What is the secret democracy sauce?

What is the secret sauce?  What are the 7 herbs and spices that contribute to a well functioning democracy and civil society?  Some suggest that it is a robust and rigorous constitution and frequently point to the US Constitution.  I myself frequently like to quote the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

These are beautiful sentiments expressed beautifully.  The Fourth Amendment is also pretty good in my opinion:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Is it just the constitution?  Great Britain does not have a written constitution.  And consider for example the following from a constitution of a different nation:

Article 50.

  • … citizens of XXXX are guaranteed freedom of speech, of the press, and of assembly, meetings, street processions and demonstrations. Exercise of these political freedoms is ensured by putting public buildings, streets and squares at the disposal of the working people and their organisations, by broad dissemination of information, and by the opportunity to use the press, television, and radio.


Article 56.

  • The privacy of citizens, and of their correspondence, telephone conversations, and telegraphic communications is protected by law.

How about from a different constitution of yet a different nation:

Article 67

  • Citizens are guaranteed freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, demonstration and association. The State shall guarantee conditions for the free activity of democratic political parties and social organizations.


Article 79

  • Citizens are guaranteed inviolability of the person and the home and privacy of correspondence. No citizens can be placed under control or be arrested nor can their homes be searched without a legal warrant.

Sound pretty good.  But does anyone want to venture a guess where these came from?  The former is from the Constitution of the United Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and the later is from the Constitution of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea).

It’s not just the constitution.  It is the the separation of powers and the rule of law, which according to the Rule of Law Institute Of Australia includes the following principles:

  • The separation of powers between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary.
  • The law is made by representatives of the people in an open and transparent way.
  • The law and its administration is subject to open and free criticism by the people, who may assemble without fear.
  • The law is applied equally and fairly, so that no one is above the law.
  • The law is capable of being known to everyone, so that everyone can comply.
  • No one is subject to any action by any government agency other than in accordance with the law and the model litigant rules, no one is subject to any torture.
  • The judicial system is independent, impartial, open and transparent and provides a fair and prompt trial.
  • All people are presumed to be innocent until proven otherwise and are entitled to remain silent and are not required to incriminate themselves.
  • No one can be prosecuted, civilly or criminally, for any offence not known to the law when committed.
  • No one is subject adversely to a retrospective change of the law.

The pages of Catallaxy Files are littered with tales of the capricious and arbitrary exercise of executive power; from passage of retrospective laws, to confiscation of property and property rights without due process or due compensation to administrative agencies being given quasi judicial powers.

The Australian constitution does not need to be changed for our liberties and freedoms to be taken away (even though I would still prefer a bill of rights).  Our liberties and freedoms are slowly being taken by an ever expanding administrative state, creeping into every nook of our lives.  We swim along like boiling frogs.

And it is not just the exercise of power.  It is asymmetric warfare.  Can any individual or a small business really compete in the courts against the state in a judicial process designed for and by the state?

Has Australia passed the point of where the marginal benefits of regulations need to be greater than the marginal costs?  Are we now at a point where the beast is so big and voracious that measured marginal costs are no longer costs to the citizens but costs to the state?

There needs to be a better way, because the current pathway leads to a our own Glorious Leader.

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20 Responses to What is the secret democracy sauce?

  1. stackja

    Gough wanted a regulated Australia.

  2. pbw

    Where’s the separation of powers between the legislature and the executive in the Westminster-based systems? In party-dominated (i.e. all existing) legislatures, the legislature is the handmaiden of the executive, and the executive, except for the very occasional private member’s bill, determines what legislation will be put to Parliament.

    Our “House of Review,” IIUC, cannot propose legislation, so the virtues of dispersed power in the Senate are applied only to tinkering and obstruction.

  3. Brian

    Mark Steyn’s formula reigns – “Culture trumps Politics”.
    Meaning – you have to change the underlying predominant mindset of the people to effect a useful transformation at the political level.
    That does not mean the 2 are in synch, or that politicians cannot facility a whole lot of ruin.
    But it does mean that without a wholesome robust culture underlying any civil service or constitution there is nothing to support them being used correctly or being good for a country.
    Having been to Kenya, I am bemused how the forms of the British public service are all wonderfully in place, but everyone understands that palms must be greased to get things done, and then the results are quite shoddy.
    If you think about the overwhelming drift of our entertainment industry over time, you realise that politics is not the problem with this country. There is no prevailing concepts of decency, honesty or self sacrifice.
    Look at some of the pointless and demeaning language often invoked on this site. And everyone who uses it feels it is fully justified. There is little cultural self awareness across the political spectrum.
    I believe others have quoted here the sentiment expressed long ago – that constitutions are written for people of a certain character. Without that character prevailing at large, the constitution is just a curious historic side note.

