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I have been stewing over a question for the past few days: Why haven't people come up with a new form of governance that is much better than democracy and eliminates the current intrinsic faults with the present idea of democracy?

Something much more efficient especially with the increased aspect of globalization, technology, and access to remote areas of a country.

A bit of context: Due to utter boredom, I was re-reading my old Grade 10 CBSE Political Science (Indian Curriculum) textbook and there was a section about the de-merits/faults of democracy. There was also a blue box at the bottom that said that although Democracy has its faults, it's currently the most workable form of governance. Although it still didn't highlight why new and better forms of governance aren't being created.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Please remember that answers should go in the answer box. :)
    – JJJ
    Jul 17 at 19:11
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There's two things going on here:

First, democracy isn't so much a single structure, but rather a concept that expresses itself in ranges. Experimentation with new governmental structures does actually happen, and these include structures which are slightly more, or slightly less 'democratic' in nature. The result of this isn't revolutionary change, but instead a gradual evolution of systems and structures on timescales that exceed human lifetimes.

This isn't a new observation, either. Charles Lindblom coined the term "Muddling Through" to describe the gradual, evolutionary nature of governance structures in response to new discoveries, understandings, and environments.

I can't imagine answering this question without raising Churchill's (in?)famous line:

Democracy is the worst form of government -- except for all the others that have been tried.

Second, it is not the business of existing governments to experiment with the nature of governance. That sort of activity is properly the realm of political philosophers, revolutionaries, and thought leaders. By definition, a government's job is to preserve a status quo - keep things going along their way: by whatever avenue you believe a government to derive legitimacy, it is that source that has the authority/legitimacy to choose a new recipient of it's delegated governmental power, a government taking on that mission exceeds its mandate.

Consequently, new governments crop up when there is a vacuum - the United States' current democratic republic didn't exist at all until it was created through ratification of the U.S. Constitution.

Experimentation with new government structures has serious ethical risks, and governments are more concerned with preventing harm than they are with seeking gains.

Within the realm of political philosophy, work is being done on this. Scholars are observing, and suggesting possible future solutions to, the various failures of democratic systems all the time. Many works of speculative fiction can be seen as thought experiments in this regard. So this work is happening, it's just not being done by governments because it's above that government's pay grade.

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    As an example of the first point. tweaking democratic institutions has been on the menu lately, for example with various initiatives to ensure a minimum representation for women in legislative assemblies. Jul 16 at 15:44
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    Thanks for responding! I did think of one aspect of your answer and I was about to edit it into the question: Why aren't more political philosophers experimenting with the form of governance? For example, one thing this new form of governance can do is improve slow responsiveness and have more representation. Jul 16 at 15:46
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    They are, but such an idea needs TREMENDOUS buy-in before it has any chance of replacing an existing structure. A quick Google brought up ceupress.com/book/… - a 2019 text on alternatives to Democracy. (This is not an endorsement, just pointing out that this work is happening, but it's a very in-the-weeds topic so it fails to gain public salience.) Jul 16 at 15:49
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    Increases in voter ignorance don't have to be caused by governments. It seems more likely to me that it's due to the high cost of information, generally. Taking time to learn things requires a LOT of time, and time = money soooooo. Jul 16 at 16:04
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    Impressive that you managed to turn such an open-ended question around with an on-point answer. And another subject of tweaks is proportional representation attempts, via sometimes exotic counting methods, versus first-past-the-post elections. Jul 16 at 18:14
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People have been trying to create "something better than Democracy" for at least the past century and it hasn't worked very well

The 20th century was the bloodiest century in human history in large part because people were trying to implement alternatives to the set of socio-economic arrangements we broadly call "democracy" that they thought were "better." Some examples:

  • Fascism (e.g. Mussolini's Italy, Nazi Germany)
  • Communism (e.g. Soviet Union, Mao-era People's Republic of China)
  • Theocratic rule (e.g. post-revolutionary Iran)
  • Other less ideological forms of authoritarianism (current People's Republic of China, Putin's Russia)

"Better" here, is in the eye of the beholder. Even if all of the countries I've cited as examples may not have exactly had "democracy" to start with, they pursued these other forms of governance deliberately because people in power in these places thought "democracy" would be worse than the system they preferred.

