Thursday, November 27, 2003

Swinish Multitudes

The presidential ambitions of Filipino actor Fernando Poe Jr confirm me in the opinion that an unqualified electoral franchise in an underdeveloped country is nothing other than a guaranteed ticket to instability.

MANILA (Dow Jones)--Philippine financial markets are bracing for a slight fallout Thursday following confirmation that popular movie actor Fernando Poe Jr. will make a bid for the presidency in elections scheduled for May next year.

Investors fear an election victory for the 64-year-old Poe, a political neophyte, will lead to a repeat of the failed presidency of Joseph Estrada, himself an actor and close friend of Poe.

Estrada was elected president in 1998 with the Philippines' highest-ever margin but his presidency came to an abrupt end two-and-a-half years later due to a mass uprising amid allegations of corruption and misrule.

Not content with having experienced misrule by one crooked thespian, the people of the Philippines seem intent on repeating their mistake; but what else is one to expect of giving the indigent and illiterate a right to vote? Nowhere in the Western world did democracy emerge full-blown like Athena springing from the forehead of Zeus, and yet, whenever it is suggested that property and educational qualifications might be desirable in young democracies, the reaction is always one of outrage. I've had far too much experience with the way in which "democracy" works when impoverished illiterates constitute the majority of the voting class to buy into the delusion that "one man one vote" is always and everywhere the best policy. What usually happens in such contexts is that the name recognition of an "Erap", or a little moonshine and the odd bit of "dash" are all it takes to buy the peasants' loyalty at the voting booth.

It isn't an accident that Britain, the stablest of all the democracies, was also the one in which democratic rule emerged in the most peacemeal and organic manner; so peacemeal, in fact, that there are still 92 hereditory peers sitting in the House of Lords as of the date on which this is being written! In the fetishization of the universal franchise that is common amonst intellectuals, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that democracy is a means to a desired end, that end being a liberal constitutional order, and that those with neither the learning to value such an order, nor a financial stake in its' preservation, are unlikely to make the best guardians for it - hence, the emergence of buffoons and criminals like Estrada, Mugabe and Hugo Chavez.