August 28, 2012
Democracy does not mean freedom. It is just as much a form of dictatorship — the dictatorship of the majority and the State. Nor is it synonymous with justice, equality, solidarity, or peace.
Democracy is a system that was introduced about 150 years ago in most western countries, for various reasons, for one thing to achieve socialist ideas within liberal societies. Whatever the reasons at the time, there are no good reasons now to retain the national parliamentary democracy. It doesn’t work anymore. It is time for a new political ideal, in which productivity and solidarity are not organized on the basis of democratic dictatorship, but are the result of voluntary relationships between people. We hope to convince our readers that the possibility of realizing such an ideal is greater than many people today may imagine — and worth the effort of pursuing.
MYTHS OF DEMOCRACY
Myth 2: The people rule in a democracy
This is the basic idea of democracy. It’s what democracy literally means, government by the people. But do the people really govern in a democracy?
The first problem is that ‘the people’ do not exist. There are only millions of individuals with as many opinions and interests. How can they govern together? That’s impossible. Like a Dutch comedian once said: “Democracy is the will of the people. Every morning I am surprised to read in the newspaper what I want.”
Let’s face it, nobody will say something like “the consumer wants Microsoft” or ‘the people want Pepsi”. Some do and some don’t. The same applies to political preferences.
In addition, it is not really ‘the people’ who decide in a democracy, but ‘the majority’ of the people, or rather, the majority of voters. The minority apparently doesn’t belong to ‘the people’. That seems a little strange. Is not everyone part of the people? As a customer of Wal-Mart, you don’t want groceries from another supermarket forced down your throat, but that’s how things work in a democracy. If you happen to belong to the losing side in the elections, you must dance to the tune of the winners.
But okay, let’s assume that the majority is the same as the people. Is it really true then that the people decide? Let’s see. There are two types of democracies: direct and indirect (or representative). In a direct democracy, everyone votes on every decision that is made, as in a referendum. In an indirect democracy people vote for other people who then take decisions for them. Clearly in the second case people have much less to say than in the first. However, almost all modern democracies are indirect, although they may throw in occasional referenda.
To justify the representational system it is argued that a) it would be impractical to hold referenda on all the many decisions that the government has to take every day and b) people do not have enough expertise to decide on all kinds of complex issues.
Argument a) may have been plausible in the past, because it was difficult to provide everyone with the necessary information and let them have their say, except in very small communities. Today, this argument is no longer valid. With the Internet and other modern communication technologies, it’s easy to let large groups participate in decision-making processes and hold referenda. Yet this almost never happens. Why not have a referendum on whether the US should go to war in Afghanistan or Libya or wherever? After all, the people rule, don’t they? Why can’t they take these decisions then that are so crucial to their lives? In fact of course, everyone knows that there are many decisions being taken that the majority would not support if they were brought to a vote. The idea that ‘the people govern’ is simply a myth.
But what about argument b)? Aren’t most issues too complex to be brought to a vote? Hardly. Whether a mosque should be built somewhere, what should be the legal drinking age, how high minimum sentences should be for certain crimes, whether more or fewer highways need to be built, how high the national debt should be, whether or not some foreign country should be invaded, and so on — these are all pretty clear propositions. If our rulers take democracy seriously, shouldn’t they at least let people vote directly on a number of them?
Or does argument b) mean that people are not intelligent enough to be able to form reasonable opinions on all sorts of social and economic issues? If that is so, how can they be smart enough to understand the various election programs and vote on the basis of them? Anyone who advocates democracy must at least assume that people know a thing or two and are able to understand plain language. Besides, why would the politicians that are voted into office necessarily be smarter than the voters who elect them? Do politicians mysteriously have access to the fountain of wisdom and knowledge while voters don’t? Or do they have higher moral values than the average citizen? There is no evidence for that whatsoever.
It is not ‘the will of the people’, but the will of politicians — prompted by groups of professional lobbyists, interest groups and activists — that reigns in a democracy.
