Sunday, March 05, 2006

Democracy and classic Liberalism

Intellectuals from both sides of the political spectrum claim democracy as necessary for a country’s stability. Democracy has come to be considered an end in of itself when discussing political development. Europe has for a longtime proudly claimed the democratic model as the most enlightened and fair form of government. A simple and uncritical approach like this is the reason countries like Iran are such a conundrum to the thinking elite after their democratic revolutions. The problem is that democracy doesn’t ensure liberty and a citizen’s liberty is what needs protection. The majority voted the Ayatollah in. Who could argue with that? Who could cry foul if it was what the people wanted? But the more important question and if not important, at least moral implication involved the rights of the Sunni minority in that country. Could the Shiite simply vote away the rights of their rivals? Yes they could and did, because every tyrannical fascist law they created had popular support and the guise of democracy legitimized it. This is the inevitable end of pragmatic politics, the determining of morality with a vote, a tyranny of the of the majority’s whims over the rights of the minority.

The triumph of democracy over all other forms of political organization is really the triumph of pragmatism over principles. Pragmatism values truth as that which makes the largest amounts of people happy, allowing values and morality certain flexibility to meet changing attitudes. A problem with this whimsical approach to determining values and morals is that there’s no consistency in the decisions reached. Eventually all people have their rights violated when values and ethics are decided with democratic methods, because all individuals are a minority in some aspect of their life. When Baptist conservatives voted away the homosexual’s ability to legally marry, the left defended gay rights on the grounds people should be able to choose whichever lifestyle they want without the threat of penalty, the right ignored these inalienable rights and vehemently claimed the virtues of democracy. But when the same population voted to ban smoking on private property, the right then turned to the constitution and said the law conflicted with citizens’ rights to manage their private property without interference. Then it was the lefts turn to charge the right with being undemocratic.

A pragmatic approach to governance creates philosophic inconsistency, which erodes the population’s intellectual coherence, ultimately dividing it, as rights are rewarded based on popular appeal instead of intellectual legitimacy. Lone individuals don’t have the ability or time to consistently predict the popular assumptions of the voting public over a long period of time, nor should they have to, as constitutions and charters are meant to guarantees everyone’s right to pursue their own liberty and happiness. But an entirely democratic state legitimizes values on the basis of popular support, which makes people concerned with protecting their own rights dependent on the propaganda machine. The fact that a gay man has to hold a public campaign for the right to form a recognized lifelong union is ridiculous and dehumanizing, and is clearly a flaw in our referendum model.

Democratic choices are inherently totalitarian. They are either/or choices. The majority’s value is legislated at the direct expense of the minority’s value choice. In the sense that the non-smoking public’s right to a bar free from smoke violates the smoker’s right to gather with other smokers and drink. And what recourse does the smoker or as in the previous example, does the homosexual have? None, other than public campaign so as Rosseau admitted the freedom based democratic model the citizen is "forced to be free".

Values, social choices and moral decisions are not suited for being decided in a democratic forum. Values are diverse and guided by principle and decided upon through the marketplace. Markets have the uncanny ability to accommodate diversity. For example Vegetarians refuse to eat meat, making their values distinctly different than their carnivorous neighbor. The market allows vegetarians to build the type of supermarket they want and at the same time the market also allows for delis. The market allows both groups to live happily aside each other because neither has the power to invoke his values over his competitors, as each recognizes the principle of individual choice. If we voted today whether it was moral to consume meat, the vote would divide the population, assuming the vote would be close it would create a war between the two groups and divide the society.

Consider how primitive and ridiculous it would sound if Martin Luther King claimed the civil rights of African Americans were justified by popular consent! He appealed to the intellectual premises on which the United States was founded. King believed in and demanded to be recognized by the constitutional principle which guaranteed equality to all races and faiths, extending to certain inalienable rights to all individual beings; the right to be free and self determining without the threat of coercion. Slavery was abolished, because of Lincoln’s regard for the principles of liberty and equality. It was not due to Lincoln’s benevolence or some populist referendum. A referendum would have legitimized the racism and further entrenched it intellectually, as is what happened in post WWI Germany. It is principles that protect the rights of the minority and if principles are to be done away with in favor of pragmatism then so will the rights of the groups that need protecting. Which group is persecuted may change over time but the pattern of persecution will not.

