Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Libertarian Democracy

America's Founding Fathers opposed "democracy." They gave us a "republic." Some of their warnings about democracy are collected here. The Constitution explicitly calls for a "Republican form of government" (Art. IV, sec. 4).

A "democracy" is every individual voting directly on each issue.
A "republic" has representatives of the people who are presumed to be wiser than the masses might be when stirred up contrary to reason. Most of America's Founders believed that Christians should be elected as these wise representatives rather than atheists:

Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.
John Jay, first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, co-author of "The Federalist Papers"

On the other hand, some -- like Thomas Jefferson -- were "radical democrats."

"I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power."
--Thomas Jefferson to William C. Jarvis, 1820.

For Jefferson, a "republican" form of government was necessary only because size stretched the limits of democracy:

"A government is republican in proportion as every member composing it has his equal voice in the direction of its concerns: not indeed in person, which would be impracticable beyond the limits of a city or small township, but by representatives chosen by himself and responsible to him at short periods."
--Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816.

For Jefferson, our republic was not aristocratic, but democratic.

"An hereditary aristocracy... will change the form of our governments from the best to the worst in the world. To know the mass of evil which flows from this fatal source, a person must be in France; he must see the finest soil, the finest climate, the most compact State, the most benevolent character of people, and every earthly advantage combined, insufficient to prevent this scourge from rendering existence a curse to twenty-four out of twenty-five parts of the inhabitants of this country."
--Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, 1786.

"The further the departure from direct and constant control by the citizens, the less has the government of the ingredient of republicanism; evidently none where the authorities are hereditary... or self-chosen... and little, where for life, in proportion as the life continues in being after the act of election."
--Thomas Jefferson to John Taylor, 1816.

"The small and imperfect mixture of representative government in England, impeded as it is by other branches aristocratical and hereditary, shows yet the power of the representative principle towards improving the condition of man."
--Thomas Jefferson to A. Coray, 1823.

"I do not flatter myself with the immortality of our governments; but I shall think little also of their longevity, unless this germ of destruction [i.e., the aristocratical spirit] be taken out."
--Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, 1786.

There was a popular bumper sticker years ago:

"Democracy is two wolves and one lamb voting on what's for dinner."

Jefferson was less worried about the People eating each other than he was about the power-holders:

"Courts love the people always, as wolves do the sheep."
--Thomas Jefferson to John Jay, 1789.

"Democrats... consider the people as the safest depository of power in the last resort; they cherish them, therefore, and wish to leave in them all the powers to the exercise of which they are competent."
--Thomas Jefferson to William Short, 1825. ME 16:96

"The mass of the citizens is the safest depository of their own rights."
--Thomas Jefferson to John Taylor, 1816. ME 15:23

"The people of every country are the only safe guardians of their own rights."
--Thomas Jefferson to John Wyche, 1809.

"I am not among those who fear the people. They, and not the rich, are our dependence for continued freedom."
--Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816.

"Aristocrats... fear the people, and wish to transfer all power to the higher classes of society."
--Thomas Jefferson to William Short, 1825.

"The people...are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty."
--Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1787.

Democracy was feared by the Founders because the majority claimed the power to oppress the minority. Democracy also sowed the seeds of social destruction by making the determination of wise public policy a simple matter of voting, rather than finding a more permanent and absolute standard of truth. In other words, said those Founders who feared democracy, the "voice of the People" is not the voice of God.

But the real problem with democracy is not the people, it's the power. It's not that the people are bad, but that the political power claimed by the majority is dangerous.

Radical libertarians deny the legitimacy of all political power. Radical libertarians ask if it is ever necessary for the People to "elect representatives" and give them the moral approbation of the initiation of force against the minority.

Radical libertarians believe in pure democracy, but not for purposes of electing "representatives" and giving them power over the minority, but for purposes of self-government and association with other self-governors. For the radical libertarian, everyone has the right to vote with his wallet, his feet, and his mind. He can buy what he wants, move where he wants, believe what he wants.

Regular democrats believe that the majority can tell the minority what to buy and what not to buy, where to live and where not to live, and what to believe and what not to believe, and the representatives elected by the majority should execute the will of the majority over the minority.

Example: suppose an amusement park on the outskirts of town realized that they would have more customers if tourists could be diverted from the main drag through town onto a road that goes directly to the amusement park. If the wealthy amusement park owner had gone door-to-door through the town in a democratic way asking for donations to build a by-pass to his place of business, doubtless few would have contributed. But in a "democratic republic," the "elected representatives" can levy a tax on everyone to build a road for the benefit of the amusement park.

Radical libertarians believe the power to tax is never justified. When "elected representatives" initiate force against the innocent, they commit acts of theft and injustice.

A Libertarian Democracy is where every individual has the right to "vote" on every issue, to buy and sell, to move or stay, to work or rest, to associate or discriminate. Each individual has the right to buy or sell everything that "the government" currently offers:

• agriculture
• commerce
• education
• energy
• health
• human services
• housing
• urban development
• justice
• labor
• transportation
• minted coins and currency
• mail
• home security

If these things are not for sale, at the right price or standard of quality, each individual has the right to start a business, by himself or in association with other individuals, raise capital, and provide these goods and services for sale in a free market. If there's a demand for his product, he'll make a profit. And everyone else has the right to "vote" for these goods and services, or to vote for a competitor.

This is a Libertarian Democracy


Jefferson on Politics & Government

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