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"The British people believes itself to be free. In this it is gravely mistaken; it is free only once in every four years, during the election of its members of parliament. For the rest of the time, it is nothing more than a puppet of its corrupt government, and during that brief moment of its freedom, it makes such a use of it that it deserves to lose it for the rest of the time."—Jean-Jacques Rousseau
In some works democracy is bad. It is generally presented as an ineffectual form of government highly prone to corruption, demagoguery and takeovers by radicals and, in some portrayals, as a form of mob rule which tramples on individual rights to appeal to public sentiment. A popular saying about democracy, to this perspective, is "democracy is like two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner."
It can also be presented this way by authors who don't necessarily approve of other forms of government, but are cynical enough that they consider all forms of government to be flawed (with the inclusion of no government at all). As Winston Churchill put it "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the other methods that have been tried."
Indeed, before the Dutch Republic, the term "Democracy" was more-or-less synonymous with "Anarchy" or "Mob Rule," believed by many to be a utopian idea that could never work in practice and would lead to the collapse of society. The term is rarely used this way today. Indeed the main Anarchist critique of Democracy as it exists today is that they see it as not really democratic at all. Also, they would distinguish between what's called "representative" democracy (in their view a small elite leading people by the nose) and participatory or direct democracy in a voluntary form-i.e. if you want to live by yourself that's okay too. Below is more on the representative style.
This can sometimes be an aversion (or an inversion) of Good Democracy Evil Empire, and has its roots in a number of philosophical objections to democracy. To avoid Flame Bait, no Real Life examples, please.
As a point of interest, a popular but incorrect meme has it that most modern governments, being republics, aren't actually democracies. This is false: a republic is in fact any form of government which is not a monarchy or theocracy and any system in which a large electorate or its elected representatives wield power can legitimately be called democratic. The distinction being made is actually that between direct and representative democracy; the former, in which all issues are discussed by the electorate at large and put to a popular vote, is seen as more legitimate by certain strains of political thought but is generally considered impractical on a large scale. Representative democracy relies by contrast on elected agents of the people, whose job it is to to draft and vote on laws full-time, in theory in accordance with the values of the voters they represent. Both systems have certain weaknesses, but both are democratic by definition.
Note also that many modern democracies implement various checks and balances specifically designed to make it difficult for majorities to change certain things or abridge certain rights. The American presidential system, for example, includes a judicial branch which is relatively independent of the legislature and possesses extensive powers of oversight. The practical applications of such measures are left as an exercise to the reader.
- Star Wars provides numerous examples:
- Whether it was intentionally a jab at democracy or not (probably unintentional), the Star Wars prequels depict the Republic as "an ineffectual form of government highly prone to corruption, demagoguery and takeovers by radicals." (Which is a fairly accurate summation of the overall plot of Episodes I-III, come to think of it.) You have to give it some credit for lasting 25,000 years. During the Valorum administration, the Republic was not so much a democracy as the UN in space. Then Palpatine gave it an army.
- To be fair, its implied that the Sith had been secretly corrupting and sabotaging it for at least the previous millennium, and they were responsible for numerous wars and catastrophes prior to that which, though they all failed, were all largely aimed at subjugating the Republic, if not outright destroying it and everyone therein. Palpatine himself engineered quite a lot of it as well.
- On the other hand, it is depicted as being saved by tantamount to Greek-demigods-with-Laser Swords about every time they want to sell a Star Wars novel.
- Pretty much every single work produced by a Nazi German, Italian fascist, Pre-1980s KMT, Czarist, Japanese Imperialist, Pre-1970s Spaniard, Islamist, or monarchist ever.
- The Soviet Union is omitted from the above list, as the government has gone on record stating that the USSR had a true democracy. In Communist China, Mao defined the political system as a "People's Democratic Dictatorship." North Korea is officially called the "Democratic People's Republic of Korea,," East Germany was the "German Democratic Republic," and so on. You may notice a trend here. Communists basically never said that Democracy is Bad. They did the opposite, and tried to sound more democratic than thou.
