Seven Billion Cheers for Real Democracy


Real (or direct) democracy provides the least-flawed way of governing countries, institutions, reform organizations, business concerns, and media outlets.  In a real democratic country, the people themselves make all major political, legal, and judicial decisions.  To objectively evaluate the overwhelming historical evidence and common-sense arguments in favor of real democracy, we must overcome at least three conceptual barriers. A few highlights of ancient Athenian democracy show that Athens was far better governed than either contemporary “democracies” or its totalitarian and oligarchic counterparts. Two contemporary referenda and the system of governance of the Berlin Philharmonic forcefully show that real democracy could bear as many delicious fruits in the contemporary world as it did in ancient Greece.


You can also listen to a radio interview (with Jeff Brown) on the same topic:


“Compared to the better known surviving monuments of ancient Athens, such as the Parthenon, the Pnyx is unspectacular. It is a small hill surrounded by parkland, with a large flat platform of eroded stone set into its side. But it is one of the most significant sites in the city, and indeed in the world. For the Pnyx was the meeting place of the world’s first democratic legislature, the Athenian ekklesia (assembly), and the flat stone is the bema or speaker’s platform.”


Freedom is the sure possession of those alone who have the courage to defend it.–Pericles of Athens

Background:  The July 5, 2015 Greek Referenum

On June 29, 2015, Dr. Joseph Stiglitz wrote:

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“European leaders are finally beginning to reveal the true nature of the ongoing debt dispute, and the answer is not pleasant: it is about power and democracy. . . Of course, the economics behind the programme that the . . .  European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund foisted on Greece five years ago has been abysmal, resulting in a 25% decline in the country’s GDP. I can think of no depression, ever, that has been so deliberate and had such catastrophic consequences: Greece’s rate of youth unemployment, for example, now exceeds 60%. . . We should be clear: almost none of the huge amount of money loaned to Greece has actually gone there. It has gone to pay out private-sector creditors – including German and French banks. Greece has gotten but a pittance, but it has paid a high price to preserve these countries’ banking systems. . . . Most of [the EU’s] members’ governments did not seek their people’s approval to turn over their monetary sovereignty to the ECB. When Sweden’s did, Swedes said no.

“And, sure enough, what we are seeing now, 16 years after the eurozone institutionalised those relationships, is the antithesis of democracy: many European leaders want to see the end of prime minister Alexis Tsipras’ leftist government. After all, it is extremely inconvenient to have in Greece a government that is so opposed to the types of policies that have done so much to increase inequality in so many advanced countries, and that is so committed to curbing the unbridled power of wealth. They seem to believe that they can eventually bring down the Greek government by bullying it into accepting an agreement that contravenes its mandate.

“A yes vote [knuckling under to the EU bureaucrats] would mean depression almost without end. Perhaps a depleted country – one that has sold off all of its assets, and whose bright young people have emigrated – might finally get debt forgiveness; perhaps, having shrivelled into a middle-income economy, Greece might finally be able to get assistance from the World Bank. All of this might happen in the next decade, or perhaps in the decade after that.

“By contrast, a no vote would at least open the possibility that Greece, with its strong democratic tradition, might grasp its destiny in its own hands. Greeks might gain the opportunity to shape a future that, though perhaps not as prosperous as the past, is far more hopeful than the unconscionable torture of the present.

“I know how I would vote.”

Juan O'Gorman Enemies of the Mexican People
Juan O’Gorman, Enemies of the Mexican People

I know how I would have voted too, especially since “the Greek debt is so big everyone understands it won’t be repaid.”  Also, Greece is only a small part of the bankers’ war against humanity.  That war is being waged everywhere around the globe: in Donetsk and the South China Sea, in Sydney and Baltimore, Caracas and Quito, Gaza and Damascus, Fukushima and the Gulf of Mexico. The Greek NO vote was a small victory for humanity–assuming that the bankers do not kill, once more, Greek democracy and democrats.

But the happy outcome of the July 5, 2015 referendum is not the issue I’d like to address here.   Nor do we need to resolve serious allegations that the entire referendum debate and the Greek government are frauds.[1]  My focus is rather the wisdom–or lack thereof–of letting the Greek people rule themselves.

Ideological warfare is one of the most heinous aspects of the bankers’ ongoing war against the world’s people.  The bankers and their puppets in Brussels, Berlin, Paris, and Washington tried to convince the world that the very idea of a referendum is laughable, and that people are not smart enough to vote for their interests and convictions.  In this vicious campaign, the bankers merely continued the age-old oligarchic tradition of vilifying and bullying democracy and democrats.  That is what oligarchs have always done, e.g., in ancient Greece, the Roman Republic, or 18th century America.

