Thursday, June 03, 2010

Democracy is not the object

Douglas Carswell and Dan Hannan have a piece in The Grauniad, in which they argue that the Coalition could favourably reflect their Direct Democracy campaign.
Five years ago, along with a small group of newly elected Tory MPs, we set out a programme for the diffusion and democratisation of power in Britain. We wanted legislation by popular initiative, recall mechanisms, autonomous local councils, directly elected public officials, a democratic upper house, a shift in power from executive to legislature, powers back from Brussels, and end to quangos and the use of referendums – lots and lots of referendums. We called our programme Direct Democracy and, last week, we launched it as a public campaign.

Now, apart from when I am being a bitch, I have a lot of time for both Dan and Douglas: generally speaking they are libertarian, and have the right ideas—and a genuine desire to push their party (and the whole state) towards a more liberty-focused agenda.

Where I do disagree with them is in their faith in democracy, as spelt out in this paragraph:
If you empower the electorate, you will sometimes get results you don't like. It will happen to the left on some issues (crime, for example), and to the right on others (almost every privatisation would have been defeated in a referendum). But let's at least have the arguments and respect the verdict of the ballot box.

No, I'm sorry but this just will not do.

What is the point of loosening the grip of the oligarchy, only to further entrench the tyranny of the majority? Personally, I prefer Wat Tyler's approach... [Emphasis mine.]
Our prescription is simple—break up the public sector, privatise where possible, localise where necessary.

It should not be up to the electorate whether certain services are privatised—for they should never have been in state hands in the first place. The majority should not remove competition and insist that the unwilling subsidise those preferences; on a practical level it would, in any case, simply not work.

I am sure that a referendum on privatising the water companies would have been a decisive vote against, in which case our water and sewerage system would have collapsed long ago—the state kept the rates low through subsidy from more productive parts of the economy but, more importantly, by investing nothing in infrastructure.

To "respect the verdict of the ballot box" would have been purest insanity.

And how do you think a referendum would lead to the legalisation of drugs? No. And yet the war on drugs is not only morally wrong, but also an economic and healthcare disaster—for reasons that I have rehearsed many, many times.

In short, the solution to an large, illiberal, over-bearing state that oppresses its citizens is not to pass that power to the demos—they will simply oppress others in their turn—but to ensure that no one has that power.

The state's primary—and only—purpose should be to protect its citizens from aggression—whether that aggression comes from overseas or from other citizens. Under these terms, the state should only run Defence and Criminal Justice—and the only law should be "you shall not initiate force or fraud against someone's life, liberty or property."

This is the only way that will deliver freedom to all, rather than a select group—to allow people to oppress others is morally repugnant; to enshrine the majority's tyranny over the minority is just as wrong as our current system. But it is also mistaking the method for the desired result.

I know, I know: I have said this so many times that it must be getting a little tedious now, but people still don't seem to understand: democracy not only delivers power to the mob, but it allows the participants to justify their oppression, rape and pillaging of the lives, liberty and property of other human beings.

Democracy is the least worst way of protecting many citizens from the depredations of an over-mighty state, but it is not the object of the exercise: the endpoint, the desired result, is the maximisation of freedom for everyone.

If you acknowledge that the people may not make the right choice then you are admitting that those same people should not have the power to make those choices. If you think that you should still deliver that power to them, then you are advocating the oppression of others.

If you think that people should not have the power to make those choices on behalf of other people in the first place, then you are a libertarian.

And if you think that I am wrong, and that democracy is the desired goal, then you have amply proved my point; for in that case, you believe that the wishes of the greatest number should outweigh the rights of the few.

And you are no freedom-seeker: you're just a dictator with a ballot paper and a mob.

7 comments:

Trooper Thompson said...

"We collectively continue (as do you in this article) to overlook the only morally acceptable and only type of democracy compatible with libertarianism: unanimous direct democracy."

This is nonsense. What is essential to a libertarian is the Rule of Law, not democracy. The latter is a means to an end.

Shouting Into The Void said...

"Democracy is the least worst way of protecting many citizens from the depredations of an over-mighty state"
No, if the object of the exercise is protecting citizens from a powerful state the least worst way is surely no state. That problem at least would be completely solved.

Young Mr. Brown said...

"I have said this so many times that it must be getting a little tedious now, but people still don't seem to understand: democracy not only delivers power to the mob,but it allows the participants to justify their oppression, rape and pillaging of the lives, liberty and property of other human beings."

I don't find it tedious. I think it's necessary. If people don't get it, keep repeating it. Some people will eventually get it.

Though I must confess I prefer the shorter version: “Democracy is two foxes and a chicken deciding what to have for dinner.”

Anonymous said...

The problem about democracy is that it gives oppression a legitimacy.

David Chiverton said...

"Giving every man a vote has no more made men wise and free than Christianity has made them good."
-H L Mencken

the a&e charge nurse said...

Ah, proof, if it were needed, my dear Devil, that you view the activities of the privateers through rose tinted spectacles?

The odds are stacked overwhelmingly in favour of the privately run ISTCs, yet they are still unable to out perform the NHS - why is that do you think?

I fear we would both find it far too tedious to go down the NHS vs "every other developed health service in the world" line - all I will say is that the USA, a country the likes of D Hannan sucks up to on a regular, basis can only demonstrate very modest outcomes despite spending almost twice that of the NHS on health care.

It goes without saying that apart from the last few years France, Germany, Switzerland, et al, all spent more than the NHS with very few SIGNIFICANT differences in outcome - remember most comparisons fall at the first hurdle because the quality of data collection (across the different systems) is patchy at best.

Roger Thornhill said...

@A&E "that apart from the last few years France, Germany, Switzerland, et al, all spent more than the NHS with very few SIGNIFICANT differences in outcome - remember most comparisons fall at the first hurdle because the quality of data collection (across the different systems) is patchy at best."

So, you say we can't tell which is better, so, let's move on to another "metric" - The NHS is a state run monopoly imposed by force. That to me needs a MASSIVE and highly convincing case that it is the least bad way of operating a universal free at the point of use service.