As any properly educated school child knows, democracy began in ancient Greece. In Athens, specifically; from whence it spread throughout the Greek world. It is therefore particularly ironic and yet historically appropriate that the Geeks show us the inherent problem with democracy.
Which problem is both democracy’s greatest strength and its Achilles heal: that everyone gets a vote.
The governing principles in democracy is that the citizens govern themselves, voting on the issues of the day and thereby guiding the lives and deciding their own future. All of which sound very good in principle. However, allowing every citizen equal say in the affairs of state is not without consequences.
Human beings, while perhaps created equal, are not endowed with equal gifts. Some are stronger, some weaker. Some people are born with grace and beauty, others quite bereft of these blessings. And some are wiser and more naturally selfless than their fellow citizens, while others are… well, not so much.
Not to put to fine a point on it, but many voters in any democracy are fools, villains, or venal, selfish parasites.
Today they are counting the votes in Greece, the cradle of democracy. The issue on the table is this: will Greece, strapped with crippling debt and unable to pay its creditors (the IMF and its fellow EU partners, particularly Germany) vote “Yes” to the bailout offer from the EU which comes with the austerity measures demanded by these creditors; or to vote “No” and reject financial solvency, and risk expulsion from the Eurozone.
For years, Greece has played a game of “extend and pretend”: extend talks with its creditors while pretending it will one day pay back the money it borrows. Greeks, who live well beyond the means of their country’s productivity do so at the expense of the much harder working Germans; and the Germans are tired of footing the bill or pretending they will be paid back. In their socialist-light paradise the Greeks forgot that socialism only works so long as their is other, harder-working people’s money to steal (or borrow). The Greek voter signaled their intransigence and desire to continue this transparently false game, when earlier this year they elected a socialist government.
This vote has ramifications that could rock the Eurozone and perhaps begin the end of the fiction of European unity. Should the Greeks vote “No”, their creditors have two options. They can make good their warnings, and Greece could be kicked out of the Eurozone, with no credit extended. Or, like the wealthy parents of spoiled, spendthrift children, bail the Greeks out once again.
But to do the latter will send a signal to other debtor nations in southern Europe, sucking off the socialist tit, that one can thumb their nose at financial sanity and default on their debt with impunity. Cracking the irresponsible Greeks across their collective knuckles is not itself without peril: Russia’s Putin waits in the wings, hinting that he will come to Greece’s aid should they be cast out of the Eurozone. Putin, whose imperial ambitions require a weakened Europe and NATO, sees this as an opportunity to lever a NATO member out of the alliance and into a reformed eastern block under his dominance; a stepping stone to recreating the Soviet Empire of old. Greece and its ports would give the Russian Navy further access to the Mediterranean; in a position to threaten NATO’s soft underbelly should war break out between east and west.
All this reveals the problem with democracy. The Greek voter, who on the average are no more or less wise than their counterparts anywhere else, is given a chance to rise above their own petty self-interest and consider the long-term consequences of their decision. It remains to be seen as the votes are being counted, but exit polls seem to indicate that the nay sayers will carry the measure by some 61%. If so, the voters will have shown once again that the problem with democracy is that voters soon learn they can vote other people’s money into their pockets; and then vote not to pay it back.
It will likely mean a collapse of the Greek economy. Greeks are already finding their ATMs empty, their banks closed, their savings evaporating. What could follow might be reminiscent of what we saw in Germany’s Weimar Republic, the last time Europe saw a democratic country in complete economic collapse. In that example, citizens had to load wheelbarrows full of worthless paper money just to purchase a loaf of bread.
It is illustrative to remember that the original Athenian democracy, who when put to the vote decided to execute Socrates, lasted a mere century before collapsing into the dictatorship of The Thirty Tyrants. While democracy was periodically restored thereafter, the excesses and irresponsibility of the average voter always made oligarchic rule an attractive alternative. It was in this spirit that Plato penned his “Republic”, extolling the virtue of dictatorial rule by a wise elite, in place of the idiocracy that democracy so often devolves into.
Should today’s Greek voter once again display the manifest foolishness that their ancestors displayed in the days of Socrates and Plato, and by voting “No” drink political and financial hemlock, Greece may have cause to look upon the Thirty Tyrants with fond nostalgia.