There are two types of dictatorship. One is rule by a dictator; the other is rule by one’s fellow man.
The death of Libya’s Qaddafi is a reminder of the first. Qaddafi, like so many other one-man dictators, ruled his people with an iron fist. It’s widely known and widely accepted that dictatorships exist, and that they’re very bad things.
Less well understood or acknowledged is the dictatorship people impose on one another. It’s universally assumed that the alternative to dictatorship is democracy. But in the end, is democracy any different? It’s a shocking question to some, but it must be asked.
What is democracy? Democracy refers to majority vote, and majority rule. Without the concept of individual rights, democracy is meaningless and worthless. Life under a pure democracy can be just as much hell as life under a one-man dictatorship.
What’s common to both democratic dictatorship and one-man dictatorship is the absence of individual rights. Individual rights refer to the principle that nobody has a right to initiate physical force against any other individual. Neither the rule of a Qaddafi nor the rule of a 55 percent (or 82 percent) majority justifies initiating force against any individual, in any way and for any reason.
Individual rights include the right to be free from the actions of a government, or the actions of a mob. Just because a mob endorsed a certain policy doesn’t make it right. Does a majority have a right to vote that an unfavored minority be placed in concentration camps? Most would say no. Does a majority have a right to vote that an unfavored minority be forced to hand over much or most of their income to spend on political programs? Most clearly say yes. This is the contradiction most people hold, and it’s one of the reasons democracy, in the absence of individual rights, is so dangerous.
The primary purpose of a Constitution is to protect individual rights. A free and reasonable country certainly has elections. But these elections are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. Everything a government does should be with the ultimate purpose in mind of preserving — equally — the rights of all individuals to be free from force.
The entire point of a military and a police force is to protect individual rights. This is why it’s justified for the police to engage in the pursuit and arrest of violent criminals. This is also way it’s unjustified for the police to engage in the pursuit and arrest of people who write or say things which displease the government in power. The first role of the police upholds individual rights, because violent criminals are violating the rights of innocent people to be free from force. The second role of the police undermines individual rights, sacrificing the right of free speech for the sake of making the powerful comfortable.
Most people see the distinction between individual rights and invalid government force when it comes to free speech, or concentration camps. Almost nobody sees the distinction when it comes to economic matters. This is why in the U.S., the economy is slowly sinking while other rights remain (for now) relatively robust.
People have got to start getting this distinction. We’re fast approaching the economic equivalent of a Qaddafi right here in our own country. In the end, economic dictatorship and personal freedoms will not coexist. Eventually, on our present path, the government will use the collapsing economy as an excuse to restrict free speech and other rights not currently questioned. ‘It’s an economic emergency,’ they will say. ‘People are starving. We can’t have Rush Limbaugh [or Michael Moore] criticizing the President. We don’t have the luxury of caring about property rights any longer; twenty-five percent are unemployed, and some are starving. It’s selfish to worry about personal freedoms at a time like this.”
First people allow their bodies to be enslaved, and next comes their minds. In practice this means: Using democracy to justify economic dictatorship, and eventually using majority will to justify other forms of dictatorship unprecedented in American history.
Qaddafi is gone and Libyans celebrate. Good for them. But if they replace Qaddafi with the dictatorship of majority rule, they’ll be no better off than they started. It might even get worse. Will a dictatorship of Muslim clerics actually be an improvement, even if it’s democratically elected?
Americans must learn the same lesson. We’ve got plenty of democracy in America, but we have fewer individual rights every day. We’re allowing our government to stifle our economic rights, and must understand that all rights will eventually go with them.