The alternative to a pragmatic democracy is a republic. A republic based on the concept of principle. Through the creation of a charter, certain guiding principles can be chosen in which the country must always adhere to regardless of the political climate or societal situation. A constitution limits the government’s power through diffusion with a system of checks and balances, guaranteeing citizens freedom from a powerful arbitrary ruling elite, weather they are well-meaning socialists, an unstable plundering vassal, a power hungry president, or a biased voting majority. Constitutions can guarantee the right to private property, recognizing an individual’s right to their land, regardless of political leanings, current government attitudes or popular opinion.

Constitutions have the ability to exert themselves even without popular consent as they articulate arguments in their most fundamental and intellectual form even when that isn’t clear amongst the ever-changing perceptual data.
A constitution refuses to bow to the tyranny of referendum recognizing that popular opinion approved of the molestation of adolescent boys in Ancient Greece, that democracy legitimized Hitler’s slaughter of the Jewish population in Germany, that democracy interned thousands of Canadians of Japanese decent to appease populist outcries.

The creation of a constitution is recognition that popular opinion is fallible and constantly changing, but that there are certain fundamental intellectual laws above altering, regardless of referendum. The society may elect different governments and leaders because no matter who is elected they are powerless to impede on the rights that the constitution guarantees. A constitution fosters a government of laws instead of a government of men. A government of laws declares that non-smokers have no ability to coerce business owners into changing their bars into non-smoking establishments. A government of laws recognizes the homosexual’s right to his choose his partner without the threat of penalty, regardless of what another community’s values are. Constitutions protect the rights of minorities through principle. Constitutions prohibit government involvement in legislating values, thereby ensuring everyone’s own ability to choose. Using referendum to decide value forces an either/or choice, when there are multiple approaches to all values system. An either/or choice entrenches a totalitarian moral system, which is never the answer when the goal is to ensure freedom for everyone


At 6:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's pretty specious arguing. And isn't even close to reality.

About constitutions: clearly it depends what is IN the constitution. The argument seems to take it as fact that an individual's property rights are fundamental, but there is no evidence that's the case. YOU might like to think so, but so what? I may like to think that all men get blowjobs every day and that should be enshrined in a constitution so that nobody can take it away.

You're entitled to your opinion, and in your make believe land you can of course put whatever you want in it. That doesn't mean anybody is going to agree.

The argument's fallacies can be seen right from the opening line-nobody ever said democracy is necessary for 'stability'. It depends what is meant by stability but what WE think of as stable would be the furthest thing from a democratic point of view.

Of course the thinking is that the rule of the majority will inherently be tyrannical. If you are in Canada you will note that NONE of the above examples were decided democratically. I certainly didn't vote on them. Just because a municipal government passes a draconian law that has nothing to do with democracy. Muncipal governments in canada have the worst voter turnout, councillors don't even represent most of their constituents. Personally, I agree, I found it absurd that even restaurants that had excellent air quality barriers and even some bars that were advertising as 'smokers only' were told by a dictatorial government to close down or disallow voters. Quite simply that is TYRANNY, not democracy.

Take for example the tradition of the longhouse in mohawk society. The function of it was such that the chief s would meet yet chiefs didn't have decision making authority. Each new piece of information was brought back to the people and discussed, then back to the longhouse they went. The operation of the longhouse was the furthest thing from our notions of democracy as can be. We have an 'eithor or' notion. In the longhouse, each chief spoke his piece and round the table it went until a compromise was reached and EVERYBODY was happy with it.

I notice much the same thing with online debates. Often I will argue with somebody,and once you get through the 'muck' you find out that the opinions are actually extremely close.

There is a reason that it is commonly held that democracy can ONLY function in small groups, for exactly the reasons you mention. If a form of government is set up in such a way that one level of government, say, Ottawa, can dictate to another, say, Montreal, Halifax, Calgary or anyplace, then that cannot be said to be democratic.

As for same sex marriage, again, we are talking about same sex marriage within a FEDERAL government, which ISN"T democratic. Therefore the argument is not valid.

