Making the World Democratic
August 20, 2002
During turbulent times like the present, Americans
make fervent appeals to democracy, which they equate with
freedom. President Bush is eager to impose democracy on Iraq and other
countries whose governments he disapproves of. Woodrow Wilson only
wanted to make the world safe for democracy: Bush wants
to make the whole world democratic. Everyone seems to take for granted
that democracy is the ideal form of government.
Why? Whats so
great about majority rule? A majority may be as tyrannical as a single
dictator, and majorities have often deprived minorities and individuals of
their rights exploited, enslaved, and murdered them. Democratic
Athens executed Socrates.
Majority rule has its
uses, as long as it doesnt threaten or violate more fundamental
principles, A chess club can elect its officers, but it cant vote to
change the basic rules of chess; or it ceases to be a chess club.
Most great political
philosophers since Plato have dreaded democracy, fearing that demagogues
would stimulate and exploit the selfish passions of the majority. The best
recent critique of democracy is Hans-Hermann Hoppes book
Democracy: The God That Failed.
The Framers of the U.S.
Constitution took great pains to create a republican system in which
majority rule would be tempered and inhibited by many restraints. They
thought the best guarantee of freedom was to specify the powers of
government and to limit it strictly to those powers.
Nevertheless, we now
talk as if America, freedom, and democracy were all the same thing.
Its assumed that government may justly do almost anything,
provided it does so with majority support.
dont owe our freedoms to democracy. We owe them to older legal
traditions, inherited from Anglo-Saxon law: habeas corpus, due process of
law, the presumption of innocence, the right to a trial by ones
peers, et cetera. The Framers of the Constitution were wise enough to
preserve these protections against arbitrary state power.
Constitution, unfortunately, has failed to provide sufficient safeguards.
Its protections have been undermined by democracy. The Bill of
Rights says that nobody can be deprived of his property without
due process of law. That means an individual trial in which the
defendant is proved to have forfeited his property by his own acts.
deprives all of us of our property through taxation and inflated currency.
The average citizen would have to commit a serious crime in order to be
fined the amount he is forced to pay the government in annual taxes. He is,
in effect, severely punished without a trial for living in a
Yet he is told that he
is blessed to live in a democracy. Why? Because he can vote! And if he is
outvoted by people who want the government to take his money and give it
to them? Well, too bad. Those are the breaks. And after all, he can use his
vote to defend himself against other voters. That, he is taught, is freedom.
Of course this is a bad
joke. The individual vote matters in a jury trial, because it can decide the
verdict, especially when a unanimous verdict is required. But when
millions vote and a bare majority is decisive, the value of the individual
vote is near zero. One economist has calculated that you are more likely to
be run over on your way to the polls than to make any difference with your
No wonder democracy
has been defined as two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have
for lunch. So much for the idea that voting is a fundamental
freedom, or that it protects freedom. The more democratic the U.S.
Government has become, the larger and more rapacious it has become. The
lambs keep losing the elections.
The principle of
democracy is bad enough in itself. But in practice democracy also breeds
corrupt politicians, intent on short-term gain for themselves. The brevity
of their tenure gives them an incentive to make hay while the sun shines.
Bribery, often in technically legal forms, is rife, and a suspicious number
of our public servants retire with fortunes that seem a bit
out of line with their salaries.
No, the world
doesnt need more democracies. It needs more freedom a
vastly different thing.