- Legend of the Galactic Heroes skirts close to this trope at times: The democratically elected politicians of the Free Planets Alliance (incarnate in Smug Snake Job Trunicht, who holds important ministry positions during several administrations) are a nepotistic, incompetent, corrupt, self-serving and increasingly pro-fascist bunch who are, if anything, just as detrimental to the League's well-being (and especially that of Yang Wenli) as The Empire the Alliance is fighting with (The Empire, admittedly, suffers from much the same problems until Reinhard effectively takes over the whole thing). For all that, though, the Alliance still contains the lion's share of the main characters that are of the 'slightly less flawed than the average' sort.
- Kino's Journey has devotes the last part of the fifth episode to showing "tyranny of the majority" at its extreme. In a perfect example of Full-Circle Revolution, the people started executing all minority voters, no matter the reason, and had to vote on any issue. Of course, this means there was eventually only one guy left.
- The DC comics character Anarky is, well, a teen anarchist with strong views on how democracy has failed and should be overthrown.
Spider Jerusalem: You want to know about voting. I'm here to tell you about voting. Imagine you're locked in a huge underground nightclub filled with sinners, whores, freaks, and unnameable things that rape pit bulls for fun. And you ain't allowed out until you all vote on what you're going to do tonight. YOU like to put your feet up and watch television. THEY like to have sex with normal people using knives, guns, and brand-new sexual organs that you did not know existed. So you vote for television, and everyone else, as far as the eye can see, votes to fuck you with switchblades. That's voting. You're welcome.
- Used in a Judge Dredd storyline. A referendum is held in Mega-City One - a literal police state - about whether to restore democracy. But at this point, the city has been a dictatorship for over 40 years, so the overwhelming majority of those who even bothered to vote choose to maintain the status quo.
- Marvel often dips its toe into this in issues of What If...? where Doctor Doom does in fact conquer the world. Without all that meddlesome democracy getting in his way, Doom usually ushers in a glorious Utopia that just so happens to line up with the writer's own beliefs. Remember, kids, benevolent fascism is the way to go!
- In Mel Gibson's The Patriot, Benjamin Martin is cynical about eliminating British rule over the colonies. "Why should I be willing to trade one tyrant three thousand miles away for three thousand tyrants one mile away? An elected legislature can trample a man's rights as easily as a King can."
- 300 portrays the Spartan elected council as corrupt and treasonous, while the hereditary monarch is The Hero. Additionally, the more democratic Athenians are mocked as "boy-lovers" who are incapable of defending themselves.
- Most of the works of Robert A. Heinlein invoke this trope, particularly The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.
- Starship Troopers famously restricts the rights to vote and run for office to veterans, as they have some idea of social responsibility. Though unlike in the movie this is in no way portrayed as fascism.
- In Time Enough for Love Lazarus Long states that he set up Secundus as a "constitutional dictatorship" where the ruling class has some say in government and the common folk, "bless their flabby black hearts," get none. But he's a little surprised that the government has persisted for nearly two thousand years, he expected it to collapse in a century or two.
- Even Discworld has the occasional stab at committees and one off-hand joke about a species of Republican Bees, who spend most of their time in the hive, voting for more honey. Really, Pratchett seems to prefer the idea of Philosopher Kings. Ephebian 'democracy' (it's a country in Discworld) is referenced on occasion, and criticized for its ironic prenclusion of women, poor people, idiots, people who weren't our kind of people, et cetera. Ephebe is basically a humorous version of Athens at its height, and is a fairly accurate description. Athenians invented Democracy, or rule by the citizens. What modern people forget is that in Athens, the citizens were a minority of the total population. In Pyramids, Pteppic notes:
Philosophers didn't listen to each other, and didn't stick to the point. This was probably mocracy in action.
- Then there's benevolent tyrant of Ankh-Morpork, Lord Vetinari, who considers his job much more difficult than any elected head of state's: after all, they can always tell the public that it's their fault for voting for them. in the latest offering, "Unseen Academicals" we discover nearby city state Pseudopolis has apparently become a republic of some kind, and Vetinari and a few others enjoy making comments about this. Apparently the citizens voted not to have any taxes for one thing.
