The 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.
This 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.
If 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.
Sir 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
I 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
The 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 shown above.
- Erik M. R. von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Liberty or Equality. An online version is available at conservativeclassics.com. The quotation is from page 150 of the online version.
- Idem, Leftism Revisited, pp. 3101.
- For some counterbalance against the common belief that democracy is an advance over monarchy see idem, Liberty or Equality, idem, Leftism Revisited, and Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Democracy: The God That Failed.
-  p. 30.
- See also Karen De Coster, Will Liechtenstein's Autonomy Prevail?
August 29, 2003