It is viewed as an aim that the form of society we live in should work to the benefit, happiness, of the people who make it up. The form of the state in the long-run determines the form of the society, so the previous statement also applies to the state. Now we can consider some situations when there is a choice that will affect a group of people. Like a group of people are going to go a restaurant and they don't know which one. It seems that if they voted on it, by STV or whatever, then the aggregate utility experienced in the group would be maximized more so than if a smaller subgroup or a single individual made the decision. This principle is applicable to many circumstances - what colour of wallpaper should we put in the office, etc. Call it the popular principle. Democracy comes from applying this principle to the state.

A valid application of the popular principle is that of opposition to tyranny. If a government causes general suffering they can be voted out.

Contrary points

However a lot of questions about what the state does aren't really the same as some circumstances previously mentioned. Should a country take part in some war? Applying the principle of democracy, we get an analysis of:

X% of the population would be better off with the war
(100 - X)% would be worse off with the war

This is stupid. For one thing, people don't have certain knowledge of how things will pan out. When you replace "would be" with "think they would be", then we realize this is not that principle in action.

An important example is that of wealth redistribution.This is one case when the popular principle does seem to apply. Indeed, if we take money away from rich people and give it poor people, the poor gain more utility on the margin than the rich lose. However this reduces incentives to create wealth and in the long run everyone is worse off. Indeed with democracy in the last 100 years we have had a slow march towards socialism. The excellent standard of living that the poor enjoy in our society, compared with previous decades, is only slightly a result of socialism; but mainly the result of capitalistic competition and economic growth.

Another problem with democracy is short-termism on the part of the rulers. There is a tendency for everything they do to be directed to winning the next election. This leads to government borrowing and deficit spending. It means they allow a trade deficit and so on.

Not all undemocratic states are alike in ideology. I'm afraid to say at this point in time I can't point to a single state I would wish to imitate. History is confusing and there is a lot of it. Although I do admire this speech:

[As for the people,] truly I desire their liberty and freedom as much as anybody whomsoever; but I must tell you that their liberty and freedom consist in having of government, those laws by which their life and their goods may be most their own. It is not for having share in government, sirs; that is nothing pertaining to them; a subject and a sovereign are clear different things. And therefore until they do that, I mean that you do put the people in that liberty, as I say, certainly they will never enjoy themselves. Sirs, it was for this that now I am come here. If I would have given way to an arbitrary way, for to have all laws changed according to the power of the sword, I needed not to have come here; and therefore I tell you (and I pray God it be not laid to your charge) that I am the martyr of the people…
I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown; where no disturbance can be, no disturbance in the world.'
- Charles I., King and Martyr:


Herein I may give a theory describing how democracy works in practice.

Societies under certain constitutions will develop in a certain way. There does not need to be an actual will behind the development, or secret societies or conspiracies. We could perhaps divide the polities that have existed into those that muddle along the best they can, with no central direction; and those that have a strong, central ideological leadership. Pol Pot had a vision of an agrarian paradise, and leaders in the French revolution of an egalitarian paradise, but in these cases as with many others in trying to establish their ideals the leadership perpetrated mass murder.

It seems to me that those who are in favour of democracy are not just in favour of the principle of letting the population elect their own rulers, but are also in favour of the sorts of ideology that the population will tend to support in doing so, and the way that they expect that society will consequently develop. There was a speech given at Barack Obama's inauguration singing the wonders of democracy:

The world is watching today as our great democracy engages in this peaceful transition of power.
Here, on the National Mall, where we remember the Founders of our Nation and those who fought to make it free, we gather to etch another line in the solid stone of history.
The freedom of a people to choose its leaders is the root of liberty. In a world where political strife is too often settled with violence, we come here every four years to bestow the power of the presidency upon our democratically elected leader.
Those who doubt the supremacy of the ballot over the bullet can never diminish the power engendered by nonviolent struggles for justice and equality, like the one that made this day possible. No triumph tainted by brutality could ever match the sweet victory of this hour and what it means to those who marched and died to make it a reality.
Our work is not yet finished, but future generations will mark this morning as the turning point for real and necessary change in our Nation. They will look back and remember that this was the moment when the dream that once echoed across history, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, finally reached the walls of the White House.
- Diane Feinstein

I wonder what she'd have said had a Republican won.

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