Whose Democracy is it Anyway?

02/05/2012 09:40 BST | Updated 01/07/2012 10:12 BST

From Aung San Suu Kyi's Myanmar to the United States Tea Party, from Occupy Wall Street, St Paul's, the world to the Arab Spring, from Scotland (population 5.2 million) to Catalonia (population 7.4 Million), from Germany to Holland to France to Greece to Ireland to Portugal to Spain, men and women are demanding more say in how they are governed. Their language is the language of protest, triggered by a feeling that all is not well and that their lives are being led for the worse by forces they cannot control. Inevitably "the system" and those who are thought to be in charge if it (and are perceived to be its beneficiaries) have become the target of their ire. Because the old order has failed, things that were once thought rational are being abandoned and others that were once considered irrational are being entertained. But be warned! Through the door of this uncertainty strange magic can enter and tamper with our minds.

It is open season on dictators at the moment. Charles Taylor, a former warlord and president of Liberia has just been convicted for crimes against humanity. President Bashar al-Assad of Syria looks to be headed the same way. Sadam Hussein was hung by his opponents with the connivance of his former ally turned conqueror, the United States and Francisco Franco's Spain can't make up its mind whether to disinter and put on trial the victor in its civil war. For every Aung San Suu Kyi, Mahatma Ghandi or Nelson Mandela there is an Adolph Hitler, a Joseph Stalin or a Mao Tse-tung, each thought of in their time and by their followers as great. All reflect aspects of our own nature, but it has to be said that those who oppose order are more likely to become saints than those who have to instill it.

Without institutions to protect our liberty we become a fearful, unruly lot, willing to give ourselves to any demigod able to gull us into submission. Child psychoanalyst, James Herzog, suggests in times of stress, we crave a father-figure who will act on our behalf. But therein lies the road to serfdom. As Scotland moves towards a decision about its future let us not be children. Let us not invest the words Independence or Union with totemic magic. Let us not throw our unthinking lot behind any leader, however able they appear. Let us instead insist on Stanford professor John Taylor's five rules for prosperity: policy predictability, the rule of law, strong incentives, reliance on markets and a clearly limited role for government. In short, let us embrace all that enables us to be responsible for ourselves. Democracy, after all, is for us.