How do democracies go wrong?

how do democracies go wrong?

Folk U Radio – With a high stakes election in the U.S.,  a sudden BC election called amidst a pandemic, and numerous local elections across Canada, the role of democracy is on many people’s minds. What works? What doesn’t? How is it that democracies can be used for personal gain and it can seem so hard to change things even when they seem to so obviously go wrong.

Photo credit: Democracy going sign by J MacPherson via Wikipedia (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

This week’s guest, Rex Weyler, is a pulitzer-prized nominated author, journalist, ecologist, co-founder of Greenpeace International, musician, educator, and immigrant. He’s a favourite at Folk University and I’m glad to welcome you here to Folk U Radio. Thank you Rex!

How do democracies go wrong?

“Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely,” is a quote by British politician Lord Acton. People use power, often unintentionally, for their own gain, even if well intentioned. Democracy attempts to disseminate this power out to more people. 

Nevertheless, democracies go wrong all the time. They do this in many ways, including:

  • The scale is wrong.  We have forms of decision-making, governments of sorts, in our households, neighbourhoods, communities, towns/cities, provinces, and countries. Yet, why decisions made on a national level effect us in our households, we have very little control or influence over national decisions. Most successful democracies—such as the ones ranked the highest on democracy health indexes—are smaller. “The U.S. and Canada,” says Weyler, “are just too big to govern from a central place.” 
  • Binary thinking. The idea of left-wing/liberal/progressive versus right-wing/conservative is an example of binary thinking. We are told that certain ideas or policies or people fit in one camp or another, yet invariably ecological systems, households, gender, are complicated issues and the left-wing versos right-wing binary is useless to help and makes it impossible to have serious conversation or debate on important issues. 
  • Disproportionate influence of wealthy and powerful international/national groups. One example is the International Democratic Union which supports right-wing governments and politicians helping them win power and elections using big money and power. This group helped elect Stephen Harper in Canada and Donald Trump in the U.S. and is now run by Stephen Harper. 

The World’s Healthiest Democracies

The world economic forum rates the world healthiest democracies at and does the Economist at

All of these ratings put: Norway, Iceland, Sweden, and New Zealand at the top of the list. 

Listen to the podcast to learn more or visit

Top photo credit: Donald Trump by DonkeyHotey via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

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