Such self-interested, ideologically- and philosophically-bankrupt, propaganda campaigns often meet with great success.  For example, the oligarchs led us to revere such enemies of democracy in the Greek world as Plato, Aristotle, and Alexander the “Great.”  At the same time, the bankers managed to all but erase from our memories such champions of liberty and decency as Democritus and Anytus.  Think of something as trivial as first names:   How many Alexanders do you know–and how many Thrasybuluses?  How many cities and states in the USA bear the names of Washington and British oligarchs–and how many of  Franklin and Paine?

It is with this backdrop of vicious and baseless propaganda that I offer here a revised and much-needed historical and ideological defense of referenda in particular and of real democracy in general.[2]


Revolutionary strategists must ask themselves: How can we best structure our own movement? And: What kind of political framework should we aim for, once we relegate the Banking-Militarist Complex to the dustbin of history?   The answer to both questions is the same: genuine (or direct) democracy.

Democracy, for the Greeks who coined the word, meant “power of the people” or “rule of the people.”   Perhaps the best-known example of genuine democracy in a highly-advanced, highly-literate, polity, is Athens and its sister democracies of Ancient Greece.   There, all significant political, legal, and judicial decisions were made directly by the people. Democratic Athens went to war if, and only if, the majority so voted; a man was exiled, or condemned to death, if, and only if, his fellow citizens so decreed.

The USA, Britain, France—even better-governed Iceland—might or might not have free elections, but they are not democracies. As a result, in the USA, even when elections are not rigged, once in power, the winners routinely defy voters’ sentiments.   Thus, for instance, most Americans did not wish go to war in 1917, were opposed to the repeated and vicious colonization and pulverization of Iraq, and have never been in favor of their country’s ongoing program of biospheric carnage. But in a “democracy,” American style, the majority’s preferences are routinely ignored.

Eduardo Galeano whimsically captures the essence of contemporary “democracies:”

EduardoGaleano“The other day, I heard about a cook who organized a meeting of birds—chickens, geese, turkeys, peasants, and ducks.  And I heard what the cook told them.  The cook asked them with what sauce they would like to be cooked.  One of the birds, I think it was a humble chicken, said:  ‘We don’t want to be cooked in whichever way.’  And the cook explained that ‘this topic was not on the agenda.’  It seems to me interesting, that meeting, for it is a metaphor for the world.  The world is organized in such a way that we have the right to choose the sauce in which we shall be eaten.” [my translation]

Conceptual Barriers Against Genuine Democracy

Our task is not simply proving the superiority of genuine democracy over all other known political systems, but also letting go of ingrained prejudices.[3]

Barrier 1: Cradle-to-Grave Propaganda System.   Genuine democracy—along with compassion and rationality—pose the greatest threat to the enemies of the biosphere and the open society.   No wonder then that since infancy we have been inculcated against it.   We have been lied to incessantly about the virtues of the Roman republic on the one hand, and about the horrors of Greek “mob rule” on the other hand.

Barrier 2:   Opposition of Intellectuals. Throughout the ages, genuine democracy has been laughed at by self-serving, brilliant, oligarchs. A historian of Ancient Greece, writing in 1900, remarks that “few sights are stranger” than the spectacle of some Athenian intellectuals and first-rate thinkers “turning their eyes from their own free country to regard with admiration the constitution of Sparta,” where a free thinker “would not have been suffered so much as to open his mouth.”

The self-serving falsification of the historical record is widespread.  Karl Popper:

“The history of the Peloponnesian war and the fall of Athens is still often told, under the influence of Thucydides’ authority, in such a way that the defeat of Athens appears as the ultimate proof of the dangerous weaknesses of the democratic system. But this view is merely a tendentious distortion, and the well-known facts tell a very different story. The main responsibility for the lost war rests with the treacherous oligarchs who continuously conspired with Sparta. . . . The fall of Athens, and the destruction of the walls, are often presented as the final results of the great war which had started in 431 B.C. But in this presentation lies the main distortion, for the democrats fought on.   At first only seventy strong, they prepared under the leadership of Thrasybulus and Anytus the liberation of Athens, where Critias was meanwhile killing scores of citizens; for during the eight months of his reign of terror the death-role contained nearly a greater number of Athenians than the Peloponnesians had killed during the last ten years of war.”

