5.c.3 – Why didn’t we notice it before?

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July 25, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

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Why didn’t we notice it before?

When, shortly before 1800, the first parliamentary systems were introduced in the United States and France, the people entitled to vote was only a small part of population: all slaves, all women, all illiterate persons, all poor people etc… were excluded. They were therefore the application of democratic principles within a very small minority, not real democracies. At the time, it was considered that only those who had received an education and possessed a certain income could participate in democratic politics; today we know that usually even the wealthy graduates are not able to do so.
Whereas the number of parliamentarians was about the same as present and with a voting population so small, it was possible to have an elected parliamentarian out of about 300 voters, while today we have one in 50,000; the current problems concerning the representativeness were therefore minimized. In addition, the voting population, belonged broadly to the same social class, was more uniform than the current both for requirements and views; it was thus much easier to feel represented. Rightly the social injustices were attributed to unequal access to the vote, but otherwise the system seemed to work perfectly; it is natural then to think that, in total good faith, the theorists of democracy saw universal suffrage as the ultimate goal to be achieved, together with the construction of public schools accessible to all.
Experience has taught us instead that with the population growth, the parliamentary system is unable to secure a real representation and thus democracy; also it tends to corrupt and degenerate progressively, even by an administrative point of view. In an indirect democracy, to extend the vote to all the people has a sense only if those votes allow to elect true representatives, otherwise it is useless, although it can make the citizens and many politicians too believe to have achieved democracy.
From an educational point of view, we should notice that a more extended culture does not necessarily bring a more extended democratic culture; the schools also have the task of preparing good citizens for tomorrow and surely not some subversives, showing them the flaws of the system; all of us, over the past two centuries, have therefore been taught to think that the current system works and is complete thanks to universal suffrage. It was probably impossible in the nineteenth century to foresee that the extension of the right to vote to the entire population would have triggered a vicious spiral, formed by manipulators, propaganda and funding, such as to make the system inoperable. At the time, for communicating with the electorate made of a few hundred people, usually friends of friends, it was enough to make a political meeting in a square. Skilful unscrupulous speakers were certainly an advantage, but it was slight compared to the present ones, nor it was necessary that the candidates sell themselves to get funding for propaganda. Today, before the proliferation of scandals and inefficiency, we can no longer avoid asking:
– why after so many years, people are so unhappy with their politicians?
– why people cannot find worthy politicians?
– why even the most despised politicians, guilty of having created the most serious problems, manage to retain their office for decades?
– why the political propaganda becomes increasingly expensive and goading?
– how come citizens feel increasingly powerless and frustrated?
– why a policy replacement does not happen?
We must therefore conclude that the universal suffrage, first milestone towards real democracy, has remained an isolated stone and, paradoxically, has been exploited so far by the leaders of apparent democracies to consolidate their power over people.

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