Last week we pointed out that there are two sets of possible reasons for wanting to live in a democracy. First, we may want democracy because we believe that it is good for achieving something we want to achieve. In this case, we support democracy for instrumental reasons. And second, we may want to live in a democracy because democracies are morally desirable, independent of the aims we want to achieve. In this second case, we support democracy for intrinsic reasons. In our previous article we elaborated on the instrumental reasons people may have for supporting democracy. As promised, in this article we will elaborate on the intrinsic reasons.
So for what possible intrinsic reasons can we support democracy? Why is democracy intrinsically valuable for us?
Many believe that the value of democracy comes from its capacity to allow each of us not to have other people as masters. Not letting others decide how you live is easy – once you live on an otherwise uninhabited island. However, when you live in a society, your life is deeply affected by your social, cultural and economic environment. If you are not allowed to participate in the decisions that affect that very environment, then others, the people living around you, will be the masters of your life. Since all of us have a moral right to be free from other people deciding for us how to live, all of us ought to be allowed to participate in the collective decisions affecting our shared environment. Democracy allows for exactly that.
Others believe that the value of democracy comes from a slightly different source. In their view, people have a fundamental interest for having an equal standing in a community. Because of this interest, it is not enough that our interests are really taken equally into account by experts or AI when making decisions that affect our shared environment. Our fundamental interest for an equal standing requires that we are treated publicly as equals. Those who are not given an equal say in the collective decision making have a good reason to believe that they are being treated as inferior, not capable of understanding their own interest. In addition, those who are not given a say would also have a good reason to think that, if not for other reasons but for cognitive biases, their interests will be set back in some way. By publicly giving each of us an equal say in the collective decisions, democracy allows us to stand as equals to one another.
Notice, those who believe that democracy is valuable for one of the above-described reasons may or may not think that democracy is also good for something. Some may even believe that democracy is awful when it comes to the quality of the laws being introduced. They may believe that the people, or their representatives, have a worse chance of making good laws than a non-elected expert government. Or some artificial intelligence. Typically, of course, they do not believe this. But when entertaining the idea of whether it is possible that some other form of government would have better chances of making good laws or scoring better in some other relevant dimension, they say that the intrinsic value of democracy may compensate for its instrumental flaws.
Notice also that the above-described views are incompatible with the idea that majoritarian democracy is what democracy really IS. If you believe that the value of democracy lies in its capacity to ensure that all of us are free from others deciding how to live or in its capacity to ensure that all of us stand as equals to one another, you cannot support a regime that allows for the tyranny of the majority.
Do you disagree? We are interested in hearing your thoughts. Leave a comment under our Facebook post and tell us and your fellow readers about your reasons for valuing democracy. And come back next week – we will discuss direct democracy and majoritarianism.