UPDATE

There's been an excessive amount of pedantry in the comments over my claim that "the 20th century was the bloodiest century in history", as well as my attributing that bloodshed to "social issues." I will deal with each of these in turn.

The Bloodiest Century

It is the consensus view of historians pretty much everywhere that a greater number of human beings were killed by wars, genocides, and other "anthropogenic disasters" in the 20th century than in any other century. Estimates for how many people died vary, but the range is between 110 million and 270 million depending on what events you count and whose numbers you believe. For context, a high estimate I found of the death toll of all forms of "anthropogenic disasters" that occurred before the 20th century was 133 million, for all prior recorded human history.

I do not make the claim that the 20th century killed the largest percentile share of the human population at any given time in human history. I do not know if it did or if it did not (it's probably a contest between Genghis Khan and the 20th century if I believe this chart). I also do not care because this bit of trivia does not affect the point of the answer, which is that the 20th century was marked by violent attempts to implement forms of governance that are not "democracy." The questioner asked "why has/is nobody tried/trying to do something other than Democracy" and the answer basically is "well, they already did/already are."

Why did all of these people die?

From the comments:

The 20th century had access to industrialised militaries, i.e. we had the ability to kill on scales never before reached. Why are you blaming that instead on social issues?

There are two reasons: said militaries were deployed to kill people specifically because of these "social issues", and militaries did not cause all of the deaths attributable to implementing alternatives to democracy.

Tanks do not drive themselves; they are driven by humans who spent a great deal of time in the 20th century involved in ideological disputes. Consider the following non-exhaustive list of 20th century conflicts:

  • World War II, a war that started when a country that had just rejected democracy (Germany) decided it should invade its neighbors and bring them under their rule.
  • The Cold War, which involved several wars (Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, a whole bunch of smaller ones) waged by proxy between the United States, the Soviet Union, and other states aligned with those superpowers. All of these wars involved someone trying to implement communism somewhere. Communism is a mutually-exclusive alternative to "democracy".

These two alone account for a majority of war deaths in the 20th century; about 66 million people died in World War II and about 20 million died during the Cold War, regardless of which specific conflict they died in.

What about non-military deaths? Well, it turns out, we had a few famines in the 20th century. One thing people don't really realize about famines is that they are often the result of deliberate human action. There were two very notable famines in the 20th century that were deliberately part of an attempt to implement alternatives to "democracy":

  • The Great Chinese Famine, which is widely regarded as the worst famine in human history. The Great Chinese Famine was caused by the Great Leap Forward, a deliberate program to convert China from having an agrarian society to a communist society. It didn't go well.
  • The Holodomor was a deliberate famine orchestrated by Joseph Stalin to kill large numbers of people in Ukraine who were interested in independence from the Soviet Union. It turns out you don't need an industrialized military to deliberately kill millions of people.
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    Much more than a century. The ancient Greeks were busy at it. It is a significant part of what Plato was writing about in The Republic, just as one example.
    – puppetsock
    Jul 16 at 19:03
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    @puppetsock Very correct. Updated the answer accordingly, however minor that is (though I kept the examples recent specifically because I think the question suffers from recency-bias).
    – Joe
    Jul 16 at 19:07
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    You might point out that the combined attempts above resulted in a couple of hundred million people dying.
    – user4012
    Jul 16 at 20:22
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    @user4012 Arguably "no change" has also resulted in a non negligible death toll. Democracies also start wars, leave people to starve, leave people without adequate medical care, and fail to manage pandemics well.
    – Clumsy cat
    Jul 17 at 10:22
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    @CJDennis Because approximately 60 million of the 187 million people who died as a result of all of the attempts to implement alternatives to democracy did so without industrialized militaries doing anything. Read up on the Holodomor and the Great Leap Forward.
    – Joe
    Jul 17 at 11:42
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There are experiments underway.

Iran is working hard to develop a country that is both theocratic and a representative democracy. Afghanistan and Iraq have also recently adopted constitutions with this objective, and Morocco and Egypt have toyed with the idea.

