Direct Democracy Produces Neither Wisdom or Enlightenment

Though he supported Brexit, Dalrymple warns against referenda as means of deciding political questions, going through the four British exercises in direct democracy since the mid-20th Century, ending of course in the recent Brexit vote:

So far, these attempts at direct democracy, alien to British tradition, cannot be said to have brought much in the way of wisdom and enlightenment, let alone happiness.


The referendum of remaining or leaving the European Union was, in the words of the Duke of Wellington about the Battle of Waterloo, a damned close run thing. It could have gone either way. It gave a result that was clear without being overwhelming. It exposed social and geographic divisions that were probably better-hidden. And it exposed those with only a skin-deep commitment to majority rule, for those who lost soon claimed that those who voted the other way were uneducated, ignorant, xenophobic and racist, whose votes therefore did not really count. Moreover, just 37.5 per cent of the eligible population (a slightly higher proportion than that which voted for the Scots nationalists in the general election) voted for so a momentous decision. But to object to the results of a referendum only after the results are known, and not to the referendum as a method of deciding a question, is to show utter contempt for those who voted the other way. There a[re] few better methods of sowing social discord – which we may yet reap.

2 thoughts on “Direct Democracy Produces Neither Wisdom or Enlightenment

  1. mike boon

    I am surprised that Dr D supported Brexit.
    Given the harm that unchecked nationalism has caused in Europe I think that ,whatever its faults, an organisation that makes countries work together on many objectives is a great achievement.
    I also think that free mpvement of people (which of course is a two way street) is something to be celebrated (we may remember when the next recession occurs the people who went to Germany to work in previous downturns)
    The referenda have not in my view (as promised) settled issues:they have simply told us what we already know:that opinions are sharply divided (and awakened prejudices/passions best left sleeping

    1. Clinton Post author

      Mike, I would recommend you read this piece for Dalrymple’s views on the EU, nationalism and all the related issues:

      I think one of the primary problems is the verb “makes” in your second sentence. The violation of national soveignty represented by the EU is IMHO its greatest weakness. It strikes me as simply imperialism in a new form.

      There are good and bad sides to the free movement of people, the many violent attacks by Middle Eastern immigrants being one of the bad ones. I think most people would naturally think that whether a country does or does not allow immigrants, and from where, and in what numbers, should be their own decision rather than one imposed from without.

      I’m a free trader, and I think Britain will continue to trade with Europe. I can’t see how an unaccountable foreign power is necessary to acheive that.

      But of course well-meaning people can disagree. Best wishes and thanks for your comment.


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