Hobbesian democracy

Abstract

We can characterise modern democracies of the Western type as Hobbesian democracies.1 In a modern democracy the State is a political Sovereign of the Hobbesian kind, enjoying a constitutional authority that for all practical purposes is absolute, having the potential of reaching every nook and cranny of its subjects’ life and work. Its authority is restrained only by the requirement of respect for certain formalities and procedures, and the lingering memory of something called the rule of law.2 Hobbesian democracy’s peculiar characteristic, of course, is that at least some of the people to whom the sovereign power of the State is entrusted are elected by secret ballot under a rule of universal suffrage. Winston Churchill said that ‘Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others’.3 He had a point: democracy is the worst form of totalitarian government except for all the others. However, why should we put up with any government that not only has virtually unlimited or absolute constitutional powers (as in an absolutist regime) but also uses them to regulate and tax everything and everybody within the territory under its control (as in a totalitarian regime4)? As we shall see, there are good reasons for saying that Hobbesian democracy is among the worst forms of government..

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