Nigeria's federal system has given rise to a system in which Northern states in the Sahel have become Islamic governments on a Middle Eastern and North African model, while the Southern states have continued to be Western style, Christian-animist states typically of countries in the relatively early stages of economic development.

Few other countries have maintained this kind of stark divide at a subnational level in a federal system and it isn't clear that the experiment will continue to work, although there are some similarities in Bosnia.

Iraq, and Lebanon's systems of power sharing between competing ethnicities on something other than a raw population basis. Israel and India both have non-uniform family and probate laws particular to the religion of the people involved in these private law matters.

Somalia's new governmental regime is quite innovative with a major focus on indirect election of legislators representing key power factions and on gender balance. South Sudan's new regime has some similarities to this approach.

China has drifted far afield from Stalinist style Communism, in favor of a system with non-partisan elected local officials, a politically responsive one party democracy at higher levels of government, property rights that are recognized but are far less absolute and secure than in Western style legal systems, harsh criminal responses to corruption, and far more control over the private lives of individuals than the West. Some Western conservative politicians have admired the consistent high levels of economic growth that this systems has produced, to its military strength, to its merchantalist trade policies, and to its control of its people. Some Western liberals have responded favorably to its massive infrastructure investments and its alleviation of global poverty at unprecedented rates.

Many countries in China's sphere of influence have sought to, or been compelled as a matter of political reality, to emulate its system.

Cuba started as a Stalinist style regime but has innovated in the direction of very progressive social democratic style policies, but without letting go of its authoritarian aspects.

Countries like Singapore have started more firmly from a Western political economy model but have also borrowed heavily from China's playbook when its comes to authoritarianism and high levels of government owners (especially in the housing sector).

Switzerland's highly federal system with unprecedented levels of direct initiative and referendum style law making remains a unique experiment.

A wide range of systems for selecting government officials, ranging from pure first past the post elections from single members districts, to very pure proportional representation list systems. Some countries have unicameral legislatures, while others have bicameral systems (with or without real power in an upper house). Some bicameral systems have indirectly elected upper houses or appointed or hereditary upper houses, while others have directly elected upper houses. Some countries are constitutional monarchies, some are "republics" (in the sense of having no hereditary officials), and some are absolute monarchies. Malaysia has a rotating council of monarchs. There are European mini-states with co-rules (one democratic and one hereditary), and with a theocratically selected sovereign. Some elections have heavy public funding, others are mostly funded by special interests.

The United States has features like the electoral college and the right to bear arms that are unique to it. There have historically been military forces where rank and file soldiers elect their own officers, and militaries in which soldiers and airmen provide their own gear at their own expense.

Bhutan has done all sorts of atypical things in how it conducts its governmental affairs, such as its focus on a National Happiness Index, rather than it's GDP.

There are only about 200 countries in the world, and many of them have followed the handful of models that were popular when those countries were established, and the institutional and legal inertia make political institutions hard to change, so there are only so many variants that are possibly in existence at any one time.

These are real people's lives at stake too, so decision makers are naturally wary of untried experiments. If someone comes up with a proven compelling innovation somewhere, it will no doubt be copied. But there are lots of risk and there is little reward, in trying something new that might not work, if there is an alternative proven solution that could be used instead.

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    This is a really cool summary. I'd love to read a paper/thesis/review on this theme. Do you know of one?
    – Clumsy cat
    Jul 17 at 10:19
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    Pretty sure that China's political system is nothing new. They've basically just reinvented fascism as they ditched the aspects of communism that don't work, though they'd object strenuously to being described that way for historical/ideological reasons.
    – nick012000
    Jul 17 at 10:21
  • You mean like Russia? They seem post democracy to me.
    – Jasen
    Jul 17 at 10:30
  • Since your answer already summarizes different approaches, you might add the Pirate Parties, that at least toy with Liquid democracy and use or used that for part of their decision making: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liquid_democracy#Pirate_Parties That they didn't get voted in may indicate not enough support for such ideas (or that they are flawed or it could have other sources but at least it's an indicator that there are such ideas being brought up and not getting enough traction to change the system (quickly)) Jul 17 at 15:58
  • Stalinism != communism. Maoism != communism. These were tyrants who paid lip service to Lennon and others, in order to curry favor with funding sources and to fool their populations.
    – jwdonahue
    Jul 18 at 3:51
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The theoretical answer is because it is either hard or impossible. Why aren't there fishes that swim 2000 miles/hour and mammals that weigh 3000 tons? Because certain realities (physics, chemistry, biology) make it impossible to work. Simply saying "make a governance system that is better" is not enough. You need to propose specific system, with nitty gritty details - and as any engineer/designer will tell you, "the devil is in the details". Things that seem obvious and simple without considering detailed problem in exact context, end up being anything BUT simple, when the rubber hits the road.

