Images of Democracy and the Cataract of the Electorate/

If an educated man is armed only with reason, if he is disdainful of custom and ignores strength of feeling, if he thinks of ‘prejudice’ and ‘intolerance’ as words with no connotations that are not disgraceful he better not venture outside his academy, for if he does he will have to deal with forces he cannot understand. Not all learned men are prepared like Bertrand Russell to sit on the pavement outside No. 10 Downing Street. Not all are lucid as well as erudite. Many a man will find satisfaction in teaching others to do what he is not equipped to do himself; but it is naïve for such a man to reproach judges and legislators for making what he deems to be irrational law, as if in a democratic society they were the agents only of reason and the controllers of a nation’s thought.

(Patrick Devlin: The Enforcement of Morals)

Firstly, I am no American and hold no brief for the American democracy. However the just concluded American Presidential election has thrown up many questions in the minds of both the participants and spectators which may be of concern to any political theorist. At the heart of the problem is that given the idea of Electoral College, electoral vote and popular vote can one still say that the Americans are practicing true democracy. If it is warped, why should they try to preach democracy to other nations? Many Americans are on one or the other part of the divide. Others have called for the abolition of the Electoral College while others have vigorously defended it. One of such persons is Joel Goodman who argues that without the College, Americans are likely to have a dictator while most DNC loyalists are saying the opposite.

In fact what is the substantivity of democracy? This is the question I raised in a conference as a graduate-student. Many of the participants were baffled and many seem to think of it along the lines of equality or the popular Lincoln definition of government of the people…. Many Political theorists frame their narratives along such lines. Thus in the case of America the electoral vote will be unfair since it promotes inequality. It is a case of the majority imposing their will on the totality.

Equality was the driving force for John Rawls veil of Ignorance and Original Position and Ronald Dworkin saw it as a Trump. These theories have been criticized especially by H.L.A Hart and John Finnis. Their line of argument was both historical and abstract. On the historical side what led the pilgrims and religious separations that resulted in the migration and consequent founding of the United States was not the problem of equality but truth. Even today why most religions cannot tolerate others is primarily the fact that they see others as false or containing falsehood. The second line is that there can be an equality of dictatorship. A dictator may decide to treat everybody equally. Finnis in an article titled “the Authority of Law in the Predicament of Contemporary Social Theory” takes up Rawls complex argument that twines equality with fairness and an altruistism. Finnis argument is that Rawls position suffers from an irremediable weakness. It assumes that a principle which would go unchosen in the Original Position cannot be a fair principle. The assumption is gratuitous and Rawls offers no defense of it though he defends the conclusion it entails. In other words, there are many principles of ordering social life that would not be selected by self-interested persons in the Original Position. Principles which give priority for example, to truth and beauty over error and trash, or which give support to interpersonal fidelity over the whims of self-interest according to Rawls would go unchosen because each of the chooser not knowing what beliefs and values they will have in the world outside the Original Position would be afraid to disadvantage error or infidelity in case he might turn out to be a person with beliefs deemed erroneous, or one who prefers “liberation” to “fidelity.” Here equality is really or emanates out of cautious self-interest. If one identifies this, the basis of Rawls theory of fairness becomes unfounded.

I have argued that equality seen in this way becomes unintelligent. In a seminal work of mine titled The Betrayal of Intelligence in the Nigerian Society: Towards a Positive Reappropriation of an Endangered Specie I traced the idea of intelligence to the Polynesians who see part of it as the ability to navigate the seas. This means that if governance is to be fruitful, equality must not be oblivious of intelligence. This amounts to taking cognizance of what I refer to as the material aspects of the state especially the land. If I may make a banal example with Nigeria, why should we give the same electoral power to someone in an oil producing state and a resident of one that is not. What if there is an oil spillage, will they equally experience the same devastating effect? Any resident who deems it unfair can simply migrate as a way of rectification.

In other words, grounding democracy on the footing of an apriori equality becomes problematic. The problem can be viewed through the same lens Achebe viewed the Nigerian ideals of Unity and Faith celebrated by the Nigerian Coat-of Arms. Simply put these ideals are not absolute and Achebe worries that they are easily amenable to the manipulation of hypocrites. Judge Devlin problematicez the idea of equality so much by combining it with an element of religion. He asks “those who do not believe in God must ask themselves what they mean when they say that they believe in democracy. Not that all men are born with equal brains—we cannot believe that; but that they have at their command—and that in this they are all born in the same degree—the faculty of telling right from wrong.” This for him is the whole meaning of democracy, since if in this endowment men were not equal; it will be pernicious that in the government of any society they should have equal rights.

However, we know that democracy has not always being associated with religion both from its foundation in Asia minor down to Rome. In fact, Caesar, pleading for Catiline, tried to establish the dogma that the soul is mortal which is in actual fact irreligious; Cato and Cicero in refutation did not waste time in philosophizing. They were content to show that Caesar spoke like a bad citizen, and brought forward a doctrine that would have a bad effect on the state. This in fact, and not a problem of theology, was what the Roman Senate had to judge.