- Sam Vimes, cynical bastard that he is, notes in "The Fifth Elephant":
[Vimes] had been rather interested in the idea that everyone had a vote until he found out that while he, Vimes, would have a vote, there was no way in the rules that anyone could prevent Nobby Nobbs from having one as well. Vimes could see the flaw there straight away.
- This is probably because his ancestor "Old Stoneface" Vimes (an Expy of Oliver Cromwell) had a bad experience with it:
"He introduced democracy to the city, and the people voted against it."
- The Amazon review for the Sword of Truth book "Soul of the Fire" notes much fantasy has this trope implicitly, and that that book makes it very very explicit.
- Tom Holt's A Song For Nero features an allegorical aside in which a city-state tries to create the "perfect" system of government, by combining the best features of Athenian democracy (everyone gets a say) and oligarchy (rule by an elite). One suggestion is essentially modern democracy (you vote for the leaders, and then they're in total control for a certain period), which is derided as combining the worst elements of both. (Namely, that oligarchic elites spend all their time fighting each other for status, and leaders who are reliant on the will of the people give them what they want, not what they need.)
- It can start looking like this in H. Beam Piper's Space Viking, as we watch the democracy of Marduk collapse under the influence of the Hitler-esque politician Zaspar Makann (the main character actually researches Hitler to figure out what Makann is going to do next), but the eventual Aesop is actually that it just has a few bugs that need to be worked out.
- In the short story "Oomphel in the Sky," set about eight centuries before Space Viking, a general is trying to deal with an impending natural disaster. The viewpoint character points out sardonically that he's being undemocratic about it, because he "knows what has to be done and how to do it, and he's going right ahead and doing it, without ... giving everybody a fair and equal chance to foul things up for him."
- In Mistborn, after the Final Empire is overthrown, the heroes form a constitutional monarchy to administer the city. Ultimately, the elected parliament promptly votes them out of office and sides with their enemies. In retrospect, Elend shouldn't have written that clause into his constitution. In the end, he is forced to dissolve the government and declare himself emperor in order to save what's left of humanity.
- In an old story (probably pre-French Revolution) someone (probably a nobleman or such) tells a group of people who demand democracy a fable. Content: The animals set up a democracy. Then, the humans attacked. A part of the animals wanted to fight a war (like the lion, the tiger, the eagle, the bear, the wolf, and the horse) but the great majority was too afraid and voted against it, thus there wasn't a war, the humans won easily and killed many animals. Yep, not only Democracy Is Bad, but Pacifism Is Bad too. Anybody knows the name of the story, or the author?
- Rudyard Kipling's "As Easy as ABC" has the people of mid-21st-century Chicago outraged by a group that wants to institute democracy. They regard this as an invasion of privacy, since it means people who may be total strangers to you are <shudder> voting on, among other things, how you go about your life. A sinister example of how this can be abused is a statue portraying a black man evidently being lynched, with the sarcastic inscription, "To the Eternal Memory of the Justice of the People."
- In the third Temeraire novel a character converses with Captain Laurence regarding Napoleon. The character is half British but a virtual outcast due to his mixed race status, and reflects that in some ways Napoleon as a tyrant might be less of a problem than the British System, as a single tyrant can be removed, whereas three hundred scheming MPs could hold absolute control (granted this was hardly a time of a fair Parliamentary system either, but the principle remains). Laurence is not amused, though when witnessing some of Napoleon's great building projects in the heart of Paris he thinks it unfortunate that such beneficial, but disruptive and arbitrary, work could only really be attempted by a tyrant unilaterally making the decision.
- Honor Harrington takes this all kinds of different directions. On one hand, the protagonists come from a representative democracy and are fighting an oligarchic dictatorship. On the other hand, half of the books is devoted to the heroes being hamstrung by political machinations while the monarch is shown to be correct and yet unable to do anything in the face of opposition of the masses. But then again, the political machinations stem from corrupt and complacent nobles.
