“Direct democracy” refers to the form of government in which all policy initiatives are determined by direct popular vote. The closest approximation to that of which I am aware is in Switzerland where, although there is in fact a bicameral legislature, all matters of substantial scope are approved by popular vote. H. L. Mencken called that “mobocracy”. The Founding Fathers were deeply distrustful of it. In Federalist 55 James Madison wrote:
In all very numerous assemblies, of whatever characters composed, passion never fails to wrest the sceptre from reason. Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates; every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.
Our present government is blithely referred to as a “democracy” but in reality it is quite distant from a democracy and becoming more so all of the time. That’s not merely because small states have equal representation to large ones in the Senate as averred by many of those who complain about “rule of the minority” but, as Ezra Klein recently astutely observed, our political parties are dominated by “those who staff and donate to them” and they are more radical than most party members.
So, why not direct democracy? I think the reason can be inferred from American opinion on the issue presently dominating news broadcasts, abortion. Consider Gallup’s determination going back 50 years:
The results are even more stark when the question is phrased more specifically. Fully 71% of Americans think that third trimester abortions should be illegal.
Given that perspective complaints about our undemocratic system ring hollow. Those making such complaints don’t mind minority rule as long as they’re in the minority that rules.
That brings me to my own principle complaint about our present system of government. Neither extremists who call themselves Democrats nor extremists who call themselves Republicans represent me or anything that approximates my views and my views are demonstrably closer that of most voters than either one of those groups. How democratic is it, what good does it do me to vote when all of the candidates share similar views and those views are little like my own?
If you cannot tell from the contents of this post, I have just returned from voting in Illinois’s primaries. I left a lot of blanks.