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No One Is Really a Democrat

Summary:
I’m not a moral relativist. I don’t think democratic elections have much justificatory force. I’m happy to say that democracy is good only insofar as it generates better results than the alternatives. That’s all there is to it.People gasp in horror when I say that. But I’ve noticed that people who say they are committed to democracy for principled reasons are nearly always disingenuous. The evidence for this is that when they don’t get their way, they always claim the process was perverted. Consider the following dialogue: Me: “Yeah, a bunch of ignorant people voting to do X doesn’t justify doing X.” Many on the Left: “Oh, no, that’s horrible!” Me: “What do you think of the recent UK election?” Same people: “Obviously, a perversion of democracy caused by the……ahem,

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I’m not a moral relativist. I don’t think democratic elections have much justificatory force. I’m happy to say that democracy is good only insofar as it generates better results than the alternatives. That’s all there is to it.

People gasp in horror when I say that. But I’ve noticed that people who say they are committed to democracy for principled reasons are nearly always disingenuous. The evidence for this is that when they don’t get their way, they always claim the process was perverted. Consider the following dialogue:

Me: “Yeah, a bunch of ignorant people voting to do X doesn’t justify doing X.”

Many on the Left: “Oh, no, that’s horrible!”

Me: “What do you think of the recent UK election?”

Same people: “Obviously, a perversion of democracy caused by the…<checks notes>…ahem, cough, right-wing BBC.”

Me: “So, whenever things don’t go your way, you just say it’s because the democratic process was somehow perverted and corrupted. In other words, you believe that in a well-run democracy, you get your way every time.”

Them: “Well, yeah, that’s what we believe, but we try not to say it out loud because then people like you will make fun of us.”

I don’t like Brexit or Johnson. (I don’t like Corbyn either.) But if you are a proper committed democrat, you should be celebrating the recent UK election. After all, the will of the people was done and the outcome was legitimate. A proper election is always a good thing in your book, and you should be delighted that power is being used legitimately rather than illegitimately. Of course, the democrats aren’t, and are instead pointing to every way in which the UK election fails to meet their ideal procedures as proof the outcome wasn’t really democratic and isn’t really legitimate. Had the election gone the other way, even if those same failings were there, they would have instead said that the outcome was legitimate despite the fact the UK election does not match an ideal democratic procedure.

Hooligans at play.

Jason Brennan
Jason Brennan (Ph.D., 2007, University of Arizona) is Robert J. and Elizabeth Flanagan Family Chair and Associate Professor of Strategy, Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy at the McDonough School of Business, and by courtesy, Associate Professor of Philosophy, at Georgetown University, and formerly Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Research, at Brown University. He specializes in political philosophy and applied ethics.

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