- This achieves further granularity among different powers in the setting. The People's Republic of Haven, for example, had decades of ostensibly democratic rule, but the rulers were so interested in placating their electorate to stay in power that they had to increase the governmental dole to unsustainable levels, forcing them to resort to conquest, and deliberately kept the people dumb to more easily manipulate their votes. On the other hand, the Andermani Empire operates on a strict basis of Realpolitik, and is distrustful of democracies, believing them too unpredictable and prone to wild shifts in policies between administrations. Then there's the Solarian League, which is technically a democracy but the legislative process is so slow and convoluted that non-elected senior members of the bureaucracy have been running the place to suit themselves for centuries without the legislature noticing, often in ways that blatantly violate the official constitution.
- Implied in So Long And Thanks For All The Fish: "On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people, if they didn't vote for a lizard, the wrong lizard might get in." More precisely, a criticism of the "first-past-the-post" method of electing representatives, vs. some proportional representation (explained here by John Cleese, whom Adams admired).
- In Saki's short story The Comments of Moung Ka, the eponymous sage notes that Britain is what is called a democracy. When he is asked what a democracy is, he describes it (paraphrased) as government by the people, for the people. His proteges express disbelief that any British laws exemplify this. You weren't paying attention. He said that Britain is what is called' a democracy.
- In L. Jagi Lamplighter's Prospero In Hell, Ulysses objects to democracy because it's bound to lead to Bread and Circuses.
- German philosopher Oswald Spengler's non-fiction book The Decline of the West.
- In the Star Trek Novel Verse, the Tzenkethi nation holds this opinion, which is why they're so opposed to the United Federation of Planets. Tzenkethi are assigned to politics if they pass a series of tests determining intellect and other qualities. In Star Trek: Typhon Pact, a Tzenkethi agent reflects on the concept of allowing anyone a political voice:
"Those mediocre and substandard minds - uneducated, self-centred, avaricious, prejudiced, chauvinistically patriotic - would ultimately bring about the downfall of their society."
- Tris from the Circle of Magic books believes this (the book itself doesn't endorse her opinion, but no one ever contests it either). In Shatterglass, she's visiting the ancient-Greece-inspired city-state of Tharios, a republic with a serious Obstructive Bureaucrat problem, and reflects on how easy it is to pass the buck in this environment; when there's one ruler of a country, he or she might suck, but at least then everyone knows who to blame.
- In Isaac Asimov 's Forward the Foundation (the last prequel to the Foundation Trilogy), one of protagonist Hari Seldon's adversaries is a political movement that call for some vague reforms of the Galactic Empire (an absolute monarchy that is said to have brought peace and prosperity for millennia). The movement is shown to have some popular support but also to be prone to demagoguery, lies, manipulation and terrorism. At one point two leaders of the movement discuss their goals and one of them fears that the regime they are actually trying to establish is a "democracy" which he describes as a now-forgotten regime that was tried a few times through history but was always unstable and short-lived.
- A running theme in Raymond E. Feist's work - strong monarchies are good; influence by commoners is bad; democratic republics are outright immoral and corrupt. Oh, and foreigners are a corrupting influence in the monarchy, exploit child slavery.
- In G. K. Chesterton's The Paradoxes of Mr. Pond, the danger of a Royalist pretender is that it might bring about the Rightful King Returns because of the problems with republics.
the King has crept back among you. It is not your fault. Republics might be all right if Republicans were as honourable as you are; but you have confessed that they are not . . .
- Democracy is never even brought up in any Dune novel, as monarchy, coupled with a Feudal Future, is seen as perfectly natural. It seems Frank Herbert is not a big fan of democracy.
- Ever wonder why Yes Minister shows nothing from the parliament and first starts as the election results are known? Because, according to the authors, politic is made in the offices, clubs and other discreet meeting points. But okay, with one party having the majority (the usual in Great Britain) the leading people do, of course, not need to care about the opinions of other people than themselves...