“But after eight months (in 403 B.C.) Critias and the Spartan garrison were attacked and defeated by the democrats who established themselves in the Piraeus, and both of Plato’s uncles lost their lives in the battle.   Their oligarchic followers continued for a time the reign of terror in the city of Athens itself, but their forces were in a state of confusion and dissolution. Having proved themselves incapable of ruling, they were ultimately abandoned by their Spartan protectors, who concluded a treaty with the democrats.   The peace re-established the democracy in Athens.   Thus the democratic form of government had proved its superior strength under the most severe trials, and even its enemies began to think it invincible.”  

Thrasybulus receving an olive crown for his scucessful campaign for democracy
Thrasybulus receiving an olive crown> for his defense of democracy

Barrier 3: The Ruling Faction of America’s Revolutionaries was Thoroughly Anti-Democratic. For Americans, there is still one more conceptual barrier to acceptance of genuine democracy. Some founding fathers were genuine democrats, but the winning faction falsely (and self-servingly) equated democracy with mob rule.

Citizens of the USA are taught to admire the revolutionary founders of their republic. Americans are not, however, often reminded how averse some of these founders were to the Bill of Rights, how they proceeded to betray their countrymen by establishing the Rothschild-controlled First Bank of the United States, how they brutally suppressed popular uprisings, and how close they came, during the Adams, Lincoln, Wilson, or Obama presidencies, to establishing a dictatorship.   These betrayals have been glossed over by the official record, so Americans find it hard to believe that their brilliant, idealistic–and wealthy– founding fathers chose a second-best political system for their contemporaries and descendants.

Athenian Democracy

Some of the advantages of genuine democracy are immediately apparent. Unlike contemporary western republics, in Athens promises to the people could not be as readily broken, for the people were always in charge.   Influential Athenians (especially the oligarchic variety) were just as bribable as their contemporary western counterparts, but in a system where real power, at any given moment, resided with the citizenry, the damage was more limited. The information system in Athens was never taken over by the oligarchs.   Athenians breathed cleaner air, drank chemical-free water, and ploughed healthier soils for their sustenance; their schools were private (not state-run), and they exercised daily; they were thus in better mental and physical shape than contemporary Americans or Greeks.   Hence, in Athens, human beings came close to their truer intellectual, artistic, and civic potential. In a genuine democracy like Athens, dissident organizations could not be readily co-opted, elections and trials could not be as readily rigged, and politically-motivated assassinations were rare.   Overall, the Athenian system served the public interest far better than American oligarchy.

The ancient Greeks recognized the link between genuine democracy and greatness. The historian Herodotus, himself not an Athenian, clearly perceived the causal connection between freedom and excellence:

“Thus did the Athenians increase in strength. And it is plain enough, not from this instance only, but from many everywhere, that freedom is an excellent thing since even the Athenians, who, while they continued under the rule of tyrants, were not a whit more valiant than any of their neighbors, no sooner shook off the yoke than they became decidedly the first of all. These things show that, while undergoing oppression, they let themselves be beaten, since then they worked for a master; but so soon as they got their freedom, each man was eager to do the best he could for himself. So fared it now with the Athenians.”

Pericles, an influential Athenian before and during part of the Peloponnesian War, put it this way:

Pericles of Athens, 495 (?)-429 BC

“Our political system does not compete with institutions which are elsewhere in force. We do not copy our neighbors, but try to be an example.   Our administration favors the many instead of the few: this is why it is called a democracy. The laws afford equal justice to all alike in their private disputes, but we do not ignore the claims of excellence. When a citizen distinguishes himself, then he is preferred to the public service, not as a matter of privilege, but as a reward of merit; and poverty is no bar. . . The freedom we enjoy extends also to ordinary life; we are not suspicious of one another, and do not feel called upon to nag our neighbor if he chooses to go his own way. . . But this freedom does not make us lawless.   We are taught to respect the magistrates and the laws, and never to forget that we must protect the injured. And we are also taught to observe those unwritten laws whose sanction lies only in the universal feeling of what is right. . .

“Our city is thrown open to the world; we never expel a foreigner. . . We are free to live exactly as we please, and yet are always ready to face any danger. . . We love beauty without becoming extravagant, and we cultivate the intellect without lessening our resolution. . . To admit one’s poverty is no disgrace with us; but we consider it disgraceful not to make an effort to avoid it.   An Athenian citizen does not neglect public affairs when attending to his private business. . . We consider a man who takes no interest in the state not as harmless, but as useless; and although only a few may originate a policy, we are all able to judge it. We do not look upon discussion as a stumbling block in the way of political action, but as an indispensable preliminary to any wise action at all. . . We believe that happiness is the fruit of freedom and freedom of valor, and we do not shrink from the danger of war. . . To sum up, I claim that Athens is the School of Hellas, and that the individual Athenian grows up to a happy versatility and to a readiness for varied emergencies—to self-reliance.”

