Democracy Is Likely Unsustainable

Alan Cai

December 29, 2023

When you look at the governments of the United Kingdom and North Korea, there are many shocking similarities. Both have parliaments ostensibly elected by the people; both have hereditary heads of state held in high esteem by their respective country’s citizens; both encourage civilians to believe in the efficacy of their bureaucracies; both educate their populations to believe in the hostility of the other; and both enshrine the freedom of speech into their legal systems(the UK protects speech in Article 10 of the 1998 Human Rights Act while North Korea ensures the liberty under Chapter 5 Article 65 of its constitution). What makes us call the UK a democracy and North Korea a dictatorship, then? The answer may lie in the judiciary systems.

With an independent judicial system which can interpret and enforce public body decisions, government undertakings and legal fairness can retain utmost justice. The DPRK, however, lacks this crucial component rendering the rest of its flowery display largely ineffective.

The line between democracies and autocracies is quite slim, and the fine balance democracies must maintain seems to easily topple at a moment’s notice. In fact, it often seems like democracies were designed to be partially self-destructive. Modern democracies often codify countless provisions outlining the limitations of governmental authority, drastically curtail functionality, and the sheer amount of cross-scrutinization and self-inflicted punishment(such as congressional investigations into executive actions and vice versa) appears to serve no larger purpose other than to slow the country down. Furthermore, democracies tend to breed populism, resulting in energetic demagogues who often accumulate the power to overthrow the very systems that granted them their authority, as history has shown time and time again. Thus, whilst a transition from dictatorship to democracy can be fought with grueling bloodshed, violence, and revolutions, a transition back to dictatorship can happen overnight without incident, sometimes with a mere stroke of a pen.

While Alexander Hamilton is correct to point out that an energetic executive is key to a functioning government, the cornerstone principle of democracy is that a well-functioning government is not always good. It is true that democracies appear to be designed with inefficiency in mind. Nevertheless, democratic institutions operate without a central need for self-perpetuation, which means that as long as the government can remain weak and citizens’ rights can be protected, democracy will have succeeded in its mission.

The greatness of rule by the people is that although the method of governance is imperfect and leaves tremendous room for delay and confusion, the intelligence and assiduousness of the people more than compensate for any minor mishaps.