- The politicians do care about the opinions of people; Hacker is constantly going on about opinion polls and the chances of re-election. The trouble is, he just thinks he's in charge; all the decisions are actually being made by Sir Humphrey. Hacker does have quite a bit of pull (more in later seasons as he gets a better handle on things), but the problem is he is more concerned with opinion polls and elections than with actually running the country in a sensible long term manner. Humphrey, on the other hand, is busy thinking about the government's (and occasionally the country's) best interest long term, but since he doesn't care at all about opinion polls and elections he feels no reason to change the inefficient system that raised him to his current position. As such, both are self interestedly neglecting the greater good, just in different ways. Pure, simple game theory.
- And part of this is the nature of the British system of politics; whilst the party which forms the government may change periodically due to elections, the civil service which enacts the policy is ever-present and in-theory politically neutral, favouring neither party over the other. And they have immensely good job protection; it's frequently asserted that it's nearly impossible for a civil servant to be fired. So whilst politicians come and go, the bureaucrats are there pretty much forever...
- In the Doctor Who serial Castrovalva, when asked the quickest way out of town, a group of women all point in different directions. The Doctor: "Yes. Well, that's democracy for you..." More recently, in "The Beast Below," the Doctor comments, "And once every five years everyone chooses to forget everything they learned. Democracy in action."
- Of course, anyone who doesn't choose to forget is fed to the Space Whale. Not much of a choice.
- In Earth 2, the Terrians view democracy as primitive and inefficient. However, as one character points out, humans aren't psychic like the Terrians and can't reach consensus this way.
- Arrow's Impossibility Theorem states that, if a voting system has the following reasonable properties:
- 1. If everyone prefers A over B, then the group prefers A over B, and
- 2. The group's preference between A and B does not change when C is added,
- then the system is a dictatorship, i.e. there is one person who always gets his preference.
- Addressed in-story in Suikoden II. Jowy's Face Heel Turn is provoked by observing how the democratic City-States are paralyzed by bickering in the face of crisis. Though the city-states do end up winnging the war.
- Possibly unintentional example in the Sonic games, but one that gets slowly reversed. The military is notably absent from the 2D games. In Sonic Adventure, the police are ineffective against Chaos, to say the least. In Sonic Adventure 2, the government takes Sonic prisoner and is responsible for the whole mess due to its own double-dealing and distrust. In Shadow the Hedgehog, Shadow has to bail out the democratic United Federation against the aliens; its president is portrayed as somewhat wimpy and ineffectual and its military commander is obsessed with the past to the point of making him unable to cope with the present. Some might read the ending of Shadow as hinting at reform in the government inspired by Gerald and Maria Robotnik, though.
In Sonic Chronicles the military works with Sonic and his crew readily, but that is not canon. Same with Shadow's apparent military connection in Sonic 2006. The comic books have been accused of this; one arc had Tails' father instigate a revolution, and after a good deal of infighting and Sonic struggling to not let anyone get killed, they eventually settled on a compromise, along the lines of a Constitutional Monarchy (kinda like Britain). Looks like not everything is better with princesses.
- There's a pretty blatant case of this in Dragon Age Origins. The Assembly of Orzammar is utterly useless thanks to the Succession Crisis. They can't seem to agree on anything, even with the threat of a new Blight on the horizon. The fact that the Reasonable Authority Figure Harrowmont governs through compromise and negotiation with the Assembly can actually be seen as a weakness and leads to Orzammar getting worse in the epilogue if he is crowned king. On the other hand, Bhelen reforms Orzammar by pretty much ignoring, then outright dissolving, the Assembly if he is crowned king. The Assembly isn't least bit democratic, however. It only represents the powerful noble houses, who all want to get upper hand over everybody else. None of them are interested in the people under them. If they were, they would find more common ground.
- Orzammar's Assembly actually has one member who is completely sick of all the self-serving politics. He disdains both candidates for the throne because he thinks neither of them will serve the interests of the common people. Of course, since he's the only one even remotely interested in democratic ideals, he spends most of his time getting drunk.
- It should also be noted that the Blight is only a bane for the surface-dwellers. For the dwarves, who are constantly under threat from the Darkspawn, the Blight means a reprieve, as most of the Darkspawn head for the surface.
- Anachronox has the planet Democratus, who vote on anything and barely ever get anything done. Only when faced with oblivion do they come to a quick agreement, but they still have to vote on it.