Unlike the United States, which has always foisted oligarchic governments in its empire, the Athenians fostered genuine democracies in theirs.

Athenian lawmakers understood human weaknesses, and they knew from bitter experience how bribery could undermine justice.   Obviously, it is easier to bribe, and deform a passion for justice in, a judge than a jury, and hence, all trials involved a jury of one’s peers.   The people, not paid experts, were deemed most qualified to decide judicial cases. There was no presiding judge telling jurors that their task was to serve an abstract law (as opposed to simple justice). Nor was there a jury-free appeal system, which often, in America, nullifies the people’s verdict.

But Athenian jurors were definitely corruptible too. To minimize that problem, juries in important cases were randomly selected from the entire citizen body and numbered 500 or more (roughly 2.5% or more of the total number of citizens).   Often the caseload was too heavy, and so the number of jurors for each particular trial was reduced to fifty. Now, a rich man might try to bribe all fifty, so the legal system placed a safeguard against that eventuality: The decision as to which 50 jurors of the 500 would be assigned to any given case was often made by lottery, just before the trial began.

The Athenians knew that power-seekers could not be trusted, so they filled many important public offices by lot.   Moreover, most office holders maintained their positions for extremely short durations. Athens thereby bypassed, to a certain extent, a key problem in all other extant political systems: The ascendancy of the psychopaths.

The Athenians did not give their rich people tax cuts, thereby avoiding an ever-growing mal-distribution of wealth.  Athenians respected private property and wealth, but expected their leisure class to make greater contributions to the public, by sponsoring musical festivals or dramas (another Greek word), for example.  When the majority decided to go to war, the rich had to risk their lives too.  Moreover, in times of war, each rich man was expected to contribute one battleship to the navy of the city—that is where our word liturgy (public service; literally, a public building) came from.

The contemporary decline of republics like the USA or Greece can be explained in part by their system of banking and money creation. In these republics, the bankers in charge of money creation try to fabricate the impression that the private, for-profit, central banks are under public control.   Witness for example the names they choose for their key institutions—Bank for International Settlements, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Federal Reserve, Bank of England, First Bank of the United States. In reality, these institutions are controlled by a few banking families.   The politicians, media, the bought economic profession, pretend that these privately-controlled institutions serve the public interest, but the reality is the exact opposite: The only goal of these institutions is to further enrich and empower their owners, and they can only accomplish these goals by impoverishing and enslaving the vast majority. These institutions do not serve a nation—they parasitize it. They are worse than the black plague, because they never go away.   Instead, they steadily, mercilessly, and incessantly devour their host.   They are, by far, public enemy number one.   This, along with the fraudulent fractional reserve system, permits the concentration of wealth and political power in the hands of the banking octopus and its military, academic, drug, death squads, industry, health, farming, and mining tentacles. It also permits destructive and deliberate manipulations of the money supply, and the devastating boom-and-bust economic cycles which further enrich and empower a few banking families and enslave the public at large.   I shall have more to say about this banking plague elsewhere, but for the moment let me just say this: If I were forced to choose between the current rule of bankers, on one hand, or the rule of the Mafia, on the other, I’d choose the Mafia, any day, any time.

The Athenians, by contrast, did not have that parasitic fifth-column in their midst. They had access to plenty of silver in their own national territory, and the state (not private interests) issued the national silver or copper currency.   The state did not accumulate debt as a matter of course, did not suffer the depredations of fractional reserve money creation, nor planned booms and busts. The Athenians thus avoided the horrors of a bankers-dominated economic and political system.

Another salient feature of Athenian democracy involved ostracism (their word). Athenian democrats well knew that their worst enemies were the oligarchs within their own walls. In rare cases, these traitors were brought to trial and executed. But the Athenians did try to live up to their ideal of moderation.   Individuals who were deemed a threat to the democracy were selected by an anonymous vote of the assembly and ordered to leave the city for ten years.   They retained their citizenship and possessions but were required to remain in exile. By law, only one person could be ostracized in any given year.   As a matter of historical record, though, ostracism was rarely applied.

The remarkable political maturity, compassion, and tolerance of a free people can perhaps be best captured through two specific historical examples.

