Democracy is Not the Enemy

A reader recently wrote in: “I’m rather surprised that Dr. Hurd made this error [see July 6 Daily Dose of Reason]:  ‘Democracy was supposed to prevent all this. Democracy provided the opportunity for reasonable, self-interested people to correct their errors.’  Unfortunately, this is only partly correct.  Democracy also opened the door for people to make calamitous and extremely difficult-to-correct errors, and for tyranny by the majority.  A republic, however, prevents too big of errors from even being possible.  If we had remained one, the destructive possibilities that democracy also permits could not have occurred.”

Dr. Hurd replies: Actually, this observation contains two errors.

The first error is that I’m saying unchecked democracy is a plausible or rational solution. Of course I’m not, and a careful reading of any article I write would illustrate this quite clearly. Throughout this article and all of my articles, I’m asserting that individual rights are the supreme standard. Capitalism is a moral and practical social system because it honors individual rights. There is no moral right to vote away another’s individual rights. It’s never moral to do this, and the moment it’s permitted even one time, the social and political system is on the road to eventual collapse and dictatorship. Witness the history of the United States, presently moving towards dictatorship (even of the “soft” sort) after decades of subordination of individual rights to “democratic” will.

The second error of the reader is the implication that you can have a republic without democratic vote. Democratic vote is a valid and necessary part of maintaining a free republic. The original American idea is still a good one. The Supreme Court exists to keep the politicians in check — and ultimately the people in check if they decide to elect politicians who will violate the rights of individuals. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has not lived up to its potential in this regard, over the decades. Part of this is the result of corrupt and erroneous thinking among certain justices who actually don’t subscribe to the principle of individual rights; and part of it is due to unfortunate errors in the Constitution itself — i.e., the commerce clause and the vaguely worded phrases about promoting the “general welfare,” the starting points for a socialist dictatorship which is well on its way to being actualized.

Getting rid of democracy is not the answer. It’s also not true that the USA would still be a free country if it “had only remained a Republic.” Democratic republics have no basis for existing unless the great majority of people, and at least most of their intellectual and political leaders, view individual rights as the primary political standard. In other words, we’d have to live in the type of country where nearly everyone would say, ‘Well of course smoking is an obnoxious and unhealthy habit. But government has no right to outlaw it on private property. It’s up to the restaurant owner.’ This is not the United States as we know it, not today.

Remaining (or becoming) a democratic republic is not the way to uphold freedom. The way to uphold freedom is to respect and understand the importance of individual rights, in each and every single case. Once this happens, then the case for a democratic republic is obvious.

In the present day there’s virtually no discernable support for individual rights in any of our government officials. Perhaps the ugliest example is Obama’s current Attorney General, Eric Holder, who routinely and brazenly makes decisions about “justice” based on what he feels is in the best interest of his core (always left-wing) constituency groups. For example, Holder sides with the terrorists in their desire to be tried as civilians rather than war criminals, and he sides with the “right” of protestors to harass people while they’re voting, so long as those protestors are on his side of the political spectrum. (So much for democracy.) Raw power is now the definition of “justice” in even the American government itself.

In early twenty-first century America, the respect for individual rights required to create, maintain and preserve a free republic is a minority point-of-view. To attack democracy is not even to attack the symptom, because democracy as we know it is being manipulated and distorted by the very people who claim that democratic will is the supreme and only standard. People like Barack Obama and Eric Holder couldn’t care less about majority will; they want their own will imposed, and will rationalize it with majority approval when they get it. When they don’t have majority support, they’ll rationalize their will by any other means they feel like.

The good news is that there is a growing, ever-stronger pro-freedom point-of-view than in the early days of socialist policies. For example, in the 1930s, socialist President Franklin D. Roosevelt did not face a “shellacking” in the midterm Congressional elections of 1934 as Barack Obama, the current socialist President, did in 2010. There wasn’t the strong and more or less principled opposition to Roosevelt that there is to Obama today, at least not the sort that could win elections. The Republicans even have a 50-50 chance of unseating Obama after only one term, a chance they probably never enjoyed against FDR. The danger is that Republicans will adopt a “me-too” version of Obama’s socialist policies, by nominating somebody like Mitt Romney (John McCain: The Sequel), someone who’s not likely to be elected, or even if he is — it won’t matter, because there will not be any fundamental changes or course reversals. However, these are flaws and risks associated with the Republican Party — not the intellectual movement in favor of fostering individual rights which, if anything, may be growing in the USA. And, as everyone has to keep in mind, most political movements — including the movement towards socialism in the United States — start out as, and often remain, minority movements. This doesn’t mean they won’t make their mark.

Democracy is not the answer, but neither is its elimination. The answer is individual rights, and the underlying philosophy of reason and individualism which give rise to it.