Monday, April 05, 2010

Democracy Leads to Lies & Worse

Tibor R. Machan

Democracy is not all bad, don't misunderstand me. It is only bad when it becomes the central political principle.

In a free society some democracy is necessary because it amounts to everyone having a say in political matters, something that's their right. To refuse to acknowledge this right is to deny an important freedom to some, those left out.

The real issue about democracy is what is the scope of politics. If it is, as it should be, minimal, the scope that it must have in a free country, there is no problem with democracy. Let us do vote on who gets to be the sheriff, the presiding officer, or on the city council, provided these folks aren't permitted to meddle in matters that are not their proper job.

But once democracy expands its reach beyond this limited realm of minimal politics, it leads to all kinds of corruption. Like facilitating larceny and oppression. If the many vote themselves the belongings of the few, this is corruption. If the many impose their life style, religion, priorities, and other matters on the rest, that is corruption by democracy.

We can see this everywhere when politicians of all kinds keep talking about how "the American people" want this, or don't want that, etc. Take the recent health care measures Obama & Co. pushed through oh so democratically. The Democrats kept saying this is what "the American people want," while the Republicans kept saying "the American people don't want this." How could they both make such claims with even a modicum of credibility?

Well, because once a pretty large number of Americans want something, in a bloated democracy it sounds ok to say that "the American people" want it. Even if it is clearly, unambiguously evident that they do not and that only some of them do.

Maybe it is just laziness. It may simply be too exhausting to have to say "a portion of the American citizenry wants X," while "another portion of the American citizenry does not want X." But is it really so hard? I doubt it but maybe for some it is. Or maybe the fact that the truth is a bit nuanced provides politicians and their cheerleaders an excuse for lying. Because to say "the American people want Obamacare" and "the American people do not want Obamacare" amounts to plain old lying. It is, however, so common, so much a part of the lingo of democracy that the lies come very easy and have become habitual.

Yet, there is no doubt, they are lies. Unless the doctrine that the majority does in fact speak for all of us is true. In that case whatever does gain majority support must be treated as something we all want. But is that for real? Only if this kind of collectivist thinking is sound.

Unfortunately, it is deemed to be sound by many who discuss and teach political science in high schools, colleges and universities. A great many of such folks are seriously convinced that individuals do not actually exists, only groups do. So if you are a dissident, if you reject what the majority wants, you simply do not count for anything. You are this dreaded political virus, an individualist.

Yet democracy itself is, of course, founded on individualism. The demos, the public, cannot exists without its individual components. And it is because these individual have the right to give direction to their lives that they have the right to take part in politics. Ergo, democracy.

And, as already noted, there would be nothing wrong with that provided the scope of politics--where democratic decision making matters--is properly limited. As someone has recently pointed out, what we need is liberal democracies, not illiberal ones. And the former means, strictly speaking, democracies that are contained and constrained by the individual rights of every citizen in the country.

One other problem is that for so many centuries hardly anyone could take part in politics apart from some thugs (at times very well dressed, admittedly). So for millions across the globe just being asked to pitch in a little is quite a lot. It should not be enough but in contrast to the past, it is at least something.

Now if only they realized that it isn't enough, that one would be enough would be if they were all free individuals and protected even from majorities, not just thugs.

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