“Democracy is suited,” observed Beni Prasad, “to a state of society in which the people want to exercise power, are capable of sinking minor differences and cooperating for the general good and have acquired knowledge and judgment enough to elect suitable representatives and to judge as to the propriety of general lines of policy.”
But an average citizen has not the time, inclination and ability to inform himself on the affairs of the State.
The apathy of the voters in most democratic politics is proverbial. A voter has to be cajoled and dragged out from his place of work in order to cast his vote. The obvious result is that power passes into the hands of a professional politician, a demagogue, who is ever ready to exploit the masses.
Godkin explained democracy as “delegating sovereignty to the demagogue, the grafter and the boss.” The ultimate sovereign, the people, for the most part have neither the will nor the power to find the best men to lead them.
It is further maintained that democracy is inefficient as a form of government. Democracy, it is urged, is based on the assumption that all men are equal and that one man is as good as another, whatever his real worth. He votes and is eligible for office on a level with them all. But, it is an irrational and impracticable dogma, the critics maintain.
They assert that men are manifestly not equal. Physically and mentally they differ widely from one another. Votes are, then, counted and not weighed. Counting of votes determines a majority and the decisions will have to be those of the majority, no matter what the margin may be and howsoever superior wisdom and better judgment the minority may claim.
Faguet considers democracy as a hopeless rule of ignorance. He makes democracy synonymous with incompetence, as it is a government by amateurs, or as another theorist has put it: “government by fools.” Lecky characterised it as “the government of the poorest, the most ignorant the most incapable who are necessarily the most numerous.”
The representatives assume the responsibility of governing the State not because they are able and possess specialized knowledge in administration, but only as they command a majority “A youth must pass” remarked Sir Sydney Low “an examination in Arithmetic before he can hold a second class clerkship in the Treasury but a Chancellor of the Exchequer may be a middle-aged man of the world who has forgotten what little he ever learnt about figures at Eton or Oxford and is innocently anxious to know the meaning of those little dots.”
The inefficiency of a democratic government is essentially reflected in its policies, especially those relating to defence and foreign relations, which are weak and vacillating.
A government which depends for its existence upon the uncertain passions of unthinking people (as it happened in many States of India after the Fourth General Elections in 1967) and is never sure of its life cannot afford to undertake a sound and long-term policy.
Nor can it ensure efficiency as it lives and thrives on nepotism. Offices are distributed by corrupting the representatives, who coquette with the electors to ensure their berth.
Nazi-ism and Fascism were the two serious critics of democracy before World War II. Those associated with these doctrines characterised democracy as incompetent and inefficient in dealing with serious economic problems. Hitler described it as “stupid, corrupt and slow-moving.” It has also been maintained that a democratic government is not suited to the complexities which a Welfare State involves.
It cannot cope with the gigantic tasks and new responsibilities confronting the modern State. “When a government does a few things, mistakes hardly matter, but when it does many things, failures are always serious and may be calamitous.”
It is pointed out that democracy might have proved its usefulness in a simple age, when political units were small or when laissez faire prevailed and the services provided by the government were few, but it is incompetent to solve the modem complex problems and to face situations which require immediate decision and concerted action.
The very principle of compromise which stimulates a democratic system of government further militates against efficiency, consistency, and effective government.
Sir Henry Maine was afraid that popular government would not only destroy the stability of government but also check progress and inaugurate an era of chronic stagnation. Sir James Fitz Stephen was convinced that universal suffrage tended to invest the true and natural relation between wisdom and folly.
Party system is indispensable for democracy. But the manner in which party system actually works in modem democracies deprives countries of the services of some of their best citizens. Political parties encourage hollowness and insecurity, create cleavages in the life of the nation, debase normal standards and distribute the “spoils.”
Election propaganda misguides and miseducates people. Moral considerations are subordinated in order to secure the largest number of votes. People vote for the party and not for the candidate. The representative owes responsibility to the party on whose ticket he contested the election and he must say and do what he is told to do.
Rigid party discipline makes representatives cowardly and subservient as they lose honesty, courage and independence. Under such a system of representation, popular control, which is the essence of indirect democracy, becomes illusory.
Then, the system works mechanically. There is no option for the individual voter who intends to exercise his independent judgment. “He has to choose between two or more candidates who may be either knaves or fools and for none of whom he cares, and decides between two or three issues, none of which meets his approval.”
When voting becomes so mechanical, democracy loses its educative and moral value. It is in this sense that democracy has sometimes been equated with the “Nemesis of Mediocrity.”
