The USA: free speech but not democracy

We need a way to express what is wrong with the government, but without resorting to exaggeration.  Here it is: in the USA you can say what you want, but the people do not control the government.

There is a false dichotomy in people’s minds: democracy versus dictatorship.  We often don’t get beyond that in pedestrian discussions.

The idea is that dictatorships are places without free speech or voting, and they are powder kegs where the people are waiting to blow up because they can’t even openly say what they feel.  Then on the other hand democracies are rather inglorious affairs where you can say what you want and history is over, there will be no more rebellion, and certainly not a sort of velvet revolution where the people rise up and throw off their restrictions like under a dictatorship.

However, there are two axes – whether a state has individual rights, and whether a state is a democracy.  Most of the “democracies” on the planet are not actually democracies, but merely have civil liberties.

Of course a country can claim to be a democracy while not being one.  Most of us know about that recent Princeton scientific study proving that the USA is an oligarchy where the wealthy determine policy rather than the people.  Of course there is also the issue of the USA having an incredibly archaic, stunted “representative democracy” where the population has a single representative for every 580,000 people, and the results are neither representative, nor democratic.

So against the stereotype of the USA as a nation of free citizens with no tension between people and state, perhaps we could view it as something more similar to certain phases of the Roman Empire: you can whine about what the government does, but it operates entirely without the consent of the governed.  It is an independent entity, living among us, taking actions which may be in obedience to someone, but which are not directed by the will of the people.  It is a dictatorship without censorship.  It is an oligarchy without a conspiracy.  It rules, but does not repress, except as backup plan.  It lets us publish scandals about politicians, but in the final analysis, the most powerful entity in the country, the defining political institution of the nation — the government — does not belong to us.

Is this not a scenario which demands another velvet revolution?  Could the USA — or really the entire West — have its own “Tahrir Square” moment, but where the demand is not simply “down with a dictator” and his repressive censorship, but UP with the people?  To truly inaugurate a system of one person, one vote — not for public officials, but with citizens voting on legislation?

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