The practical answer is because incentives. Humans are incentivized to do what is better for them. Which means,

  • those in power, work to keep and increase their power - and very rarely that path is even remotely co-incidental with "come up with a new form of governance that is much better than democracy". Some of their efforts may end up being an improvement, but generally it's done because it improves things for their power base.

  • The people not in power in most part want stability, and being able to get income, feed their kids and get their entertainment. As long as they got their panem et circenses, they are not going to expend an effort to "come up with a new form of governance that is much better than democracy" - which includes doing something explicitly or even voting for someone who would.

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There are demerits of democracy but there isn't something yet that is better than democracy.

Efforts are made to be "more democratic". Still these demerits wouldn't disappear. And to increase efficiency, sometimes, democratic values become less.

Alternate forms of government are there. Those too have demerits.

A better form of government won't be there. Values of freedom, and liberty and efficiency using technology is being explored. That is the only thing that can be done: i.e maintaining democratic values while increasing the efficiency using technology, cleverness, etc.

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  • Thanks for responding! My question is more like "Why aren't people trying to create something better than democracy?" Jul 16 at 15:53
  • What else (i.e better) can be there? Ultimately, it would still be a democracy with better efficiency. The democratic values are the core and found to be the best of any forms of governance.
    – Gary 2
    Jul 16 at 15:56
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    We can't necessarily conclude Democracy is the best, right? Until a few centuries ago, didn't people think Authoritarian rule was the norm and the best? Jul 16 at 16:00
  • And also we won't know what else (i.e better) can be there until we give thought and experiment, right? Jul 16 at 16:01
  • Unless of course, you provide rights to animals and plants.
    – Gary 2
    Jul 16 at 16:02
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Experimenting with different forms of governments while maintaining the socio-economic system constant is simply an utopia and an impractical mental exercise. How did the slave conditions change under the Roman senate versus the dictatorship of the Caesars?

The plurality of liberal democracy is in correspondence with the diversity of the socio-economic capitalist system. The so called democratic socialist/popular republics of the XX century (including China and Cuba) were rather totalitarian and dictatorial regimes determined by the militarization required to preserve socialist socio-economic relations under prevailing capitalist international relations. Mussolini proposed the state as a category above the social classes and associated struggle; the fascist state didn’t change the economic infrastructure, and its government became a totalitarian dictatorship.

Democracy is nothing more than a system that allows for the discourse of opposing ideologies and interests that compete for the authority that the electorate vest on them. It is not a requirement to be perfect for it to be functional. But it must be functional for it to be made perfectible and more participative in time. Destroy it, and sooner than later we will be fighting on the streets to reinstate it...

Defining an optimal form of government is not an experimental problem, but a practical one. There is no experimentation in political science or philosophy that allows to measure or corroborate our ideas a priori; we pay dearly for our ideological bias and errors in praxy.