Defenders of democracy will perhaps argue that, even if people are not stupid, no person has sufficient knowledge and intelligence to take decisions on the complex issues that deeply affect the lives of millions of individuals. That is undoubtedly true, but the same goes for the politicians and civil servants who take those decisions in a democracy. For example, how can they know what kind of education parents, teachers and students want? Or what is the best education? People all have their own desires and their own views on what good education is. And most of them are intelligent enough to at least decide what is good for themselves and their children. But this flies in the face of the centralized one-size-fits-all approach of democracy.
It seems, then, that in our democracy the people don’t rule at all. Nor is this really such a surprise. Everyone knows that governments regularly take decisions that most people oppose. It is not ‘the will of the people’, but the will of politicians — prompted by groups of professional lobbyists, interest groups and activists — that reigns in a democracy. Big Oil, Big Agra, Big Pharma, Big Medicine, the Military-industrial complex, Wall Street — they all know how to work the system to their advantage. A small elite takes the decisions — often behind the scenes. Not bothered by what ‘the people’ want, they squander our savings on war and aid programs, allow mass-immigration few citizens want, build up enormous deficits, spy on their citizens, start wars few voters want, spend our money on subsidies for special interest groups, enter into agreements — like the monetary union in the EU or NAFTA — that benefit the unproductive at the expense of the productive. Did we all want this democratically or was it what the rulers wanted?
How many people would actually voluntarily transfer thousands of dollars to the government’s bank account so that soldiers can fight in Afghanistan in their name? Why don’t we ask the people just for once? Don’t they rule?
It’s often said that democracy is a good way to limit the power of the rulers, but as we can see this turns out to be just another myth. The rulers can do pretty much what they want!
Moreover, the power of politicians extends much further than their actions in parliament and government. When they are driven out of office by the voters, they often land lucrative jobs in the countless organizations that exist in a close symbiosis with the State — broadcasting companies, labor unions, housing associations, universities, NGO’s, lobbying groups, think tanks, and the thousands of advisory firms that live off the State like molds on a rotten tree trunk. In other words, a change of government does not necessarily mean a change in who is holding power in society. Democratic accountability is much more limited than it seems.
It is also noteworthy that it is far from easy to participate in elections in the United States. To be allowed to run in federal elections, you have to comply with legislation covering 500 pages. The rules are so complex that they cannot be understood by laypersons.
Yet, despite all this, the advocates of democracy always insist that ‘we voted for it’ when government implements some new law. This implies that ‘we’ no longer have the right to oppose such a measure. But this argument is rarely used consistently. Gays will use it to defend gay rights, but do not accept it when a democratic country prohibits homosexuality. Environmental activists demand that democratically decided environmental measures are enforced, but feel free to perform illegal protests if they disagree with other democratic decisions. In those cases apparently ‘we’ did not vote for it.
Table of contents
Introduction – Democracy: the last taboo
- The democratic faith
- Democracy = collectivism
I – Myths of democracy
- Myth 1 – Every vote counts
- Myth 2 – The people rule in a democracy
- Myth 3 – The majority is right
- Myth 4 – Democracy is politically neutral
- Myth 5 – Democracy leads to prosperity
- Myth 6 – Democracy is necessary to ensure a fair distribution of wealth and help the poor
- Myth 7 – Democracy is necessary to live together in harmony
- Myth 8 – Democracy is indispensable to a sense of community
- Myth 9 – Democracy equals freedom and tolerance
- Myth 10 – Democracy promotes peace and helps to fight corruption
- Myth 11 – People get what they want in a democracy
- Myth 12 – We are all democrats
- Myth 13 – There is no (better) alternative
II – The crisis of democracy
- The sins of democracy
- Why things keep getting worse
- Why we need less democracy
III – Towards a new political ideal
- Decentralization and individual liberty
- A market for governance
- Decentralization in Switzerland
- A contractual society
- The road to freedom
- A bright future
Afterword- Libertarianism and democracy