Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Column on Why Democracy isn't enough

Why Democracy Isn't Enough

Tibor R. Machan

Democracy, the rule of the majority of the politically active, isn't
freedom. Even if President George W. Bush and many other politicians are
confused about it, unrestrained democracy isn't really much of an
improvement over tyranny--it merely multiplies those needed to impose
tyrannical rule. It's still tyranny because some people coerce others in
various ways, mostly by making them work for goals they haven't chosen of
their own free will. And why is it better to be coerced in such a way, by
many people, rather than by just one and some of his or her thugs? It

Yet millions of Americans and people across the globe appear to have
succumb to the allure of unlimited democracy. Is this because they hope
for gathering up enough other people to support their various causes to
form a majority and subdue the rest? Is it because they misunderstand the
value and extent of democracy? Whatever the reason, democracy cannot trump
individual rights--which is why lynch mobs are such widely known examples
of democracy having run amuck.

There is something about democracy that's right. This is that when it
comes to public affairs, all citizens have the right to have an input.
It's only just that they would since the public realm is their realm,
everyone's realm. But what exactly is the public realm?

It is whatever is of concern to all citizens as citizens--not by
accident, such as they may all love baseball. That doesn't make baseball a
public concern, even if all citizens love it. Public policy, public
affairs, the public interest, and all such uses of "public" involve what
concern us all as citizens. And there is really just one thing that fits
this bill--the securing of our rights. The American Founders, whose most
famous ideas are celebrated on the Fourth of July, knew this. Even the
framers were pretty loyal to the notion when they said, in the Fifth
Amendment, that no private property may be taken unless it is for a public
purpose. Why? Because a public purpose is really the combined private
purpose of us all as citizens, that which concerns us because we are part
of a freely organized human community. And that, in the American political
tradition, is all about making sure we all are and continue to be free,
not anyone's slave, serf, involuntary servant, subject, or the like. That
is what is the paramount public purpose in a free society.

Liberal democracy--or what now might best be called libertarian
democracy--is all about everyone having a say about who is to secure our
liberty, what means to use for this public purpose, and certain other but
strictly limited related matters. Anytime democracy is deployed for
something else in connection with politics, it is misapplied. (You can, of
course, have something akin to democracy in voluntary groups like Rotary,
Kiwanis, or Elks, but, notice, it only involves those who have joined!)

If in a local community the majority want a swimming pool, it is a misuse
of democracy for them to force everyone to pay for this because swimming
is not a public matter, not of concern to citizens as citizens. If,
however, a community needs to get a new sheriff, then democracy has
everything to do with this since the sheriff serves everyone in the
capacity of peace officer, protector of individual rights. Conference
centers, parks, schools, libraries and all such things are not public
concerns, even if many, many members of the public are interested in them
and would benefit from them. So to impose the cost of these on people who
aren't willing to support them is unjust, a form of forced labor. (Even
when a genuine public purpose is at stake, imposing the cost on all is
unjust, but let me leave that issue to the side for now.)

Sadly, few people around the world are firmly enough committed to this
limited use of democracy and, so, when they champion democracy, who knows
what they are after. Are they merely interested in mob rule? Are they
concerned with widespread participation in proper public affairs? It's not
clear. And because so few have in the past been free to take part in
public policy determination, they somewhat recklessly embrace democracy
however illiberal it may be. It's time to get clear on the issue, though:
Democracy is just only when properly restricted to bona fide public

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