The first involves post-war reconciliation.   A contemporary legal scholar holds that the first well-documented example of a

“self-conscious transitional justice policy is provided by the classical Athenians’ response to atrocities committed during the reign of the Thirty Tyrants . . . The Athenians carefully balanced retribution and forgiveness . . . remembering and forgetting.”

Another historian comments on the same historical occurrence:

“In 404 BCE the Peloponnesian War finally came to an end, when the Athenians, starved into submission, were forced to accept Sparta’s terms of surrender. Shortly afterwards a group of thirty conspirators, with Spartan backing (“the Thirty”), overthrew the democracy and established a narrow oligarchy.   Although the oligarchs were in power for only thirteen months, they killed more than 5 percent of the citizenry and terrorized the rest by confiscating the property of some and banishing many others.   Despite this brutality, members of the democratic resistance movement that regained control of Athens came to terms with the oligarchs and agreed to an amnesty that protected collaborators from prosecution for all but the most severe crimes.”

Does this exceptional act of amnesty (their word) and forgiveness sound like mob rule?

Another touching example of Athenian greatness, of compassion in the midst of a struggle for national and personal survival, is related by Thucydides:

“Immediately after the invasion of the Peloponnesians all Lesbos [a Greek island], except Methymna, revolted from the Athenians. . . . However, the Athenians, distressed by the plague, and by the war that had recently broken out and was now raging, thought it a serious matter to add Lesbos with its fleet and untouched resources to the list of their enemies; and at first would not believe the charge, giving too much weight to their wish that it might not be true.   But when an embassy which they sent had failed to persuade the Mitylenians to give up the union and preparations complained of, they became alarmed, and resolved to strike the first blow.”   After a prolonged siege, the Athenians prevailed, and, at first, the assembly sent a trireme with the order to execute all the men of the rebellious island, and to enslave the women and children.   The following day the assembly reconvened, and narrowly voted to overturn the first vote, and spare the lives of most Lesbians:   “Another galley was at once sent off in haste, for fear that the first might reach Lesbos in the interval, and the city be found destroyed; the first ship having about a day and a night’s start.   Wine and barley-cakes were provided for the vessel by the Mitylenian ambassadors, and great promises made if they arrived in time; which caused the men to use such diligence upon the voyage that they took their meals of barley-cakes kneaded with oil and wine as they rowed, and only slept by turns while the others were at the oar. Luckily they met with no contrary wind, and the first ship making no haste upon so horrid an errand, while the second pressed on in the manner described, the first arrived so little before them, that Paches had only just had time to read the decree, and to prepare to execute the sentence, when the second put into port and prevented the massacre. The danger of Mitylene had indeed been great.”

Ask yourself: Have the Roman or American republics just once behaved thus? And if not, isn’t it high time that we reclaim as our own a political system capable of such wartime wisdom and compassion?

Other Key Features of Athenian Democracy were:

  • Near economic self-sufficiency of the average household
  • A genuine free enterprise system (largely absent in modern so-called capitalist societies)
  • A less materialistic world view
  • A small state
  • Minimal taxation in times of peace
  • Involvement of the majority in civic affairs

Athens was certainly no utopia. Slavery was widespread and neither women nor foreigners enjoyed the full franchise.   The Athenian Empire often exploited and lorded over its member states, at times brutally and cynically suppressing defections.   Influential Athenians were eminently bribable and often betrayed their city. Athenians seemed unable to conceive of a genuine union, on equal terms, with sister democracies, and were thus, in the end, enslaved by the Macedonian dictatorship.   But Athens, I believe, still provides one starting point for a free, rational, and compassionate society. There are of course many other similar models, e.g., the remarkable Iroquois Confederacy. We can copy the basic frameworks of such genuine democracies, while avoiding their major weaknesses.

Three Modern Examples of Genuine Democracy in Action

In some contemporary republics, on rare occasions, the people are allowed to decide an issue directly (through a referendum), without massive rigging.   In such rare democratic outbursts, the people often vote wisely.   Here are two examples.

The Italian Demos vs. Nuclear Power

We have been warned about the menace of atomic energy right from the beginning of the nuclear age. Many years later, in 1977, for instance, Ralph Nader and John Abbot wrote:

“What technology has had the potential for both inadvertent and willful mass destruction . . . for wiping out cities and contaminating states after an accident, a natural calamity, or sabotage? What technology has been so unnecessary, so avoidable by simple thrift or by deployment of renewable energy supplies?”

