Danish poet and mathematician Piet Hein is known to have said that
when two people share a responsibility, there is only 1 per cent
left for each, of the responsibility, that is.
can be applied to accountability in a democracy. If responsibility
is divided equally among 2 people, the total responsibility will
be 2 times 10 to the power of –2, or 2 per cent. Now, this
math can be applied to the division of responsibility among any
number of persons that can be expressed as 2 to the power of n,
where n is a positive integer. When responsibility is divided
among 4, the total responsibility will be 4 times 10 to the power
of –4, or 0.04%. Further, when the responsibility is divided
among 8 people, the total responsibility will be 0.000008%. Consider
this applied to the Supreme Court of the United States. Of course,
the court has nine members and, thus, this binary math cannot be
applied. However, 9 justices would obviously have less responsibility
than 8, which does not give much hope. I believe it is felt by quite
a number of Americans that the court's own perceived responsibility
for upholding the U.S. Constitution is minimal. Piet Hein's wit
and this binary math and reality are hence quite in harmony.
you think the above numbers are alarmingly small, try doing the
math for the U.S. Senate or the U.S. House of Representatives, or
the U.S. Congress as a unit. If you are done doing that math, try
doing the math for the entire electorate of a mass democracy such
as the United States of America. You might object that the United
States is a republic, not a democracy. However, the federal republic
the Founders created is mostly gone, and the system which now is
in effect is basically a mass democracy, whether one likes it or
not. You might further object that it is the holders of public offices
who are to be accountable to the people, and that the people should
have no responsibility. Why should that be so? Is not the power
to put people in office a power which can do great harm? Why should
there not be any responsibility connected to such a power? The late
Erik M. R. von Kuehnelt-Leddihn has commented on the democratic
voter: "He acts in total anonymity, secrecy and legal irresponsibility."1
The people blame the politicians. The politicians blame each other,
and they actually blame the populace as well, which is more commonly
known as referring to mandates from the people.
Winston L. S. Churchill is frequently quoted when critiques of democracy
surface. However, according to von Kuehnelt-Leddihn Churchill's
quote is taken out of context and abused: "Some people like
to quote Churchill to the effect that democracy was a bad form of
government, but nevertheless better than all the others. (The mature
Churchill never believed in democracy, least of all, one suspects,
after May 1945.) But here he is once again quoted out of context.
He was merely referring to the superiority of (liberal) democracy
over u2018all the other forms that have been tried from time to time.'"
He knew only too well that democracy represented a relatively short
interlude in world history and his reference to the other forms
was aimed at the various leftist tyrannies.2
live in a monarchy3 in the outskirts
of Europe, separated from the Continent. A story from the Cabinet
proceedings is worthwhile telling. It was in the 1970's. His now
late Majesty, King Olav V had read in a newspaper about an upcoming
seatbelt regulation. Every person in the front seat of a car was
to be required to wear a seat belt. His Majesty asked simply if
the question had come to mind if the individual liberty in this
issue had been considered. Some time later the regulation was on
the Cabinet agenda. The king gave his sanction, believed by "everyone"
as his "constitutional" duty. However, His Majesty was
granted an exemption from the regulation by the police, something
he really didn't need as he had royal impunity under the Constitution,
a part of the Constitution actually observed. Now, the Norwegian
Constitution actually states that the executive power is vested
in the monarch. However, that no longer is so, and the change took
place with no formal amendment to the Constitution. Does that give
any resemblance to the political history of the United States? Kong
Fuzi, also known as Confucius, has said that if words lose their
meaning, people lose their liberty.4
Prince of Liechtenstein is an example of a monarch with considerable
real powers.5 He is accountable to
the populace. The people actually have a collective constitutional
right to remove His Serene Highness from the throne and abolish
the monarchy. This actually makes Liechtenstein ultimately a democracy.
However, His Serene Highness seems to take his responsibilities
far more seriously than most elected officials. Piet Hein's u2018axiom'
and the binary math doesn't give the erosion of responsibility as
- Erik M.
R. von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Liberty
or Equality. An
version is available at conservativeclassics.com.
quotation is from page 150 of the online version.
- Idem, Leftism
Revisited, pp. 310–1.
- For some
counterbalance against the common belief that democracy is an
advance over monarchy see
or Equality, idem, Leftism
Revisited, and Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Democracy:
The God That Failed.
-  p.
- See also
Karen De Coster, Will
Liechtenstein's Autonomy Prevail?
K. Baltzersen [send him mail]
is a senior consultant of information technology in Oslo, Norway.