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Posts Tagged ‘Majoritarianism’

While she’s mostly known for radical proposals such as confiscatory tax rates and the Green New Deal, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also made waves with recent comments about imposing “democracy” on the economy.

In a discussion last year at Ponoma College in California, I explained why majoritarianism is misguided.

For all intents and purposes, unchecked democracy gives 51 percent of the people a right to rape and pillage 49 percent of the people.

Thankfully, America’s Founders realized that approach was incompatible with individual liberty.

They drafted a Constitution that explicitly limited the power of politicians (and thus also limited the power of people who vote for politicians).

Why? Because they understood history.

Professor Victor Davis Hanson explains how they recognized the dangers of majoritarianism.

The half-millennia success of the stable Roman republican system inspired later French and British Enlightenment thinkers. Their abstract tripartite system of constitutional government stirred the Founding Fathers to concrete action. Americans originally were terrified of what 51 percent of the people in an unchecked democracy might do on any given day—and knew that ancient democracies had always become more not less radical and thus more unstable. For all the squabbles between Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton, and Madison, they agreed that a republic, not a direct democracy, was a far safer and stable choice of governance. …We often think that a Bill of Rights was designed to protect Americans from monarchs and dictators. It certainly was. But the Founders were just as terrified of what that the majority of elected representatives without restraint might legally do on any given day to an individual citizen. …All consensual governments are prone to scary wild swings of mob-like emotion—and to demagogues who can almost rein in or goad the dêmos. But the Founders sought to make American government immune to Athenian-style craziness through a system of checks and balances that vented popular frenzies without a great deal of damage.

In a column for the Foundation for Economic Education, Professor Gary Galles explains the difference between liberty and democracy.

…far too little attention seems to be given to the differences between democracy—the process by which we select members of government—and liberty—the key to good government. …our Constitution and Bill of Rights…put some things beyond majority determination… Unfortunately, democracy…is entirely consistent with choices that destroy liberty…the growing reach of government makes our exercise of democracy an increasing threat to liberty, defending that liberty requires understanding the limits of democratic determination.

George Will, citing the work of Professor Randy Barnett, explains that the fight is – or should be – between statist majoritarians and libertarian constitutionalists.

Regarding jurisprudence, Democrats are merely results-oriented, interested in…expanding government’s power… Republicans…have grown lazily comfortable with rhetorical boilerplate in praise of “judicial restraint.” …all progressives are Hobbesians in that they say America is dedicated to a process — majoritarian decision-making that legitimates the government power it endorses. Not all Lockeans are libertarians, but all libertarians are Lockeans in that they say America is dedicated to a condition — liberty. …Lockeans favor rigorous judicial protection of certain individual rights — especially private property and freedom of contract — that define and protect the zone of sovereignty within which people are free to act as they please. Hobbesians say the American principle is the right of the majority to have its way. …Lockeans say the Constitution, properly construed and enforced by the judiciary, circumscribes the majoritarian principle by protecting all rights that are crucial to individual sovereignty. …Barnett says, yes, the Constitution — “the law that governs those who govern us” — is libertarian. And a Lockean president would nominate justices who would capaciously define and vigorously defend, against abuses by majoritarian government.

You don’t have to be a Randian to heartily endorse and embrace this sentiment (h/t: Libertarian Reddit).

The most cogent warning about majoritarianism comes from the great Thomas Sowell.

To emphasize the dangers of majoritarianism, I’ll close by simply citing Brazil in the past and Venezuela today.

P.S. Though I must admit that the Swiss are an example of how majoritarianism can lead to good outcomes.

P.P.S. I strongly encourage you to read what Walter Williams wrote on this topic.

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If you want to go to a Presbyterian church instead of a Baptist church, should the government be able to interfere with that choice? Even if, for some bizarre reason, 95 percent of the population doesn’t like Presbyterians?

