The Democratic Fallacy

In a democratic society we abide by the fundamental rule of the majority and this has great advantages:

  • Some decisions must be made on a society wide basis and democracy allows for the participation, and thus hopefully more commitment, of all the citizens.
  • In most cases an elected group are given powers to make these decisions.
  • They are an identified and accountable group who know they can be removed.
  • This group should have more time, motivation and expertise, or at least access to expertise, to review all the evidence and come to better decisions than an average citizen.
  • If the majority of citizens are dissatisfied with the performance of the elected group they may change them in a peaceful process.

However there is nothing to say that the decisions that are made are in some way “right”. Some may argue that in many cases democratic decisions are invariably compromises and can’t be fundamentally correct. Perhaps the best we can hope for is most decisions taken are in some way better than would be taken otherwise. As Winston Churchill said:

“democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

On a smaller scale we allow a jury to determine guilt by a democratic process of voting. The jury system of trial by peers has benefits:

  • It is an open system thus difficult to manipulate by the powerful.
  • It entails a persons peers judging them rather than an unrepresentative group. It follows strict processes that have been refined over many years to deliver as unbiased verdicts as possible.
  • The process is firmly evidence based and thus not so influenced by extraneous matters.
  • A judge ensures the process of presenting evidence and the trial is=itself is conducted in a way that has been proven to work well in the past.

However it cannot claim to deliver an unerring truth. This has been instanced many times with cases of false verdicts and imprisonment and in some cases even death where capital punishment is still practised.

The democratic process may be the best we have and it may have significant merit but any claim to truth based on democratic processes is flawed. A claim that is solely supported by a vote of a group of people must be considered suspect if no other evidence is presented in support of such claim.

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