When the decision is left to the psychopaths, they of course choose short-term gains and empowerment, even though a nuclear power plant may consume more energy than it produces! After them, they might think, is the deluge. But when the people are allowed to decide, they often make the right decision, the bankers’ propaganda avalanche notwithstanding:

“Italy is a nuclear free zone since the Italian nuclear power referendum of November 1987. Following center-right parties’ victory in the 2008 election, Italy’s industry minister announced that the government scheduled the construction to start the first new Italian nuclear-powered plant by 2013. The announced project was paused in March 2011, after the Japanese earthquake, and scrapped after a referendum on 12–13 June 2011.”

The Icelandic Demos vs. the International Bankers

The global economic crisis is now in its seventh year, and, the propaganda system notwithstanding, the situation is getting steadily worse.   Real unemployment is nearing levels of the great depression while the middle class is steadily losing ground. Given the growing misery of the American people, One would think that the USA would stop its extremely costly wars of aggression, yet the United States is spending even more on killing innocents abroad. One would think that they would stop producing weapons of mass destruction that could kill billions or even bring history to an end, but in fact they are building more such weapons and deliberately risking an all-out nuclear war. One would think that the USA would dismantle its extremely costly police state apparatus, but the bankers and their puppets are actually spending more money on subjugating, humiliating, incarcerating, and killing the American people. One would think that, in such hard times, greater income equality would be attempted, but in fact the gap between the rich and poor has grown by leaps and bounds from 2008 to 2015.   One would think that the DC mafia would permit the bankruptcy of the international banks that caused the crisis to begin with, and which, moreover, according to this mafia’s self-professed capitalist (let alone Christian) ideology, are too big to exist. But just the opposite is taking place: to prevent the deserved bankruptcy of these banks, our politicians (that is, the big bankers themselves or their pawns) have robbed the world’s people of trillions. Consequently, the economic hard times will continue unabated, or grow far worse, for years and years.

Olafur Grimsson
President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson


As of June 2015, there has been only one exception to this sad tale of gargantuan theft—Iceland. There, thanks to an inordinately courageous and decent president, the people were allowed to decide their fate, twice, despite the strenuous opposition of the international bankers. “These were private banks,” said Iceland’s president, “and we didn’t pump money into them in order to keep them going; the state did not shoulder the responsibility of the failed private banks.”   The people voted and, consequently, Iceland is now in far better economic shape than countries such as Greece, Spain, or the USA.   In Iceland, too, some bankers actually ended up paying for their crimes, and the country has, in the wake of the crisis, moved in a more democratic direction. The people of Iceland

“took a different path than the United States after their financial crisis and nationalized the banks, threw some the people responsible for the crash in jail, and bailed out the homeowners instead of worrying about only bailing out the banks. And now they’re coming back and their economy is growing again.”

Even the corporate press, on the rare occasions when it covers the Icelandic story, underscores the fabulous potential of genuine democracy:

“Icelanders who pelted parliament with rocks in 2009 demanding their leaders and bankers answer for the country’s economic and financial collapse are reaping the benefits of their anger. Since the end of 2008, the island’s banks have forgiven loans equivalent to 13 percent of gross domestic product, easing the debt burdens of more than a quarter of the population . . . The island’s steps to resurrect itself since 2008, when its banks defaulted on $85 billion, are proving effective.   Iceland’s economy will this year [2012] outgrow the euro area and the developed world on average . . .   The island’s households were helped by an agreement between the government and the banks, which are still partly controlled by the state, to forgive debt exceeding 110 percent of home values. On top of that, a Supreme Court ruling in June 2010 found loans indexed to foreign currencies were illegal, meaning households no longer need to cover krona losses. . . . Iceland’s $13 billion economy, which shrank 6.7 percent in 2009, grew 2.9 percent last year and will expand 2.4 percent this year and next . . . The euro area will grow 0.2 percent this year and the OECD area will expand 1.6 percent, according to November estimates. . . . Iceland’s approach to dealing with the meltdown has put the needs of its population ahead of the markets at every turn. Once it became clear back in October 2008 that the island’s banks were beyond saving, the government stepped in, ring-fenced the domestic accounts, and left international creditors in the lurch. The central bank imposed capital controls to halt the ensuing sell-off of the krona and new state-controlled banks were created from the remnants of the lenders that failed. Iceland’s special prosecutor has said it may indict as many as 90 people, while more than 200, including the former chief executives at the three biggest banks, face criminal charges. . . . That compares with the U.S., where no top bank executives have faced criminal prosecution for their roles in the subprime mortgage meltdown.”