- In the Adventure Game Ceville, the council election drives the overthrown king to this conclusion: "the one in charge [of a democracy] is just as tyrannical as I was, but they hide it better."
- Occasionally invoked and discussed in Deus Ex. For example, in the first game J.C. Denton can get into a political discussion with a bartender in a Hong Kong nightclub. J.C. argues that the checks and balances of a western style government allow democracy to flurish by addressing and pre-empting the potential weaknesses of individuals that it would otherwise suffer. The bartender on the other hand has a pro-authoritarian view, arguing that a government that recognizes the weaknesses of the people involved in it would only encourage those same weaknesses in them, and that a government that makes no allowances for such weaknesses would be more effective. Later, J.C. has a similar conversation with the A.I.s Morpheous and Icarus about the benefits of centralized authority versus distributed democracy.
- In the sequel Deus Ex Invisible War, J.C., having merged with Helios, intends to create the world's "first true democracy" by forcibly spreading nanomachines to every human on the planet, and then using Helios' information processing capability to literally keep track of the wishes of every single person, using this information to dictate decisions based on majority in real-time.
- Bioshock: "Is a man not entitled by the sweat of his brow? No, says the man in Washington, it belongs to the poor!" Andrew Ryan is an Objectivist and naturally doesn't think too highly of other forms of government, either. The overall message of the game, however, is that extremism in any form, be it over Objectivism, capitalism, democracy, etc., is bad.
- Vault City in Fallout 2 considered democracy (or indeed, anyone outside their system) to be bad. First Citizen Lynette refers to the NCR's democratic style as "mob rule."
- Caesar and Mr. House from Fallout: New Vegas independently think that democracy is bad, and both tell you that all you need for proof is to look out at the wastes. The corruption of the NCR's upper echelons and the obstructive bureaucracy that keeps much from actually getting done does not help democracy's case either. And neither does Vault 11.
- In the Mass Effect setting, normal democracy is not so much bad as it is inefficient. The asari species practive a massive, active e-democracy where any citizen can weigh in on an issue at anytime via the extranet; while this results in intensive debate and exploration of an issue in great depth, it also means that it takes a while for a true decision to be made on an issue; as Shepard can point out, "if you want a problem talked to death, ask an asari." Later on in Mass Effect 2, a conversation with Legion, a "terminal" for the geth (a species of networked computer programs) notes that democracy is the "codification of the most widely held views" and is not a true form of consensus. The geth themselves practice what could be considered a "true" democracy similar to the asari, as all geth are in constant communication when part of server nodes, communicating at lightspeed with perfect clarity of thought and information to one another, allowing the geth to reach a true "consensus" on an issue with all possible viewpoints considered and debated at - literally - the speed of light. In fact, "Consensus" is, for lack of a better term, actually the name of their "government."
- Credomar habitat in Schlock Mercenary was "founded on the principles of Democracy" and when the eponymous mercenaries arrived (to distribute food) it was near anarchy with at least six different factions fighting for control. Then a robot dictator took over and now the trains run on time. Although Kevyn is quite convinced that Robot Dictatorship Is Also Bad.
Lota: "Lota is not susceptible to crazy whims, Commander."
Kevyn: "Oh, good. Now, what about premeditated atrocities?"
- The League of Galactics (the one time it was mentioned) sounds more like a parody of the League of Nations, the United Nations of Sol is actually one of the major galactic powers (but is incredibly corrupt).
- Seems to be the attitude of the Collective of Anarchist States in SSDD, they're a meritocracy.
- Played with in Eight Bit Theater here.
- In Sandra and Woo a squirrel, a fox and a raccoon vote on what to have for dinner.
- In Sinfest, Satan loves democracy -- he voted twelve times!
- In The Simpsons episode "Bart's Comet," the town was going to be struck by the eponymous comet, and Congress' bill to evacuate the town was voted down thanks to a pornography rider attached to it. Kent Brockman's response? "I've said it before and I'll say it again: democracy simply doesn't work." This line is echoed by Homer in "Much Apu About Nothing," after a proposition is passed that requires all illegal immigrants to be deported.