The reunification of Germany did not follow a consultation of the citizenry. There was no plebiscite in 1990, and we should possibly be very glad that there was not. Today we woke to the news that once again referenda failed to meet the expectations of the politicians who chose to resort to this pseudo-democratic device. In Hungary and in Colombia there are people wondering how it all could have gone so badly wrong.
This is, of course, a question David Cameron will be asking for the rest of his life and the consequences of his monstrous miscalculation will be felt in Britain, in Europe and well beyond for many years to come.
Some are bold enough to pose awkward questions...
"Consider an alternative political system known as epistocracy. Epistocracies retain the same institutions as representative democracies, including imposing liberal constitutional limits on power, bills of rights, checks and balances, elected representatives and judicial review. But while democracies give every citizen an equal right to vote, epistocracies apportion political power according to knowledge or competence."
An almost heretical proposition, the disenfranchisement of the ignorant... plebiscites with plebs excluded! But who would formulate the test needed to determine who might be qualified to cast a vote and what questions would be asked? Maybe there would have to be a referendum about that!
At the risk of introducing yet another obscure term, let me dwell for a moment on the concept of ochlocracy or 'mob rule'. This posits the overwhelming of governments by a mass of people, the intimidation of established legitimate authorities. The Latin phrase 'mobile vulgus’, meaning ‘the fickle crowd’, begins to take on new significance after the advent of the mobile phone. That fickle crowd... blogging, tweeting, 'friending' and 'liking' and above all digitally disseminating opinions in preference to facts... will not quiet down any time soon. The Vox Populi is loud, diverse and at worst contradictory and incoherent and it cannot be placated by the offer of a referendum question demanding a simple 'yes' or 'no' answer.