The Berlin Philharmonic

My chief goal in writing this article is the starry-eyed dream of helping, in a small measure, to save our species from its most probable fate–perpetual wars, growing economic inequalities, totalitarianism and, within a couple of centuries at the most, extinction.  Greece, everybody understands, is just part of the bankers’ war against humanity.  This dire future can be directly traced to scandalously criminal political mismanagement of humanity and the biosphere; hence this article focused on direct democracy as the organizing principle of all future political organizations.  I must make it clear, however, that direct democracy is, in my view, the best way of organizing each and every human collective, including such things as factories, soccer teams, armies (until we abolish them), and the arts.

A Few Members of the Berlin Philharmonic

One successful example of genuine democracy outside the political arena is the brlin Philharmonic, one of the world’s leading orchestras (see for instance, Thomas Grube’s documentary, Trip to Asia).

Let us look at what one commentator has to say about this “coolest band in the world:”

“When the Berlin Philharmonic was created in 1882, its fifty-two musicians decided to do business differently.  They wanted a democratic system that not only involved the musicians, but empowered them as well. . . . It is the musicians who manage themselves, from scheduling concerts, to making tour arrangements, or handling delicate personnel matters. . . . the audition process is totally inclusive. Every member of the orchestra takes part forming an audience for the auditioning candidates on the stage of the Philharmonie [the orchestra hall]. There are 128 votes and the Chief Conductor, like everyone else, has just one. The audition tests stylistic understanding and qualities of sound and expression. Technique is a given but never used as the main criterion. I was told by one player that he and his colleagues were looking ‘to have their souls touched by the music-making.’ . . .  Base salary is €90,000 gross for all rank and file players. Principals receive 15% extra. There is no individual negotiation of personal contracts as in the USA. Transparency and equity are seen as essential to solidarity. . . . Besides playing in the Orchestra every musician is expected to be a soloist, perform chamber music, and contribute to the overall vision of the Orchestra. . . . The Berliners take a broad view of their responsibilities as musicians. Besides the established concert series in the Philharmonie, the musicians are involved in community work that is remarkable for the depth of its engagement and interactivity. . . .The musicians’ work touches many, from kindergarteners to prisoners, from teachers to lifelong learners. There is no contractual obligation for the musicians to do this work. They are paid no additional fees–just travel expenses. They do it because they understand the inherent transformative power of music and want to share that with audiences who have not previously experienced it.”

“The last time I saw the Berlin Phil I thought it was the greatest orchestra I had ever heard. I thought that the time before, too. The performances have such energy, such commitment, such movement, indeed the musicians move physically with the music. Even their very presence on stage speaks of a different level of communication and engagement. I was very much taken by their tradition at the end of the concert of shaking hands and thanking their colleagues. . . . Their model is not the vision of any one leader. It comes instead from a collective of musicians who are empowered to be creative with new ideas, new directions, and new challenges.”

A Philosophical Defense of Genuine Democracy

My focus in this paper has been empirical.  That is, I believe that the historical record provides the best way of proving the superiority of real democracy over any other form of government.  But genuine democracy can also be defended on philosophical grounds. Here for instance is John Stuart Mill, a 19th century scholar: [3]

“The ideally best form of government is that in which the sovereignty, or supreme controlling power in the last resort, is vested in the entire aggregate of the community, every citizen not only having a voice in the exercise of that ultimate sovereignty, but being, at least occasionally, called on to take an actual part in the government . . . Its superiority . . . rests upon two principles . . . The first is, that the rights and interests of every or any person are only secure from being disregarded when the person interested is himself able, and habitually disposed to stand up for them.   The second is that the general prosperity attains a great height, and is more widely diffused, in proportion to the amount and variety of the personal energies enlisted in promoting it.”[4]

Closing Remarks

It is no accident that, when given a choice, the Italian people rejected nuclear power, despite massive false advertising by the moneylenders.   It is no accident that, as of June 2015, the only country with any chance of escaping serfdom, Iceland, was able to do so through a referendum, despite massive false advertising by the moneylenders.   It is no accident that the Berlin Philharmonic is, perhaps, the world’s leading orchestra. What worked so well for the Ancient Athenians, for the Iroquois Confederacy and for most of our hunter-gatherer ancestors is obviously working just as well for any country or organization choosing to give genuine democracy a chance.

The demonstrable superiority of direct democracy to all other political systems tells us that, when given a chance, most of us are fundamentally decent and rational.  We ought to do everything we can to give ourselves that chance.

