In the second half of 2019, Lebanon found itself knee-deep in an economic crisis. Having the 3rd highest national debt to GDP ratio (150%) in the world, the government defaulted on its Eurobonds. Clientelism, nepotism, and random employment are some of the more direct causes. “It’s corruption”, a naive observer would say, but the problem goes much deeper than that.
According to “Information International”, the number of public sector employees in Lebanon exceeds 300,000 or a whopping 25% of the populace; enormous numbers when one considers the sheer absence of state-provided services. What led to such an inflated and inefficient public sector? Corruption is the easy answer, but what enabled corruption to run rampant?
Corruption is an inherent feature of the governance system that enables it, namely, democracy. Of democracy, Alexander Fraser Tytler said: “[It] cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship.”
Democracy in Lebanon
Democracy in Lebanon is hardly perfect. The parliament elected in 2009 extended its mandate for about 5 years citing “security instability” as an excuse. A parliament elected supposedly for 4 years gave itself permission to loot the country for 9 years.
The most recent 2018 elections had a 49.7% turn out rate. If democracy is the “rule of the majority”, is it not worth noting that the majority is not even represented in parliament?
Democracy in a Lebanese society fragmented as it is, with conflicting communities each with its own definitions of independence, sovereignty, and national identity, is the epitome of mob rule where one community, in collaboration with a few others, seeks to force its will on the others. This often translates into suppression and censorship of any critique. It is quite astonishing how so many conflicting ideologies have been forced to coexist and to fight over centralized power.
What effectively happened is that an agglomerate of incompetent charlatans managed to hold a grip on the political landscape owing to sectarian strifes that have plagued the country since its inception. Their survival in power is tied to their ability to maintain their support base, and nothing ensures that as much as making themselves a necessity by establishing a clientelism network. Pairing that with the appeal of abusing power results in a country sinking into a pit of degeneracy and corruption. The outcome is a public sector inflated by unneeded inefficient employees whose only duty is to make sure their leader gets enough votes in the next ballot. This seems like a reasonable thing to do for politicians. After all, someone else is funding their populist schemes: the taxpayers. But what happens when tax money is not enough? Politicians resort to debt (internal and external) to keep their scheme running. What happens when no one agrees to lend them more money? Politicians resort to printing money causing it to devaluate and thus wiping out the life savings of the people.
Lebanon is a peculiar case of democracy gone sour and is arguably suffering from the inevitable demise of democracy. Sectarian divisions and foreign interventions have simply hastened the downfall.
“Democracy… while it lasts is more bloody than either aristocracy or monarchy. Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.” ~ John Adams
Criticism of democracy
The purpose of democracy was that the people may have a hand in ruling themselves, a noble goal. But that raises many questions:
- Is everyone fit for leadership roles?
- Is everyone’s opinion really worth the same?
- Is right and wrong decided by a majority vote?
To answer simply, no.
“What is true, just, and beautiful is not determined by popular vote. The masses everywhere are ignorant, short-sighted, motivated by envy, and easy to fool. Democratic politicians must appeal to these masses in order to be elected. Whoever is the best demagogue will win. Almost by necessity, then, democracy will lead to the perversion of truth, justice, and beauty”, explains Hans-Hermann Hoppe.
The democratic process of elections itself is very prone to be corruptible via bribery and threats of violence. The inability of the electoral process to be exempt from perversion warrants democracy some serious criticism.
Another objectionable facet of democracy is that it is almost inevitable that the worst people are the ones who attain power. A hopeful politician has to appeal to the masses in order to be elected, and the masses are easily swayed by the empty promises of a demagogue. It’s safe to say that very few will vote for someone who calls for people to adopt their responsibilities rather than a socialist charlatan promising “free” stuff.
“Democracy is to a very large extent only a myth in practice… The high-sounding concept of individual freedom only meant the freedom of those talented few to exploit the rest.” ~ M. S. Golwalkar in Bunch of Thoughts.
Furthermore, the last 200 years seem to demonstrate that a democratic government can only operate on debt, something that is quite self-explanatory: politicians have a high-time preference; they need quick results now or they’ll simply lose their support base and with that the chance to be re-elected. Elected politicians require huge sums of money to run their democratic scheme, sums of money that are not at their disposal by simple taxation. Financing their governmental machine can be achieved by borrowing money or, more audaciously, by printing it. As the people of Lebanon recently learned the hard way, these policies result in inflation (hyperinflation, even), loss of savings, loss of jobs, and eventually a countrywide economic collapse.
Monarchism as an alternative
One thing I’ve noticed is that whenever monarchies are mentioned, people tend to think of a totalitarian tyrant right away. I find that extremely odd since not one Lebanese alive today experienced life under a monarchy. This might be the result of the educational curriculum that has to conform to the status quo imposed by the government in place. It might even be a reflection of an individual’s conceited moral superiority, as many people are quick to interject with the following whenever monarchism is brought up: “I support monarchism if and only if I am the monarch” as if to say “my self-righteous being is fit and deserving to rule over others”. Do people dismiss monarchism out of an unfounded belief that it equates totalitarianism, or do they see democracy as the safest way to exert their own totalitarian tendencies on others?
