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Dr. Stockmann in An Enemy of the People said: "...the strongest man in the world is the man who stands most alone." He also said: "A minority may be right; a majority is always wrong."

It seems make some sense. Now days major of countries who kindle fire or fan the flames around the world are democracy, but the reason is usually wrong. E.g. the Iraq war were flamed as Iraq held weapons of mass destruction, which now proved wrong. So this case seems an example of mistake made by the majority.

But if majority is always wrong, can we conclude that autocracy is superior to democracy?

  • And please add the 1979 revolution of Iran by the majority! I believe in democracy but not its classic meaning which only means the ideas of majority about everything! – Persian Cat Apr 13 '13 at 18:25
  • I have not been Iran, and not familiar to that revolution. But I think it relates a deeper question. – Popopo Apr 13 '13 at 19:10
  • How much? I mean dept in meter! Anyway I have been and it is my nationality. :) – Persian Cat Apr 13 '13 at 19:13
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When one says "the majority is always wrong", what does one mean by this? Do we mean that the majority is incapable of making perfect decisions (supposing for the moment that it is possible for an external agent to objectively measure the excellence of decisions)? That with universal sufferage, a large portion of people will make their decision based on very badly imperfect information? Or some other criterion? And if they make decisions which are somewhat bad, how do you propose to put into power individuals who, on average, make better decisions?

The problem with autocracy, and the modes of gaining power in societies tending to autocracy, is that the only thing that it consistently selects for is aptitude in gaining and retaining power. The only cases where "gaining and retaining power" is beneficial for "a nation" — that is to say (albeit acknowledging my democratic and humanistic bias when I say this) the people living in that country — are when the general well-being and contentedness of the subjects play a significant role in the ability of the dictator to continue to govern. That is to say, in a dictatorship which is weak, and which must accomodate the masses, or fall to a coup d'état. A democratic form of government is the logical (and also the historical) progression of governments being forced to accomodate the wishes of the citizenry.

You could, of course, remark that the main selection pressure for career politicians in a democracy is also their ability to obtain and retain power. The question is then: what is necessary for them to do so? Different democratic systems have many failings, but the worst of them — suceptibility to lobbyists or commercial interests, being prone to personal conflicts of interest, and so forth — not only apply to officers in a dictatorhsip as well, but are the sort of problem that we would categorize as corruption, that is to say, a failing to attain the intended standards of the system.

A benign, honest, and strong dictatorship is conceivable of course: otherwise you wouldn't have thought to ask the question. However, concievability is not the same as probability, or reliability. Historically, we seem to find the conditions for a strong dictatorship to be benign rather... rare. Furthermore, "benign" does not entail "well-informed", any more than "popular" does: a ruler who is well-meaning, or even well-informed in some matters, can be badly informed in other matters.

For certain ethical and moral priorities, such as those espoused during the enlightenment in Europe — freedom of movement and settlement, freedom of speech, and so forth — a democratic form of government is the best general scheme that we have found to enact those priorities. This is not to say that these forms of government are perfect for achieving important objectives (such as, perhaps, ensuring the integrity of the environment), but we have no experience with any other form of government which is more reliable for meeting those objectives; and (to make a rather bland understatement) dictatorships have an extremely spotty record for achieving them.

  • Thank you, your answer comes right to the point. So the conclusion is that the democracy is not perfect, but the autocracy is not better? – Popopo Apr 8 '13 at 16:22
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    @Popopo: If your priorities are somewhat conventional ones about hoping for what is best for people on average in a society, then indeed: my conclusion is that autocracy is a really unreliable form of government. – Niel de Beaudrap Apr 8 '13 at 16:30
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Plato investigates five ideal forms of government. In descending order of virtue they are Aristocracy, Oligarchy, Timocracy, Democracy & Tyranny.

Aristocracy is the best government (almost) by tautology as it rule by the best. We are not referring here to what are the traditional aristocracy - the landed gentry, monarchs & nobles etc.

Timocracy is the rule of the military/propertied/honourable.

Tyranny comes bottom. Democracy is only a step above for reasons you enumerate.

Real political formations are much more complex as they incorporate shades of all these into the body politic although of course certain characteristics predominate. Aristotle, being an empirical rather than ideal philosopher was in favour of mixed governments.

Autocracy in the form of Tyranny is the worst form of government; Autocracy in the form of a Monarch (for want of a better term) and who is first amongst equals in an Aristocratic (in Platos sense) government is the best.

Notably, this hierarchy is roughly mirrored in the traditional caste system of India - in descending order of virtue - Brahmins (Best/Sages), Khastriyas (Military), Vaishyas (Merchants-Wealth) & Shudras (labourers-general populace).

  • Thank you. By this definition, was Roman Republic an example of Aristocracy? – Popopo Apr 17 '13 at 2:35
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    @Popopo: I wouldn't have thought so. More a mixture of tyranny, oligarchy & timocracy. Over its lifetime different characteristics will have predominated. In one era, tyranny - when say an emperors power was supreme; in another timocracy - when a military coup installed an emperor. – Mozibur Ullah Apr 17 '13 at 3:07

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