Notes and References

1. An anonymous correspondent (personal communication): “Consider all the professors and web pundits who are unwilling to look at the clear data that the ‘leftist’ leaders of Greece’s Syriza are frauds. A little digging and you see the backgrounds of Syriza’s people tied to oligarchs who have been funding them.”  Dr. James Petras: “Syriza’s political decision to ‘embed’ in the EU and the Eurozone, at all costs, signals that Greece will continue to be a vassal state, betraying its program and adopting deeply reactionary policies, even while trumpeting its phony leftist rhetoric, and feigning ‘resistance.’  Earlier: “The Greek government is currently locked in a life and death struggle with the elite which dominate the banks and political decision-making centers of the European Union. What are at stake are the livelihoodsof 11 million Greek workers, employees and small business people and the viability of the European Union.  If the ruling Syriza government capitulates to the demands of the EU bankers and agrees to continue the austerity programs, Greece will be condemned to decades of regression, destitution and colonial rule.” F. William Engdahl:  “it is looking more and more as though the “leftist” economist, Varoufakis’s role is that of a Trojan Horse for the destruction of the entire Eurozone by the bankers.” Dr. Roberts, on the other hand, argues that Syriza must contend with a misinformed public and lack of parliamentary majority.   And there is yet another possible excuse for the seemingly-strange behavior of Syriza’s leaders, an excuse that is not often mentioned in polite company:  They might have been threatened with execution or a military coup.  If the bankers could get away with the murder of JFK, RFK, Aldo Moro, Patrice Lumumba, Dag Hammarskjöld, and hundreds of other national leaders, if they could get away with fascist coups in Guatemala and Ukraine, what’s to stop them from murdering Tsipras, Varoufakis, and anybody else who defies them?

2. This article is based in part on Seven Billion Cheers for Direct Democracy (2012).

3. One of the greatest tragedies of the human condition is our reluctance to let go of long-held convictions, even when presented with overwhelming evidence against them.  We know this from everyday observations of others, and also, if we are honest with ourselves. from introspection. There is also some striking experimental evidence showing that this is so:

“Subjects were recruited to evaluate the efficacy of a self-contained instructional manual. Before they could provide the needed appraisal, they were told, they needed to acquire a first-hand experience of its content by studying it and following the instructions it provided for about four hours. At some point in the teaching process, the manual introduced a false volume formula for a sphere–a formula which led subjects to believe that spheres are 50% larger than they are. Subjects were then given an actual sphere and asked to determine its volume; first by using the formula, and then by filling the sphere with water, transferring the water to a box, and directly measuring the volume of the water in the box. The key question was: Would subjects believe the evidence of their senses and abandon their prior beliefs in the formula, the competence of the experimenter, and the legitimacy of the entire setup? Preliminary observations suggested that the task was far more difficult than expected: no subject decisively rejected the false formula or declined to use it in subsequent tasks. In later experiments various attempts were made to ease the conceptual transition called for by this experiment. In one variation all subjects held a Ph.D. degree in a natural science and were employed as research scientists and professors in two major research universities. A special section–involving measurements of a second ball–was introduced and constructed with the deliberate aim of helping these scientists break away from the false formula. In another variation, the discrepancy concerned the circumference of an ellipse, thereby ruling out the possibility that earlier results were ascribable to the difficulty of dealing with three dimensional concepts. But none of these variations substantially altered the initial results.”

Think about this, my friend, before rejecting the idea of real democracy–or any other challenge to your conceptions.

4. J. S. Mill, Consideration on Representative Government, 1861.  Mill goes on to say:  “But since all can not, in a community exceeding a single small town, participate personally in any but some very minor portions of the public business, it follows that the ideal type of a perfect government must be representative.”  There are good reasons to believe that Mill, had he lived now, would revise his opinion on this point.  First, for Mill, the ideal form of government is real democracy, and representative democracy is only a second practical best.  Second, with modern technology, any country, regardless of its size, could have daily plebiscites, if it so wished.  Third, given the utter subversion of representative governments by the money lenders, Mill would probably see that the only road to a genuine democracy is a variation of Athenian democracy.  Fourth, real democracy would involve, Mill would probably agree, massive decentralization: dividing any country into geographical units of 40,000 souls or less, and severely limiting the powers of the central government.

5. For advocates of real democracy, the key question of course is: How do we get there?  The answer is the same as it had been in ancient Athens: Revolution.  But, can a popular revolution succeed nowadays, given the extraordinary power of contemporary oligarchs and their ability to impoverish, kill, or brainwash the vast majority?  Almost certainly not.  Thus, if we wish to save ourselves from slavery, perpetual wars, and extinction, we need to consider the idea of a least-cost revolution.

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