Again, democracy is criticized, because it has encouraged the growth of class struggle. Candidates who offer themselves for election are generally moneyed men, who can foot election bills and contribute liberally to the party funds. This propertied oligarchy will make laws to the advantage of its own class rather than in the interest of the community as a whole.
The obvious result will be the prosperity of the few at the cost of the many, creating a class of vested interests. Modem democracy is, accordingly, stigmatised as capitalistic, and a capitalist society is a society of unequals. Where inequality prevails democracy does not exist. Social and economic democracy must precede political democracy, if the latter is to succeed.
The most militant and systematic of the contemporary attacks upon the democratic system comes from the Marxists. Democracy, they hold, is the political system of a class society and it reflects the interests and wishes of the bourgeois or the dominant class, the propertied class who own productive property.
So long as class society endures exploitation of the working class will continue unabated. Marxism concedes that capitalist democracy is a ‘real’ democracy for the rich, but is only a sham for the poor.
Then, it is said that democracy is a highly expensive form of government. Its governmental machinery is complex and its functions involve much waste of time and money.
At many stages the process of administration is just duplication. Take, for instance, the system of bicameralism. Whatever be its political utility, bicameralism is a heavy toll on the exchequer. Elections, which are so frequent in democracy, have become inconceivably expensive.
Even in a poor country like India, it may cost a candidate quite a couple of lakh rupees and it is in fact, a conservative estimate. In the United States a Senator is reported to have spent half a million dollars on his election. This is surely a waste, not only of money, but also of time and is inconsistent with the spirit of democracy.
The ethical value of democracy is also seriously questioned. Its critics assert that it discounts honesty—honesty in the sense of reasoned conviction, refined habits and integrity of character.
There is much falsification and vilification. Election campaigns and party meetings convened for purposes of nursing the constituency are very often mud-slinging campaigns where issues are “vulgarised and popularised” before they can make an appeal to the people. Questions are not discussed dispassionately.
They are discussed in such a manner as to catch votes. And catching of votes is a nefarious device, because it strangulates thought and chokes reason. The voter is not given an opportunity to pause and think. A man who does not think is not serving the purpose of his creation. The result is that he is easily led astray.
Most of the electors being uneducated, some indeed illiterate, as is the case with quite a sizable percentage in India, adult franchise is a farce. Many do not know for whom they are voting, others vote as they are told to do for considerations of religion, caste and regional affinities.
Votes are purchased and even dead voters are resuscitated for the day of election. Few countries can deny that their practice and their theory do not fully coincide. It is, indeed, difficult, not to say impossible, to secure the complete elimination of bribery, of inefficiency, and of influence due to birth and wealth.
James Bryce who devoted a separate Chapter to “Money Power in Politics” showed that electors, members of legislatures, administrative officials and even judicial officers frequently succumb to the lure of money.
Democracy has also been criticised for excessive interference in the technical details of government. It has insisted and it always insists “on specific mandates to legislators, on direct democratic control of administrative departments, or popular retrial of cases adjudged.
Thus, members of parliament and congressmen are harassed and diverted from their proper work by constant instructions from local committees, petitions from constituents, protests from caucuses, demands for explanations from the disappointed and incessant meddlings from all quarters. The result of this needless or excessive interference is a weak, inefficient and corrupt government. Paralysis seizes the State.
The legislature becomes timid and time-serving; the executive feeble and afraid; the judiciary double-minded and unjust. The result is disaster.” The critics also maintain that democracy perishes by disintegration. Those in authority cannot afford to displease their electors, as tomorrow is the day of election.
The electors are generally seekers of favours and in pursuit of their self-interest pester the ministers always and everywhere. And the latter succumb to their demands whether they like it or not. The result is obvious. The ministers and others in authority can neither work with vigour nor can they do justice under the circumstances. There is also a tendency to insubordination when political pulls matter at all levels.
The territorial or geographical basis of election and representation is considered misrepresentative as it contradicts the spirit of democracy. A representative elected on a territorial basis, it is claimed, does not and cannot represent all the varied and diverse interests and occupations. He can represent at best the interests or the class of the people to which he belongs.
People pursuing the same kind of work or functions have more things or ideas in common than people living in the same locality. It is, accordingly, suggested that the territorial system of representation should be replaced by functional representation which is the only true and democratic system.
James Bryce, a fervent exponent of democracy pointed out the following defects. His conclusions were based upon his personal observations of the six major democracies of the world.
1. “The power of money to pervert administration or legislation.
2. “The tendency to make politics a gainful profession.
3. “Extravagance in administration.
4. “The abuse of the doctrine of equality and failure to appreciate the value of administrative skill.
5. “The undue power of party organisation.
6. “The tendency of legislators and political officials to play for votes in the passing of laws and in tolerating breaches of order.