Friday, December 26, 2008

Democracy & the Liberty Papers

Tuesday, the Liberty Papers, an American "Libertarian" blog, offered an illuminating rant against "democracy worship.", illuminating in its comments on a "Libertarian" view of democracy, at least.
It’s not that I’m opposed to majority rule; I’m opposed to unjust rule. Unjust rule is far more difficult to defeat when it is justified by "the will of the people."
It's also far less likely to occur in the first place. Trouble always follows a major disconnect between the government and the public.

The comment I've quoted, there, points to what is, from a liberal perspective, a bizarre quirk in American "Libertarian" thinking (perhaps "thinking" should be in quotes there, as well, in this instance). The theorists of liberal democracy wouldn't deny that unjust things can happen under democratic rule; they would, however, deny that an anti-democratic system was even capable of being "just rule." One is forever left with the impression that the ideal government as envisioned by American "Libertarians" is a dictatorship, one they'd regard as benevolent, that unvaryingly enacts their ideology, and over which the public has no say. Contrary to this, liberal theorists would argue that having a say in their own government is a fundamental right of every individual. Liberalism, as it emerged from the Enlightenment, is the eternal enemy of absolutism. A government over which we have no say is, by definition, unjust.

--j. of j. & Jenn


Anonymous said...

This quote is very much removed from relevant context. It does not follow at all that Libertarians would hold up a dictatorship as an ideal based on the above. The author of the cited article explicitly states the problem is not democracy, but rather a democracy unrestrained by "natural history of the culture" and then he goes on to cite English common law, natural rights doctrine, and Constitutional limits on the scope of power as examples of such "natural history of the culture".

Classical Liberals such as Jefferson also warned against unrestrained democracy:

"The majority, oppressing an individual, is guilty of a crime, abuses its strength, and by acting on the law of the strongest breaks up the foundations of society." --Thomas Jefferson to Pierre
Samuel Dupont de Nemours, 1816.

Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America referred to it as 'tyranny of the majority.'

James Madison urged on a Constitutional Republic over a pure democracy because "common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole...and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party...."

The author of the article you linked to was not taking an anti-democratic stance, but stating that holding up democracy with religious zeal and not questioning it leads to many problems, and he cited examples. You seem to suggest that he is calling for a government in which we have no say, but this is so far from what the article states that this blog post of yours appears purposely misleading.

Most American Libertarians that I know hold individual sovereignty as the ideal, and a government where the individual has no say, a dictatorship, as far from ideal as possible.

classicliberal said...

"You seem to suggest that he is calling for a government in which we have no say, but this is so far from what the article states that this blog post of yours appears purposely misleading."

His position is that he favors a government that rules justly. The problem with that--and why you're completely wrong--is how "Libertarians" define "just" rule, and I cited examples of this in the exchange that followed:

The American “Libertarians” always become lost in theory, and put far too many things under that category of what people aren’t allowed to do through government–they favor people having a say only as long as people don’t say they want something American “Libertarian” ideology finds objectionable. Then, their say in things becomes “unjust.”

The problem this runs into is that a great deal of what this ideology would disallow are things people consider fundamental to a healthy society. Workplace safety regulations, the 8-hour day, the minimum wage–things of this nature. “Libertarians” don’t just disagree with these democratically enacted measures; they present them as oppressive measures of an overreaching government, a view practically everyone would regard as bizarre in the extreme. People had to fight and die for such measures for years, and they did so because they didn’t want to live in a society that treated people the way they were being treated. These measures step on no fundamental rights–fundamental rights were being stepped on by the lack of them, and they were finally enacted, after years of struggle, because government was having to resort to ever-increasing violence in order to enforce the false notion of “laissez faire,” against the wishes of the public. If you enact a system that leaves people in bad situations with no legal recourse for changing things, then keep them in line with rifles, they stop caring about that system.

--j. of j. & Jenn