There is an old political myth in Greece which comes to many versions and goes like this: there must be somewhere a group of enlightened people who could deal effectively with all our problems if they decided to get involved with politics. This myth is based on Plato’s theory and has in its core the worship for an ideal leader: the ideological basis consists of an ideal situation, far from the current social reality, which can be distinguished only by these enlightened people. In its most popular version this ideology is reproduced in the phrase "let me govern for one day…"
The truth is that this is what we were actually doing for a very long period. For centuries the king was considered to be the representative of God's will. In a later version the king was replaced by an avant-garde, which could distinguish the historical process and speed up particular social developments by forcing societies, sometimes violently, to follow their inevitable fate. But, democracy is first of all about the denial of the existence of such an ideal situation. After thousand years of enlightened leadership (either by God or by philosophers) we realized that the solutions provided by this model were not sustainable. We have decided that what is called "best policy" is not something objective which is to be found out of the society, but something that refers to the decisions which are arbitrarily defined by the majority.
The cost of this process seems hard to bear to many temporarily thinking people. Before defining the “best solution” we need to discuss, to argue etc… Such a definition presupposes a parliament, some commissions, the judgment of decisions by the courts and independent authorities, social consensus… Moreover, among other things we should also avoid populism which is much harder to eliminate. The fathers of the American Constitution, for instance, were aware of the fact that the popular will could bring to power someone like Alcibiades. In order to prevent this from happening they agreed to the indirect election of the president via the Electoral College.
In a democratic social process black and white is not predetermined. For those who possess the absolute truth democracy is a process both hard to understand and needless. According to them their proposal should be adopted regardless of the popular will. As the representative democracy scrutinizes initial social reactions and the correspondence of the social with the political will is not simultaneous, unpopular policies cannot be adopted but for a short period. Unless there is a political solution – either through convincing arguments in favor of these policies or through a change in the route – this conflict between the government and the people will inevitably lead to demonstrations. Although there are no deadlocks in democracy, some deadlocks might occur when "Best policies" end up in non-democratic practices. The democratic process has definitely a cost. But the cost is even larger when this democratic process is missing…
Published in "Kathimerini" newspaper 2.11.2010