from The Psychology of Liberty
by Wes Bertrand © 2000, copylefted 2007

Societal Structures Posturing As Proper: Democracies And Republics

The problems that collectivistic governmental systems cause for people both existentially and psychologically are indeed numerous. Yet, the inherent problems in another political system, Democracy, need to be illuminated. Democratic systems of rule exist throughout the world and are typically considered the most desirable form of government.

Governmental Democracy and the nature of a Republic should be distinguished from various voting procedures and small-scale elections in business enterprises and in personal affairs. These latter activities obviously have benefits as well as drawbacks. In these situations one always has the option either to stay in or to bow out of the process. One is not forced to participate and endure potentially unfavorable outcomes. Unlike governmental Democracy, one enters such arrangements in a voluntary manner.

Especially in America, Democracy may conjure thoughts of rugged individualism, personal achievement, and fairness. Democracy denotes representation of each individual in the Republic—“of the people, by the people, for the people.” The idea of “one person one vote” may convince a person that he or she has a definite influence in politics. People are able to voice their opinions and make a difference in the laws and aspects of government; primarily, they can use the ballot box or they can lobby their agendas.

However, throughout the world, voting has had some dire consequences: Many people vote themselves into Socialism or dictatorships, and nearly everyone votes to keep their freedoms curtailed.

Undeterred by this, proponents of Democracy contend that the voting system is truly valuable for the individual. This is true in only one respect: Individuals can vote themselves to freedom; they can vote themselves into a society of liberty. But as we shall see, this requires some philosophical and psychological changes (changes that may make voting an obsolete issue anyway).

Presently only about half the people in the United States think voting is worth the effort. Why do they not vote? To say that tens of millions of people are just wrong, or lazy, or not know what is good for them, would be inaccurate. Actually, most people do not vote because Democracy is a system in which “might makes right” and the majority rules. Thus, it has little to do with the life of the individual (other than the ability to derogate this life).

Individuals have personal values. They seek personal fulfillment. As a consequence, many see little need to include themselves in activities that apparently have little bearing on their own lives. Most people do not vote because they sense a degree of pointlessness in the process. Or, they may think that such matters are better left to those “who keep up with politics,” which is probably the same thought that many politically-minded others have.

Nonetheless, of all the governmental systems on Earth, Democracy is thought by many to be the fairest (although one might hear favorable opinions about “benevolent dictatorships” too). Democracy is alleged to be fair because it still gives people a choice through voting procedures. As noted, this ignores the potentially detrimental impact of this process. Montessori made note of the problems with this sort of thinking: “They seek, as their greatest good, what they call Democracy, i.e., that the people may give their opinion as to how they are to be ruled—that they may cast their votes at elections. What irony! To choose one’s rulers! But those who rule cannot free anybody from the chains which bind all, which render all activity and initiative futile and render them helpless to save themselves.”67(p.16)

That individuals should be elected to offices where they allegedly serve the interests of the public merely confuses the real issues. Even though a Republic has laws and governors representing “the will of the people,” this “will” is basically imposed by force. To allow the majority of people (or representatives) to decide what is right for everyone ought not be called fair.

Clearly, ideas about fairness often turn into rationalizations. These rationalizations are designed to overlook the central flaws in a political system that allows the majority to dictate irrational guidelines for everyone, many of whom disagree.

Democracy essentially formulates and upholds laws that infringe on the rights of the individual (which we will address shortly). Policies of fairness then arise as ways to obtain influence, entitlements, and special favors from government at the expense of others. Yet many citizens continue to view Democracy as that which protects rights. Nock judged this idea in the United States in the following way:

We have already seen that nothing remotely resembling democracy has ever existed here; nor yet has anything resembling free competition, for the existence of free competition is obviously incompatible with any exercise of the political means [i.e., force], even the feeblest. For the same reason, no policy of rugged individualism has ever existed; the most that rugged individualism has done to distinguish itself has been by way of running to the State for some form of economic advantage. If the reader has any curiosity about this, let him look up the number of American business enterprises that have made a success unaided by the political means, or the number of fortunes accumulated without such aid.68(p.182)

Some people may find it burdensome and difficult to persuade others to “give them a fair shake.” Democracy can enable them to resort to physical means for settling differences of opinion and obtaining particular goals. Of course, many times this is not done in an overt fashion. That would appear too violent and too real. Such governmental activities are often performed discreetly. Because few people name exactly what is being perpetrated, rights continue to be violated. Nineteenth century advocate of freedom Benjamin Tucker noted the real problem with Democracy:

Rule is evil, and it is none the better for being majority rule....What is the ballot? It is neither more nor less than a paper representative of the bayonet, the billy, and the bullet. It is a labor saving device for ascertaining on which side force lies and bowing to the inevitable. The voice of the majority saves bloodshed, but it is no less the arbitrament of force than is the decree of the most absolute of despots backed by the most powerful of armies.30(p.129)

Ideas about law, politics, and government should never be a numbers game, where to the victors lie the spoils. Political systems that use votes instead of logical thought to determine their structure and operations will simply reflect the values of the majority of those casting votes. When the political values chosen or accepted by the majority are irrational, a system of irrationality results. Such a system exposes the fact that people have compromised on a fundamental political principle: rights.

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