Clearly there is no part of the middle east that can be said to be a democracy, in fact NO country in the world is even close. About the closest would be Switzerland, but even they don't pretend to be a democracy.

As far as ancient Greece, again, it isn't really a democracy is the majority of the people can't even take part-namely slaves, women, foreigners, and adolescents. Once again it is simply an oligarchy. They may USE democratic tools such as voting, but so what, there was voting in communist russia and there is voting in communist china but we certainly don't call them democracies.

Interestingly enough, THEY both call(ed) themselves democracies, in fact virtually every country in the world calls ITSELF democratic, but few people are nuts enough to believe it.

Of course if constitutions were all that was necessary, we wouldn't need supreme courts. The above argument can be seen in a far different light just by askng the simple question: who writes the constitution? That pretty much says it all. With the clear animosity towards democracy shown I assume the author certainly wouldn't want PEOPLE involved. Which of course leaves just a small specialized class.
Why they should be given such power is beyond me.

So the above thinks that individuals have the right to property, but there is no notion even of what that means. Does it mean an economic right, meaning that by law every person should have some property, perhaps an equal amount, or does it simply mean people who currently own property should have all the rights to it.

For rights we can go on and on. Property rights are fine, I personally would also like to see basic human rights such as housing. I think that is far more basic. In fact it IS in the UN charter, but canada just 'defines it loosely'.

So when we actually SEE democracy, then we can talk about it. Other than that, the 'examples' given consist of something else entirely. As for ancient greece, THEY certainly never thought of it as 'molesting boys', in fact it was an honour for a young man. And of course for every example of a democratic vote we see many examples of constitutions acting pretty much the same way-enforcing its judgment on a minority.

So democracy certainly can't be discarded so easily, simply because it can't be defined so easily. You can create straw men and break them down, but that doens't make it conducive to reality.

At 8:22 PM, Blogger mostlyfree said...

Very interesting post.

At 2:15 AM, Blogger eugene plawiuk said...

Democracy whats that? First you need to evolve into capitalism not just mercantilism, say like Saudi Arabia.
Then capitalism evolves a specific kind of state for its use, the parlimentary representative one. Again something missing in the Middle East for the most part. Then you need universal sufferage, one person one vote. The principle you missed which is the one that governs the capitalist state in Canada and reflects its ultimate goal through representative parlimentarianism is Law Order and Good Government.
You are arguing from a libertarian perspective that government is of the people, that is self governance. Which under capitalism can never happen.
Yet you accept the Tory arguement of the need for property rights, the libertarian arguement for self government as developed by Pierre Prodhoun, is based on the understanding that yes each individual has the right to what they posess but all else is usury. Hence his dictum Property is Theft...his opposition to the rentier landlord ideal....and then he said Property is right to being is the right to own what I posess and I have the right to food, shelter and the fruits of my labour.
Mostlyfree also expresses some good counterpoints to your missive.
And you clearly have stirred debate if both he and I have responded at length.

At 5:10 PM, Blogger angryroughneck said...

Anonymous: It is clear that you do not understand liberty. To believe an individual's right to his property is as arbitrary and unfounded as the "right to [oral sex]" is ridiculous.

Here is a lesson in rights and rational thinking:

The right to life means the right to sustain and protect one's life. It means the right to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the preservation of his life. To sustain his life, man needs a method of survival-- he must use his rational faculty to gain knowledge and choose values, then act to acheive his values. The right to liberty is the right to this method; it is the right to choose, then act in accordance with ones judgement. To sustain his life, man needs to create the material means of his survival. The right to proerty is the right to this process; In Ayn Rands defenition, it "the right to gain, to keep, to dispose of material values." To sustain his life, man needs to be governed by a caertain motive-- his purpose must be his own welfare. The right to the pursuit of happiness is the right to this motive; it is the right to live for one's own sake and fulfillment."
L. Peikoff

This is rational principle at work. These rights for a logical unity as opposed to your whimsical request for mandated blowjobs.

"For rights we can go on and on. Property rights are fine, I personally would also like to see basic human rights such as housing"

Once again you don't understand the differenvce between rights and tyranny. The "right to housing" implies someones--duty-- to provide the housing!

This implied duty invalidates the enslaved's own liberty and right to private property.


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