Let me eat cake! A thought experiment on the value of democracy

Imagine a resturant where dessert is served not by a set menu, but by all the customers voting on what kind of dessert will be served. The resturant claims to represent the desires of the customers. If the customers desire a certain dessert, they will provide it. However, whatever dessert wins out is the only dessert the customers can buy.

The resturant has three chefs. The first chef will provide ice cream.

The second chef will provide pudding.

The third chef will provide cake.

The customers vote and the majority will determine the dessert being served that evening. More often than not, the majority will vote for cake to be served.

One day, the chef that serves cake leaves and we are left with the two chefs. They continue to offer serving either ice cream or pudding. The customers over time begin to ask the two chefs to offer cake. However, the two chefs tell the customers that they will not provide that option. This is not due to them lacking the skills or resources to do so, but due to them being simply unwilling to do so.

The question that can be asked from this thought experiment is: does the resturant still represent the desires of the customers?

I think that the resturant does not represent the desires of the customers. It is clear to the resturant what the majority of customers desire, but is going against those wishes. If someone claimed they were still representing the desires of the customers because they could still choose to vote on ice cream or pudding, no one would find this objection impressive. Even if the majority preferred ice cream over pudding and those wishes were being delivered, what the majority truly desire is still being kept from them.

The analogy I draw from this thought experiment is the concept of democracy. Democracy comes from the word Demos, which translates as “the common people“. A democracy therefore is rule by the common people. In most western democratic societies it is delivered as a representative democracy, where the people vote for politicians that represent their interests. However, in common understandings of democracy it is usually contrasted with dictatorships. This tends to imply that the test of whether a country is democratic is if you can vote or not.

The ability to vote is of course a necessary condition of being democratic, but this thought experiment can show that it is not a sufficient condition. If you have the choice between two political parties and neither of them represent the interests of the common people, then it cannot be called in the true sense a democracy. It doesn’t matter how many options are available to you to vote on, there needs to be at least one available that represents the common people.

The recent elections in the United States for the democratic primary are a useful example. At this stage, senator Bernie Sanders will seem to be one possessing the majority of pledged delegates and the raw majority vote. The only doubt is whether the superdelegates will side with Sanders to secure the nomination. If they do not side with Sanders in spite of possessing the majority vote and the most pledged delegates by a sizeable margin, then they cannot claim to represent the common people any more than the resturant can claim to represent the wishes of their customers.

This is why I take a position of Bernie or bust instead of blue no matter who. Bernie or bust makes explicit that undermining democracy will not be accepted. Blue no matter who although well meaning, expresses acceptance of the undemocratic behaviour being practiced. When we talk about democracy, we should always remember the value of democracy. We should be able to have our cake and eat it too, democracy depends on it.