History shows that a monarch is not necessarily a dictator, just as not all politicians are humanitarians (despite all the efforts they employ to sell that image of themselves). After all, Adolf Hitler was democratically elected. No one is claiming that all monarchs are inherently good people fit to rule. However, systemic differences in the governance structure predict a contrasting performance from monarchs compared to elected politicians.
If one is to accept that some form of government is inevitable, it’s arguable that a monarchy overshadows democracy, and the following points are an attempt to elaborate that claim.
Hans-Hermann Hoppe compares a monarch to a house owner and a politician to a house care-taker. This difference most definitely affects the behavior of the ruler as far as treating the country is concerned. A politician having no claim to the stock value of the country he’s entrusted would seek to exploit it with absolute disregard for long term consequences. He would want to loot the country as fast as possible because he might not get the chance to loot it later on once his term ends. Typically, he wouldn’t care about the lasting negative effects of his actions; what matters to him is that he exploits the resources at his disposal to expand his support base in the short term. Conversely, the monarch, effectively the private owner of the country, would not engage in capital consumption, or at the very worst, he would not exploit the national resources at the expense of a more than proportional drop in the value of the country. As an owner, the monarch seeks to maintain and potentially increase the stock value of his ownership. The case of the Bisri dam is a prominent example that stirred controversy. Actual politicians focus on supplying water right now at the expense of potentially catastrophic environmental consequences later on. The mindset goes something like “I won’t be here to deal with future problems, someone else will take care of it”. Politicians have a high time preference, monarchs have a low time preference.
In the matter of national debt previously mentioned, a monarch is naturally inclined to be more thoughtful with spending because he (or his family) is personally held accountable for the debt. Politicians are not directly accountable for the debt they incur, as they always find a justification for spending on various questionable development projects. It is the responsibility of the state as an institution to keep patching up the shortcoming of its previous politicians. This deflection of responsibility has only proven to encourage more irrational spending and more debt. Historically, monarchical debt used to be a war debt that would characteristically decrease in peacetime. Democratic debt, however, proved to soar up in peacetime just as much as in wartime. Monarchs have more responsible spending compared to politicians.
It would seem that monarchies cannot guarantee benevolent kings and queens, but it can guarantee much fewer incentives for corruption than democracies. A recent study even found “robust and quantitatively meaningful evidence that monarchies outperform other forms of government when it comes to protecting property rights, which translates into higher GDP per capita”.
It is also unclear how democratization in the last two centuries is related to the improvement of the quality of life. Such betterment correlates with technological breakthroughs more than anything. It can even be argued that the world would have been infinitely richer had the absolute monarchies not been overthrown in the last century.
Some people would still reject monarchism because nothing keeps the monarch in check, but what exactly keeps deputies with legislative authority in check? One must in fact consider that a monarch has to carry the burden of his dynasty upon his shoulder. He also wants to deliver a thriving monarchy to his heir. Regicides were not very uncommon throughout the centuries, often perpetrated by close relatives to prevent smearing the dynasty name with a weak monarch.
Monarchs are bad, politicians are terrible.
Lebanon itself has known many monarchical rules, some of them were famously prosperous and were a determining factor in shaping modern-day Lebanon, most notably under the Druze Emir Fakhreddine Maan II (1572–1633).
“For the first time in a thousand years, a local leader, the paramount Druze chief, brought the communal elites of Mount Lebanon into sustained mutual interaction.” ~ William Harris in Lebanon: a History 600–2011
Emir Fakhreddine is regarded by many as the creator of the modern Lebanese identity in the Levant. He managed to expand his domain and unite the various sects under his leadership, and he established connections with the West, most notably the Duchy of Tuscany. A rare proponent of economic development in the region back then, the Mount Lebanon emirate enjoyed a prosperous economic growth during his reign. Many consider Greater Lebanon to have been a reminiscence of Fakhreddine’s emirate at its apogee.
However, the Druze emirs were not the first monarchs to rule this land. Many centuries ago, our Phoenician ancestors, also known as Canaanites, organized themselves in city-states monarchies and formed the first true trading civilization in the world. The Phoenician civilization lasted nearly 2000 years with barely any record on internal conflict. They reveled in some of the richest cities the ancient world had seen and managed to dominate the Mediterranean without an army.
Reverting to monarchism now seems like a far-fetched fantasy, almost as far-fetched as the actual politicians allegedly saving the country from the crisis they instigated. This essay tried to shed light on the drawbacks of democracy, let alone a confessional representative democracy, in a country torn apart by its ever feuding communities. Even Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a proponent of direct democracy, admitted that it works solely in city-states, like his native Geneva, and that a benevolent monarch is preferable in larger states.
On the eve of the centennial of Greater Lebanon, it is time to re-assess the viability of a centralized confessional representative democracy in this day and age, and whether it can manage the multicultural mosaic imposed on this small stretch of Levantine coast.