Democracy: No Human Ideal, but the Form of Rule that Belongs to Capitalism Ruthless Criticism

No human ideal, but the form of rule that belongs to capitalism


Democracy presents a puzzle. It has the best of reputations with young and old, with the right and the left. Everyone thinks that he is lucky to live in a democratic state. A dictatorship would be intolerable. Where there is no democracy, revolution is legitimate; people in undemocratic circumstances must be liberated – even from outside by Western troops. Democracy is such a high value that it even justifies war.

In principle, at any rate. The esteem for this fine form of state applies more to its principle than to its reality: most people have a bad opinion of real elections. One can “barely tell the difference between the parties” and they “don’t change anything anyway” because, once in office, those elected “do whatever they want.” The citizens abhor election campaigns, in which candidates can be seen in thousands of small towns shaking hands and kissing babies, smiling from billboards. The citizens also have a bad opinion of their representatives, who give themselves enormous salaries and skip congressional debates, fiddle with the economy and tap into sources of capital on the side; just as they do about the democratic dialogue that the media organizes on talk shows; they say: there is no real debate, “politicians only repeat their slogans” and engage in posturing.

Nevertheless, the reality of democracy and the bad opinion of it cannot harm the good reputation it has in principle. But what is a good principle worth if its realization always fails so disappointingly? What does the esteemed principle actually consist of?


The Greek word democracy means “rule of the people.” The question is whether it exists as a subjective genitive or objective genitive – or both. We say: it is the people who rule. But over whom? Rule is a relationship of domination and coercion, which needs a subject and an object. This is clear when it somes to a king or a dictator, oligarchs or aristocrats: they rule over the people, and the people must obey and serve them. But if the people rule, then who must serve them? Maybe the people again? And whom do they serve? Themselves, maybe? Doesn’t the word “rule,” but also “obey” and “serve,” lose all meaning when the subject and object of rule are identical?

Does rule cancel itself out under the rule of the people? Or could it be that rule in real democracy is more complex than the Greek word tells us?


Democrats are not bothered by such inconsistencies. They are glad that the people rule, but they are also certain that the people need to be ruled; to be watched over and held under control. They regard themselves at the same time as subject and object of the authorities and think that it is neither strange nor worthy of criticism that rational beings like themselves must be forced to pursue their interests peacefully. Their interests? What do they actually exercise as interests if they obey laws that are enacted in the name of the people? This too was simpler with a king and an aristocracy: then rule was necessary to force the people to serve the rulers with luxuries and power. The interest and its means were obvious. And today?

The texts in this section clarify the democratic form of political rule; also, of course, what it has to do with the capitalist mode of economics.