been answered. Anything short of perfection, however good, cannot replace something that is so clearly woefully inadequate.

So the argument follows that while the monarchy is wholly undemocratic and almost entirely unaccountable – save for drastic measures taken by parliament – a republic would only be acceptable if it can be proven that it won’t have any shortcomings whatsoever; if it is proven to be ‘true democracy’.

Of course, this is a nonsense and I suspect the monarchists know it is. There is no such thing as perfection in politics or in constitutional innovation. These are issues to do with the way in which humans relate to one another, how we manage power and the ship of state. Inevitably there will always be room for problems and crises. The question isn’t “can we devise the perfect system?” It is “can we improve upon what we have?”

The answer to that question is an unequivocal ‘yes’. Yes we can imagine a system that is more accountable and more democratic than the monarchy. The next question then is “why should we not choose such a system?” That is a question the monarchists have yet to answer.  
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