  4. jupes

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

    Obviously written before Muslim immigrants started working their magic.

  5. Dazza

    Reading the principles of the rule of law in this article caused me to reflect upon the law of Emperor Caesar Zeno, 6th Century, Constantinople. Some points from these statutes:
    As far as understanding the law – ‘We shall to some extent avoid words ordinarily used in government affairs and shall employ those which are more commonly known so that no one who comes in touch with this law will need an interpreter.’
    The importance of contract and equality before the law – ‘Rights acquired by pacts ought not to be nullified by general laws. Your Magnificence deems for the city’s interest, preserving equality for all, so that a right granted to one may not be denied to another.’
    Consistency of laws – ‘Deeming it unworthy of our times that one law should apply in the imperial city, and another in the provinces, we ordain that the above constitution shall apply in all cities in the Roman Empire alike. Rules of the ancient law not changed by the law of Zeno shall remain in full force and effect everywhere.’
    There is truly nothing new under the sun


  6. DM OF WA

    The most troubling aspect of politics in Australia (and everywhere else) is that the dominant political parties are unanimous in their unquestioning faith in the benefits of big government and insatiable appetite for ever more laws and greater government involvement in every aspect our lives (and more taxes to fund these aspirations). There is no longer the possibility of choosing a credible alternative at the ballot box.

  7. H B Bear

    V disappointed that the “Glorious Leader” hyperlink didn’t link to Lord Waffleworth.

  8. closeapproximation

    It’s the culture, stupid.

  9. MikeS

    I used to think that the secret sauce was inherited from the British – the Westminster system and rule of law being significant components. This apparently worked while parliamentarians could be shamed by an impartial press and held to account by voters who could read.
    It also helped if the judiciary had received a real education and arrived on the bench after demonstrating intellectual capacity and an actual understanding of the law and civil institutions. It doesn’t seem to work so well when parliament is full of kleptocrats, the press hold worthless arts degrees from worthless colleges, the judges are stupid union hacks and the voters see no problem with looting the treasury.

  10. Louis

    God I am so sick of hearing of the separation of powers myth! Australia has never had a separation of powers and the High Court only started playing it up when they wanted to ignore particular laws that affected judges, most notably their salaries and pensions.

    Australia’s executive comes from the legislative and is answerable to it by vote of confidence at any sitting. The judiciary are constantly trying, and often succeeding, in making up laws.

  11. True Aussie

    1. We need our own 2nd Amendment

    2. We need to move to direct democracy

    3. We need to be able to hold the judiciary accountable

    4. We need to restrict immigration to only those countries who share similar cultural and historical ideas concerning liberty and individual rights.

    5. We need to start the deportations immediately.

  12. Congress Parliaments shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

    And I would take the second and fourth amendments as well.

    If these were added to out constitution, the number of laws that would be invalidated is quite mind blowing.
    An indicator of a shitty legislature.

  13. Joe

    WE NEED to ditch “democracy” in all it’s present forms; Formulate a limited set of universal duties of government. Randomly choose those that are to implement those duties for a limited term.
    i.e. we need a form of sortition.

  14. Bruce in WA

    A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

    Yes, please.

    Note that in this context of 1791 language, “regulated” does not mean “controlled”.

  15. Eyrie

    Let’s just adopt the US Constitution. It’s not like they are using it any more.

  16. RobK

    An aboration in the power of the constitution exists because the State constitutions precede the federal one. The enviro land grab in the name of the Kyoto protocol was effected by COAG getting the States to do the feds dirty work in exchange for funds generated by taxes. I believe herein lays a fundamental problem. It’s not just the Fed constitution but a mixture of Fed and very powerful state constitutions, which for the most part are relics of colonial antiquity. Westminster left the colonial governors a lot of leeway to sort problems autonomously. Our betters, state and Fed can use this to advantage and it leaves the governed at a distinct disadvantage having to appease two sets of rules.

  17. Zatara

    WE NEED to ditch “democracy” in all it’s present forms; Formulate a limited set of universal duties of government. Randomly choose those that are to implement those duties for a limited term.
    i.e. we need a form of sortition.

    Or is it Denis of the narco syndicalist commune?

  18. JohnA

    Great Britain does not have a written constitution

    Not quite. There is the Bill of Rights of 1689 which followed the Bloodless Revolution and was part of the deal for William 3rd & Mary 2nd to rule jointly over the UK. It forms part of the collection of documents which represent their constitution.

    And, speaking tangentially, by virtue of the various colonial succession acts, that Bill of Rights forms part of our own legal history.

  19. Barry 1963

    Keep a lid on fanatics and zealots and we will be free.

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