A Letter on the Criticism of Democracy Ruthless Criticism

A Letter on the Criticism of Democracy
and a Response

[Translated from Sozialistische Hochschul Zeitung; January 2008, No. 40]

Dear Socialists,

My name is Patrick and I started studying political science and philosophy this semester. I am on the left politically, even though I probably come to different conclusions.

Recently, your socialist newspaper fell into my hands. A question: you are “no friend of discussions as a mere occasion for scholarship”? When I look at the article on "elections,” I get a different impression. Sometimes it helps not to express oneself so turgidly, but in an understandable way. But that is only one point of criticism. Everyone has his own style. I just want to say that I fear that no one will get to the content. If I have understood everything correctly, then I have never read something on a political issue so poorly thought out and polemical.

In the first paragraph, the author wishes to say that the people can really only participate in elections only to decide who rules over the people. And no democrat says that so openly. Right? And directly afterwards the author complains that in political science elections are only called “commissioning rule.” But then isn’t it openly expressed, or not? Whatever the case, this is what I mean by “poorly thought out.”

Now a general criticism of your “socialist” view on this subject: I have no doubt that in Germany currently everything is not perfect, and I am even for big changes, both socially as well as politically. But you generally attack the idea of democracy, if I understand everything correctly. And it seems to me that you do not completely understand what democracy means. First, the word “rule.” You act as if no political scientist has ever thought about whether something like rule is really necessary. But usually one comes to the conclusion that not all humans are holy and therefore the weak need to be protected and one needs laws for this. And in addition there are completely universal things that everyone needs, e.g. the construction of roads, hospitals, etc. must be organized and accomplished. And because 80 million people cannot constantly discuss everything and some people also have other things to do, we distribute these tasks to special people, usually delegates. For this, one needs elections.

You correctly recognize that all subsequent decisions are no longer “democratic” in the true sense. Not everybody decides, but a select number of people, thus an aristocratic element. This was recognized by the ancient Greeks, its not your new discovery, and anyone who is really concerned with politics knows this. This aristocratic element is consciously inserted. Behind it stands the view that one comes to the best result when a group of well-informed people discuss a topic and compromise, and not just when an uninformed people vote on every topic. Now you seriously mean that in the nation many are not so uninformed and want to get involved, right? Well, in a genuine democracy there’s a trick: EVERY citizen who wants to can be politically engaged, whether in parties, citizen groups, clubs, letters to the editor or politicians…

But you cannot act as if at present only a few "ruling" parties, consisting of a few aristocrats, do not allow anything to be said. If the platforms of the parties no longer have a base behind them, they are voted out. And everyone who is active in a party can influence the party program. Each citizen has the possibility of doing more than only marking a ballot every four years. Many people always say this stupid saying: “my voice does not change anything...” That’s exactly the point of democracy: an individual cannot decide much! Whoever has a problem with this must establish his own dictatorship. In a democracy good ideas will emerge, be further developed and become generally accepted. If a citizen has a really good idea, then he can convince other people. The more the better, because the more influence he has.

And if he cannot convince anybody, then he should not be able to assert himself. Do you understand the principle? And what is your counter proposal? I also want to convince with good arguments. But it is weak to simply pick apart and then criticize destructively. What constructive ideas, alternatives to those prevailing at present, do you present or do you have none at all? Thank you for your attention, good-bye!

P.S.: If you are not completely cowardly, you will print this letter, which would make a fair newspaper. You can then also publicly expose my errors in reasoning. But I do not think you are really capable of that much courage.

... And the response from the Socialist Group

Hello Patrick!

We will pass over the provocative unfriendliness of your letter and get to the point. As a budding political scientist, you present your “thoughts about whether something like rule is really necessary.” Already this is not an objective and neutral question. It is not the same whether someone wants to know the real reasons for the existing political rule or whether one searches for good reasons for it. In one case, one looks at the specific society in which we live and the specific state. One will already find in the actions and laws of the political power what purposes it pursues or what interests in the society need state violence against other interests for their success and why peaceful co-existence occurs only under coercion. In the other case, one is to justify rule by deriving the state – beyond the real society, the real state, thus beyond the real reasons for its existence – from an alleged human nature: then the existing political authority is okay because it would be necessary not only in this but in any society to suppress certain anthropological deficits of “human beings in general.” With your abstract question, you admit to the second way of thinking about the necessity of rule. The contradictions in your argument show how wrong this attempt is.


Rule is needed, in your opinion, because of the people who, as you know, “are not all holy.” Only saints, very altruistic figures who always think only of the welfare of others and not their own, would get along with each other without coercion and law. Because people are materialists and seek their advantage, it follows for you quite directly that they fight against each other for their interests, so that the “weak” get thrown under the bus. However, it is simply not clear why the interests of one should not get along with the interests of others. Certainly, people are different, and in their needs as well, but a difference of interests does not imply a universal and necessary conflict between them. When people get in each other's way only in individual and accidental cases – such as when someone must sneeze and someone else fears infection, when someone loves loud music and the other wants to sleep, then they keep out of each others’ way or somehow arrange it otherwise, provided they have not completely flipped out. In any event, the state was not invented so that a neighbor plays music more quietly.

