A short essay on democracy and power | kjl


Joseph Keppler, The Bosses of the Senate, Puck magazine, 1889.

Keppler's cartoon has the US Senate with an open door marked "entrance for monopolists." The "peoples' entrance" is boarded up and marked "closed." Another sign reads, "this is a senate of the monopolists, by the monopolists, and for the monopolists!"

Keppler's reference is to monopolists, but I think the critique extends to all domination where inappropriate power is exercised outside the bounds of democratic controls.
Throughout history private, not public power has tended to dominate the institutions that shape and direct societies. Although we are currently deeply immersed in a corporate-dominated environment that denounces any suggestion that constraints on concentrated private power should even be looked at, there is no law of nature that says that a state of acute inequality of resources and opportunity across broad populations is an inherent, permanent condition of human society.
While many crucial gains have been made, like the abolition of the most egregious form of enslavement and in many places the establishment of freedom of speech, doctrines and practices of predatory and parasitic economic relationships remain prevalent. But another human tendency - not predatory and not parasitic - the inherent human desire to see others do well, is also present. There is a natural, though widely suppressed human tendency to live respectfully of each other. It's reasonable to believe that we can organize to see that our institutions maximize everyone's opportunities to flourish while simultaneously empowering no person nor any institution to exercise dominance.
In my opinion, we should carefully and reasonably dismantle and replace existing systems of dominance and control with more appropriate relations of decision-making. Present systems are typically composed of multiple factions of competing elites continuously operating by means of coercion and violence, producing one after another catastrophic war, along with art, science, technology, massive waste and environmental destruction, riches for a few, sufficient material well-being for some, and an extremely bleak outlook for subsequent generations if we do not insist on critical democratic reforms.
We should be dedicated to democratizing decision-making to the extent that all those affected in matters of social importance have actual, not imaginary representation in such matters, thereby empowering ourselves to direct our individual and our collective destinies.

- kjl

(minor revisions made 5.17.2022, 6.11.2022)