Friday, April 29, 2011

More Foibles of Unlimited Democracy

Tibor R. Machan

It is certainly no secret that while democracy has certain merits as a method for reaching political decisions, it is liable to be abused without those limits. American democracy was always feared, even by the framers, and unless it is restrained by a good, just constitution, it can get way out of hand. It can turn into mobocracy, nearly as bad as an out and out dictatorship.

Unfortunately many who desire serious political change stop at democracy and do not proceed to consider its proper limits. This is what afflicts many countries across the globe, including most of those in the Middle East just now in upheaval. The countries that used to be Soviet colonies as recently as the 1980s are also struggling with just what kind of democracy should be adopted for them. Not very surprisingly while a good many embrace the democratic process, very often when this yields exactly the results one would expect--namely, produces public policies that the majority (more or less) wants--complaints are voiced about these results as if it weren’t crystal clear that the process will often yield something many citizens do not want. But if one really just wants pure democracy, no constitutional restraints with it, how can one complain? It makes no sense. That is just what a limitless democracy will yield, policies that most but definitely not all support. It is a bit like a jury driven courts system--whatever the jury decides has to be deemed acceptable (yes, even when the defendant is one O. J. Simpson).

In Hungary, for example a recent constitutional upheaval involves the democratically elected Fidesz Party which is changing the constitution in ways many are protesting. The size of the national debt is now limited, which of course doesn’t sit well with those who have dreams as their guide for public policy, kind of like our own liberal democrats. When one wants to base policies on fantasies like unlimited, costless indebtedness, ignoring the burdens of nonvoting future generations, constitutional limits on the debt will be upsetting.

Yet if that is what the democratic processes yields, how can champions of unlimited democracy protest? The Hungarians are also facing numerous other measures, such as officially stressing Hungary’s Christian roots (which of course doesn’t sit well with quite a few Hungarians). With the super-majority, the Fidesz Party is pushing for measures in education and even the media--they have no first amendment there, which would ban using the power of this super-majority from dictating matters in these areas--that limit the liberties of millions of Hungarians. Yet, so long as they simply want majority rule, they have nothing to complain about.

In America, too, there is a lot of fuss about what Republicans and, especially, Tea Party members and supporters want to make into public policy, despite the fact that this is just what is yielded up with the democratic process, one so eagerly embraced precisely by those who don’t like what the Republicans and Tea Party folks propose for the country. Well, sorry about that but you cannot have it both way--unlimited democracy with restrictions on what may be enacted. You have to take your pick. Will democracy be limited in its scope, in what may come under majority rule, or will it be the bloated kind which can extend to regimenting virtually everything in the country? When a party enjoys strong support, big numbers, the latter tends to be favored by its members; when it doesn’t well then limitations are urged upon it.

The real answer is to have democracy seriously confined to some issues, such as who will administer the laws of the land (but not to what those laws will be, which is supposed to be what the constitution determines). Some minor exceptions would involved the amendment process which would get supervision from the Supreme Court so it doesn’t amount to altering the principles on which he country’s laws rest. But majorities would not be permitted to transform the country into something alien like a socialist of fascist system. For that one would need a revolution, which is not easy to get under way.

It is understandable why elsewhere democracies are highly prized, limits or no limits. That’s because ordinary folks throughout human history have had little say about their political circumstances and with democracy they get some. But that’s just the beginning. The limits on democracy are as important as democracy itself.

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