Are the forms so very important?

Have you ever heard of a tyrant who wasn’t also an idealist? From Caesar to Lenin a great many have literally stepped over corpses in order to destroy democratic forms of government and seize power as dictator. Yet what is often most scary to sworn democrats is that many of these peoples’ intentions match our own. Take Caesar for example. By today’s standards he was a barbarous, genocidal maniac. And yet if it were not for he the land reforms would not have passed. That famous success story of the Empire; that not only Italians could gain in power and become Senators or more, would never have come to pass. Indeed it is quite likely that without Caesar inequality would have continued to grow, until it so threatened security that it brought down the Republic.

Thus my question is this: just as with businesses we are more concerned with what they sell than matters of corporate governance, should we not be more concerned with the left/right disputes than with our system of government? Would you rather live in a democracy where the government never did as you saw fit? Or would you rather live in a dictatorship where you agreed with every action taken?


  • You’ve posed a leading question asking us to choose either of an extreme. Secondly, how could we live in a democracy where the government never did as the majority of people saw fit? Surely this wouldn’t be a democracy if the government didn’t listen to the people?

    But I see your point that from bad can come good, and implicitly, from good can come bad.

    To this I would add the phrase “all’s well that ends well”, and use it to illuminate that these types of events occur commonly in all facets of life.

    Your question of does the form really matter is similar to the philosophical question of “does the means justify the end”.

    To cut my argument short and get straight to a conclusion I would say no it doesn’t, because the “end” is only a promise of what will be, and you shouldn’t make large sacrifices on rhetorical promises, i.e. we will all be better off if we take some drastic actions that are against our natural ideas of what is right and just.

    Instead if we do focus on the means/form then we have a much greater ability to control this, since it occurs in the present time, and if it does not lead to the best of ends then at least we can satisfy ourselves with not having done unnecessary and collateral damage.

    • As democrat I agree with the substance of your argument. However it’s a tad simplistic to simply say that we have greater control over what’s nearer to the present time. What should a businessman care for more? Inputs over which he has control like resources, rules, organization structure etc? Or should he be more concerned with the outputs and ultimate outcome? Most of us today would say the latter, which is one reason among many why I’m amazed that so few want to make arguments against democracy.

      As an example think of the uk’s coalition government. They’ve spent most of their non deficit tackling time on political reform. None of these are big enough in my view, but even if they were people would still be justified in saying that they’ll see little real benefits in the near future. Indeed in many, even most, ways controlling the form is far more long term and difficult than enacting other policies. It was the problem Augustus faced. He enacted the policies that he wanted, but died frustrated over the problem of succession. By destroying the Republic he had achieved the short term goals but neglected the increased long term risk.

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