Why Pure Democracy is Impossible

Ideally, all parties are meant to be heard and represented.   However… too much discussion slows legislation, and oftentimes parties cannot agree to a consensus.   Ultimately, then, some parties that would otherwise hinder consensus are dismissed, so that agreement could be made.   It is impossible to practice a pure democracy.



I recently read an article about one of the perils of Democracy—some sectors tend to be disenfranchised.   Instead of dialogue with all parties, lawmakers tend to “streamline processes” and ultimately “undermine the principles of democratic institutions”.   He likened democracy through the metaphor of a dining table:

When faced with the situation of having a meal alone at the dinner table, every decision taken pertaining to what is being cooked, where people will be seated, and who will do the dishes, falls on the shoulders of only the person who is eating…

As the number of guests increases, the ability of each individual to push forth with his/her own culinary leanings gets diminished drastically, and the only way of deciding something that will please the palates of most is through dialogue and debate…

Constant consideration of other guests’ leanings needs to be explicitly accounted for in order for one’s own rationale to be welcomed by the rest…

I do agree that the perfect exercise of democratic government is to have dialogue with all parties involved.  Ideally, all parties are meant to be heard and represented.   However, there is justification in the need to streamline democratic processes in exchange for disenfranchising the few.   Often too much discussion slows legislation, and oftentimes parties cannot agree to a consensus.   Ultimately, then, some parties that would otherwise hinder consensus are dismissed, so that agreement could be made.   It is impossible to practice a pure democracy.

Any government evolves in three stages: pure democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy.   Pure democracy is the Objectivist utopia; there is no government, all individuals have a voice, and all sectors are represented.   However, anarchy soon ensues, and inequality rears its ugly head.   Aristocracies and monarchies have huge power blocs that naturally disenfranchise some sectors.   All levels of government dismiss some parties from representation.

Evolution of Government

Pure Democracy

 We begin at the lowest tier of government: pure democracy.   Pure Democracy is at a state where there is a current vacuum in power.  Ideally, power is transferred to the people.  Practically, it is chaos.   It is true that in this state all sectors have a voice; all individuals have the capability to be heard and shape the future.   But this only happens initially, for eventually rivaling ideologies will begin jockeying for power.

Even at this state, inequality exists.   Ideologies conflict with each other, but soon groups will form power blocs to propagate their ideology.  Weak ideas are trampled or merged with stronger ideologies, until it becomes the ideology of the many.   Many sectors are disenfranchised, or join power blocs in the hopes of being heard.   These ideological power blocs in turn clash.   Civil disorder erupts; gangs form in the streets.   Like China after the fall of the Manchu era or Germany during the Weimar Republic, militias and fraternities representing different political theories fight for control.

Eventually, some power blocs compromise, or a majority of the people begin to support an ideological bloc.   This power bloc soon gains control of the majority.   If the power bloc is unpopular, but is strong enough to hold leadership of the country, it is an oligarchy.   Oligarchs are generally seen as disenfranchising the rest of the populace while promoting their own interests and needs.   The power bloc that enjoys popular support, or whose status is widely accepted and admired becomes an aristocracy.


This is the second level of government.   Many governments, like the Roman Republic, are aristocracies which vest power in the few.   These rulers are usually identified with nobility—a sense of exclusivity that is inherited rather than earned.   They are revered, as “noble” virtues for example are traits that are far above the common man’s.   They are the upper or “ruling class” who by privilege and wealth enjoy leadership and power.

Where in pure democracies all sectors are at first heard then crushed by stronger ideologies, in aristocracies sectors are ideally represented in the members of the ruling group.   Ideologies, policies and laws are discussed among this power bloc; ideas are once again crushed, trample other ideas, or merge with other ideas to create powerful ideological blocs.   It is pure democracy but at a smaller scale: conflicts arise between parties between the ruling groups, alliances are made, and consensus is made from compromises.

There are different ways that sectors are disenfranchised.   In aristocratic governments (ones that aren’t elected), the ruling class represent a ruling ideology.  Those sectors that align with that ideology are represented; many, however, are disenfranchised, as they have no voice in government.  Elected aristocracies fare no better.   Initially members represent their constituents, but other parties will not vote or align with these members until certain compromises or deals are made.   Sectors are disenfranchised and ideologies are set aside so alliances could be made, bills could be passed and laws could be set to stone.


Many governments remain in this second level.   These are the ruling councils of tribes, Senate of the Roman Republic, or the National Assembly of the French Republic.   Two things can happen: first, the council is so paralyzed by division, and government crawls because of a lack of consensus, that there is a general clamor for a king.  The aristocratic government will appoint one man as king—generally one from their ranks.    The second possibility is that the aristocratic government becomes so unpopular and the majority so disenfranchised that the latter look for a champion to represent their ideology, and struggle to make him king.

In either case, power is then granted to one man.   This is the last level in the evolution of government, at least in the Classical sense.   This one man could, if he is an unpopular ruler, be a tyrant or a despot.   If he is generally accepted he becomes a king.   When his kingship becomes an institution, it becomes a monarchy.   If it is passed down to his children, it becomes a hereditary monarchy.

Monarchies are the simplest form of governments.   Aristocracies bicker and divide over laws and ideas; progress is slowed to a crawl as no party can agree.   Pure democracies cannot decide on one policy, and is in constant flux.    Kings, however, rule directly, and pass laws without hindrance.   He seeks the counsel of advisers, but is the final arbiter and governor of his country.

Ideally, the king represents the will of the majority.   This already implies that the sectors not in the majority are no longer represented.   It gets worse, however.   The king is housed in a palace, isolated from the country.   He may visit the country from time to time but he cannot be in all places at the same time.  He cannot give audience to all sectors.    In fact, his only constant audience is the court nobles, counselors and wives he has in court.

Sectors or power blocs are created based on who is represented by the people of the court.   One bloc may have the patronage of the adviser to the king, while another is represented by the king’s wife.   These power blocs may be religious groups, intellectuals, the military, the merchant guilds (if they’re lucky) or any other group within the upper class.   But the lower class—the common folk—is disenfranchised.

Modern Democratic Governments

and why Disenfranchisement is Inevitable

In all levels of government some sectors will always be disenfranchised.   In pure democracies some ideas are too weak to be represented.   In monarchies power and ideology is isolated within the court.   Perhaps the best level which will have the most representation is among aristocratic governments, but it is not perfect; sectors will only be represented so long as it is viable.

Modern “democratic governments” structured power as to represent all levels of evolved government.   Pure democracy is concentrated in the power of the vote, as all sectors make the choice of who would represent them best.   Ideally, they will choose those who will comprise the second and third level of government, namely the aristocracy and the monarchy—in democratic terms becoming Congress and the President, respectively.  However, again there is inequality.   Most of the candidates for election are those who can afford to be candidates and gain publicity–members of the aristocracy and the ruling class.  Oftentimes, parties representing weak ideologies give way to parties that are popular.    Even the most concentrated act of democratic rule–the vote–is controlled by those with superior ideology, privilege and power.

The second and third levels of government are both retained as to act as counterbalances to each other.   However, representation is mostly vested on the aristocratic level, or the Congress.   As has been the case, sectors will always be disenfranchised if their representatives are not elected in office, or the representatives decide to promote their own interests or compromise with other power blocs.

It is therefore impossible to have all sectors represented or consulted, as consensus needs to be made, and consensus is the result of ideological blocs overpowering weaker ones.   These weaker ones are dismissed—these weaker ones will be the sectors not represented.

For a Related Post:

The Fatal Flaw of Western Democracies