Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Democracy, Elections Do Not Equal Freedom

At Capitalism Magazine, Peter Schwartz has an excellent article titled "Freedom vs Democracy: How the U.S. Government Created a Crises in the Middle East." He correctly points out that:

"The essence of democracy is unlimited majority rule. It is the notion that the government should not be constrained, as long as its behavior is sanctioned by majority vote. It is the notion that the very function of government is to implement the "will of the people." It is the notion espoused whenever we tell the Lebanese, the Iraqis, the Palestinians and the Afghanis that the legitimacy of a new government flows from its being democratically approved.

And it is the notion that was categorically repudiated by the founding of the United States."

Very true. Our founders had a distinct disdain for democracy. They knew that democracies, even those set up with protections for certain minorities, always devolve into unlimited majority rule. They have to. The method is always the same. The majority will complain "How does the minority get to dictate to the majority?" The majority will then 'vote' to change the laws gradually voting away the minority protections. That is why our founders wanted to establish a Constitutional Republic not a democracy.

An example of the above mentioned method is easily seen in the Sunday 7/23/06 editorial page of the Detroit Free Press.

The editorial properly criticizes President Bush for vetoing the Stem Cell Reasearch bill and it makes some good points why he shouldn't have. Unfortunately, the editorial also make the arguement from democracy or the majority will arguement. The third paragraph reads:

"The Bush veto, the first of his presidency, thwarted the will of Congress and a majority of the American public to expand federal funding for embryonic stem cell research with the informed consent of donor parents."

Aside from the fact that 'thwarting the will of congress' is what a veto is supposed to do and providing checks and balances is why our founders put it in the Constitution, the 'will' of the 'majority' is being invoked as a reason for passing the bill. No mention of the fact that peoples' rights are being violated by forbidding them to do such research. The closest the editorial came was to decry the unfairness of it all:

"There are 400,000 embryos left over at fertility clinics around the country. When frozen, they are mere days old, microscopic in size, have no brain waves and will never become human beings unless they are implanted in a woman's womb. Most of them will be discarded. How can that be OK while using them in research that could help millions of people is condemned as murder?"

A very good point. But nothing is mentioned about how it is unfair precisely because it is a violation of rights and therefore unconstitutional. The editorial then attacks the power of the minority.

"Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this debate is that it plays to an active, vocal minority that holds great political influence, as evidenced by Snow's contention that federal dollars should not go toward something some folks believe is murder."

What is being attacked here is the 'political influence' held by a minority. But this minority was democratically elected so whatever they do is OK right? The editorial then argues that the government violates our rights in thousands of ways so one more shouldn't hurt.

"The government spends all kinds of money on all kinds of things many taxpayers abhor -- including wars that some probably consider murder." True, but while this arguement is irrational on the grounds that 1000s of wrongs plus one more don't make a right, it has some merit from a different perspective. If the government funds all forms of medical research, then it would be wrong to exempt one. But it's obvious how such a bag of mixed premises can result from putting everything up for a democratic vote including peoples' rights.

The editorial then gets specific in its attack on minority power. "Why the religious right gets to hold sway on this issue when more than two-thirds of the country favors the research is mind-boggling."

Clearly, this is an appeal for majority rule and an example of the process by which 'democracy' devolves into unlimited majority rule.

When justice is no longer focused on rights, it will become focused on power. Democracy and elections do not create freedom. A society based on the protection of rights will provide freedom and justice.

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