My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. I’m dwelling again in rudimentary Enlightenment thought. Here’s a part. Enjoy!
We see a form of pure democracy today in Wisconsin’s towns, where adult citizens can attend town meetings and vote on all matters. Democracy works in small environments where people can easily access the seat of government. In the case of Wisconsin’s towns, they also operate with very limited authority within the guardrails set by the state government. When the span of a particular government increases to millions of citizens, a pure democracy becomes impossible and we must find another form of proxy government.
Or do we? When our national and state constitutions were written, pure democracy was impractical because the citizens could not easily travel to the capital to cast their votes on important issues. That need for travel is not needed today. In a world where we could leverage blockchain technology to securely authenticate each unique citizen, would it not be possible to shutter the legislature and just have the citizens vote on bills? Why do we need representatives?
Yes, it is possible today to have a pure democracy, but while technology evolves quickly, human nature moves much more slowly. As Rousseau quipped, “If there were a nation of Gods, it would govern itself democratically. A government so perfect is not suited to men.” The problem with pure democracy is not a logistical one. Democracy is like a gang of burglars deciding which house to rob. The problem with democracy is that it permits the tyranny of a majority and rights are crushed at the whims of the mob. Our nation has seen all too recently how little mobs care for individual liberties.