For you, a universal and necessary conflict is absolutely natural. Indeed you can refer to experiences well known to everyone for your opinion. One only needs to take a glance at the world in order to see “humans” who are willing to blackmail, cheat, steal and murder for their own advantage. We only point out that what you see there are not wolves in the natural human state, but capitalistically acquisitive citizens in a government-ordered legal status. The state power responds not to their alleged human nature, but with private property enshrined in the constitution establishes the interests and conflicts of interest that it then forces to “peacefully coexist” within the framework of the law. Only in the world of property is it normal, even necessary, to get rich at the expense of others. In the private economy everyone in the division of labor produces for the needs of others – the baker does not want to eat his own rolls – not to satisfy needs, but to get money from them. The seller wants to receive the highest possible price, the buyer wants to pay as little as possible. The state-created and -mandated interests of private owners per se stand opposed to one another. The business prescribed to them remains free of violence only where they are constantly monitored in the eyes of the law and any attack on the property or person of the opponent’s interest is punished.

But it is still far proven that because the “human” is not a saint, but a self-interested agent, rule is therefore needed. This proof succeeds for you and political science only with a trick. First, one abstracts from the state and thinks of the existing clash of interests created by the legal system as natural: the human is a wolf who murders and rapes. And then one derives from the so-obtained human nature that which was left out in the starting point, the state. Without it, the wolves would pounce on one another, rob and kill.

While for Thomas Hobbes, the forefather of state justification, rapacious beasts oppose each other, for you it is the “weak” who “must be protected” from the unholy egoists. Don’t you notice that you talk about a world of struggle and competition if there are losers and weak to be protected? You do not turn for an instant to the character of this modern struggle for existence, but you are glad for the existence of the state that you now allow to arise from the need to protect the most vulnerable. You let it fall under the table that by establishing a private economic order the state ensures that there are those who are “vulnerable,” so that you can give cheers to it as the indispensable savior of the widows and orphans, the unemployed and pensioners. The whole time you look at the capitalistic world in order to spot the bad nature of human beings and the blessings that the political rule donates to this imperfect nature. In addition, you proceed quite selectively. So nice things about the state like “protecting the weak” occur to you. Does it not protect also some others? The “strong ones,” their profits, the property of the rich, the enforcement of the rights of the banks? Now, that may not occur to someone who wants to regard political rule as a good deed doer.


The state is also necessary, according to you, in order to organize “quite general things … for example, the construction of roads, hospitals, etc.” While two phenomena from the bourgeois world occur to you in point 1 – the socially weak and the ruthless egoists – and with it you really only prove that private owners need a state, now you state two really good tasks in order to justify rule. Correct: a modern society needs roads and hospitals. Unfortunately for the intention of your argument, no rule is necessary for this, neither command nor obedience. Those who are supplied with them have no reason to oppose them, and those who construct them harm no one, therefore no apparatus of suppression is necessary to implement the project. (Certainly, in capitalism even useful things such as roads and hospitals are legal affairs that are not to be had without tax collection and compensation claims. Private owners see their claims just damaged by community tasks or simply scent the chance to make substantial amounts of cash. But this is because of in private property, not roads and hospitals.)


As the last “good” reason for the separation between the political representatives who decide and the people over whom the decisions are made, you attempt the idea of an endless debate of too many participants. You imagine political rule as a pragmatic prevention of everything, especially the need to work, that would waste time if it were connected with direct democracy. Again, this nice idea is not quite consistent: why should debate be endless if a common concern is negotiated? Yet again conflicting interests are assumed if the debate on means and ends is endless. Or the other way around: where a truly common concern is negotiated, every affected person does not have to put in a word about everything; they can confidently leave the details of implementation to more knowledgeable administrators who make this part of the general provision for existence their concern. This then would certainly not be a case of the “aristocratic element” in democracy, of someone holding power over others, but only of a responsible person in the division of labor. He does not make decisions about what an “uninformed people” are entitled to, but completes tasks that are everyone’s concern and interest.

In summary, your letter is a nest full of contradictions.
– You talk about a rule that wants nothing at all from those who it commands except – of all things – to serve the ruled. At one point you think of something like aristocrats who exercise power to help the stupid people, then at another of helpful organizers and administrators who rule.
– Then you know a bad human who however does not act out his wolf nature, but who strangely would like to be suppressed through being ruled. Moreover, in characterizing this rule-needy being you proceed in a scattershot way: at one time he is by nature selfish and inconsiderate and therefore needs the lash. At another time he is not beastly, but only “uninformed.” And then he is neither stupid nor beastly, but simply too numerous. “80 million people can hardly constantly discuss everything.” You have to decide: either the state is needed because of the large number of people, then it is totally irrelevant whether they are informed or uninformed or evil. Or the state is needed because people have unholy interests, then again it is unimportant how many and how educated they are.

Useful rule and rule-needy humans – evidently the state is not to be justified without such contradictions. By which we have almost answered your question about our “constructive ideas.” If the justification for the doctrine of the state leads to such a nest of contradictions, then this is an argument for trying the aforementioned alternative: if democratic rule is announced, then ask for its reason. Maybe you discover one, but it does not speak for rule. That would not be surprising. In the end, rule is not a particularly pleasing fact: one asserts his will by force, which the others have to obey. Bad things usually have bad reasons.

PS: That you have not understood the first paragraph of the article, we do not understand. Here a contradiction is skewered: democracy claims that the citizens can determine the policy by voting – and what do they determine? The people who determine over them. We did not claim that political scientists conceal the fact of rule. No, they continually talk about political rule, but they think they don’t.