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  • Please remember that political and economic systems are always on a scale. There is nothing like an purely democratic/communist/capotalist system. For democracy, for example, on the one end you have systems that are democratic in name only (e.g. North Corea), systems where opposing parties are allowed but heavily restricted (e.g. Russia), barely functional two-party systems where the choice is between bad and worse and thus politicians are not held accountable for anything (e.g. USA) ...
    – Dakkaron
    Jul 19 at 4:53
  • ... and actually democratic countries with many parties, but which always face the threat that an illiberal party is elected and then removes the democracy (e.g. mainland Europe). A similar scale exists with capitalism/communism. Ther is a scale from predominantly communist systems (e.g. China), where most aspects of economics are state-controlled (but a capitalist sector and private property still exists), over socialist systems (e.g. most parts of Europe), where the system is predominantly capitalist, but mandatory social security systems limit poverty, ...
    – Dakkaron
    Jul 19 at 5:00
  • ... and predominantly capitalist systems like the USA, which will happily let people die of simple medical conditions because they don't have enough money for treatment, but where there is still market oversight, so that the capitalist system still kind works and doesn't immediately turn into a huge monopoly.
    – Dakkaron
    Jul 19 at 5:06
  • @Dakkaron. With respect economic system, I simply use marxist definition of what would constitute socialist republic or under the transition period known as the proletariat dictatorship; simply put, abolition of the bourgeoisie as a social class by the elimination of private ownership over means of production. In this sense, only the URSS and Eastern European satellites, China before the reform, North Korea, Yugoslavia, and Cuba, do I consider as socialist; by definition, then, other European countries popularized as socialist are not; whose economic policies seems more Keynisian than marxist
    – ajbg
    Jul 19 at 21:01
  • ... I’d agree there are democracies as democratic as the Taliban... the discussions about how much democratic each of these forms usually leads to ideological and dogmatic points of views, and a waste of time. However, we can differentiate according to the type of democracy being particularly considered, liberal, popular, socialist, constitutional, etc.
    – ajbg
    Jul 19 at 21:09
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A better system will not/can not be born out of the current one.

For this post I will assume the democratic definition of better: if power is spread more evenly among the population and power of each individual is limited, there is less ability to abuse said power. This is simplified and debatable, but I don't have a lot of space in this post.

The reason for that is, that people who are currently in power would need to change the system in a way that limits their power. That rarely happens.

For example, the US democratic system has major flaws, that pretty much everyone agrees on: it's a two-party system, having a lot of money boosts your chances enormously, and there are glaring holes in the system like the Electoral College.

But, once a politician managed to actually use the system to get into power, most politicians are reluctant to change the system, since it might limit them from power.

So if a system changes from within the system, it is usually more towards a dictatorship, as seen e.g. in Hungary, Turkey or Russia.

Most of the time when mayor change happens, it is from outside of the system, e.g. via occupations or revolutions.

The organisation of revolutions often have very centralised power structures. This, more often than not, leads to centralised power structures after the revolution, as seen e.g. in the French Revolution or almost all Communist Revolutions.

Another detrimental factor is that governmental systems that derive from revolutions are often experimental and those experiments often turn out quite differently from the expectation (as seen with e.g. Communist countries).

Rarely, revolutions can actually lead to more freedom, but that is the exception.

Failed revolutions almost always lead to less freedom, as e.g. seen in Syria or Turkey.

This leaves occupations. Sometimes occupying forces try to change the political system of an occupied country. This can be to install puppet governments (which don't tend to increase freedom) but also to improve the political system of the occupied countries. This frequently fails (as e.g. in Afghanistan) but rarely, it also works (as in Western Germany and Austria).

So all in all, political change is hard, especially towards more freedom.

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  • All current governments are essentially compromises that seemed expedient at the time of their formation. Most are oligarchies wearing the robes of whatever kind of governance scheme fits the local culture and is within the reach of their respective oligarchs. Democracies are no different than any of the other forms of government. Ultimately, money is the root of all of all power.
    – jwdonahue
    Jul 18 at 3:57
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Others have remarked on how hard it is to think of something better than democracy. There's a Winston Churchill quote (that I'm too lazy to get the exact wording) along these lines: Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried.

There is another aspect to it. Suppose that a particular government is in power. They got there through whatever the current process is in that country. Elections, theocratic appointment, trial by ordeal, what-have-you. So the current powers-that-be are sitting on top of the current system. They are not keen to have an entirely new system.

They may want tweaks and variations and tiny changes. But they rarely want to rip down the existing system and try something else.

So there is a strong tendency for the in-power group to want to squash any talk of changing the system. And, since they are in power, they have lots of ways of doing that squashing.

For examples you need only look at the news following nearly any election.

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    It can be very helpful to read all of the answers. In this case, someone mentioned the (accurate) Churchill quote 4 hours earlier. I also feel Olwuillike's answer was similar enough to yours, near the bottom. Jul 17 at 0:14

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