If you want to march up and down the sidewalk in front of City Hall with a sign that says the Mayor is an idiot, should the government be able to throw you in jail? Even if 95 percent of the population somehow has decided the Mayor is a genius?

Most Americans instinctively understand that the answer to all these question is no. Not just no, a big emphatic NO!

That’s because certain rights are guaranteed by our Constitution, regardless of whether an overwhelming majority of our fellow citizens feel otherwise.

And that’s what makes us a republic rather than a democracy.

But the bad news is that many of our rights in the Constitution no longer are protected.

For instance, Article I, Section 8, specifically enumerates (what are supposed to be) the very limited powers of Congress.

Our Founding Fathers thought it was okay for Congress to have the power to create courts, to coin money, to fund an army, and to have the authority to do a few other things.

But here are some things that are not on that list of enumerated powers (and certainly not included in the list of presidential powers either):

And the list could go on for several pages. The point is that the entire modern Washington-based welfare state, with all its redistribution and so-called social insurance, is inconsistent with the limited-government republic created by America’s Founders.

These programs exist today because the Supreme Court put ideology above the Constitution during the New Deal and, at least in the economic sphere, turned the nation from a constitutional republic into a democracy based on unconstrained majoritarianism.

Here’s some of Walter Williams wrote on the topic.

Like the founders of our nation, I find democracy and majority rule a contemptible form of government. …James Madison, in Federalist Paper No. 10, said that in a pure democracy, “there is nothing to check the inducement to sacrifice the weaker party or the obnoxious individual.” …John Adams said, “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There was never a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” …The word “democracy” appears nowhere in the two most fundamental documents of our nation — the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. …the Constitution’s First Amendment doesn’t say Congress shall grant us freedom of speech, the press and religion. It says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” …In a democracy, the majority rules either directly or through its elected representatives. …Laws do not represent reason. They represent force. The restraint is upon the individual instead of government. Unlike that envisioned under a republican form of government, rights are seen as privileges and permissions that are granted by government and can be rescinded by government. …ask yourself how many decisions in your life would you like to be made democratically. How about what car you drive, where you live, whom you marry, whether you have turkey or ham for Thanksgiving dinner?

And click here for a video that explains in greater detail why majoritarianism is a bad idea.

But perhaps these cartoons will make it even easier to understand why 51 percent of the population shouldn’t be allowed to rape and pillage 49 percent of the population.

We’ll start with this depiction of modern elections, which was featured on a friend’s Facebook page.

And here’s one that I’ve shared before.

It highlights the dangers of majoritarianism, particularly if you happen to be a minority.

P.S. George Will has explained that the Supreme Court’s job is to protect Americans from democracy.

P.P.S. Here’s more analysis of the issue from Walter Williams.

P.P.P.S. Some leftists are totally oblivious about America’s system of government.

P.P.P.P.S. Though Republicans also don’t really understand what the Constitution requires.

P.P.P.P.P.S. Looking at the mess in the Middle East, I’ve argued we would be in much better shape if we promoted liberty instead of democracy.

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Thomas Sowell, George Will, and Walter Williams have all explained that the Constitution imposes strict limits on the powers of the federal government. This means, for all intents and purposes, that it is a somewhat anti-democratic document.

And by anti-democratic, I mean the Constitution puts restrictions on democracy (not restrictions on the Democratic Party, though in this case…).

More specifically, it doesn’t matter if a majority of people want Obamacare or a Department of Education. We live in a constitutional republic, a system specifically designed to protect individual liberties from tyranny.

The Founding Fathers obviously didn’t want our freedoms to be subject to the whims of a king, but they also wanted to protect us from the tyranny of the majority.

This is one of the reasons why I’m so happy to share this short video from the folks at the Institute of Humane Studies. The Supreme Court may have wimped out in fulfilling its role of  protecting us against untrammeled majoritarianism, but at least we can understand why it’s a good idea to protect economic liberty.

I particularly like the fact that the video cites the Supreme Court’s horrific Kelo decision.

By the way, if you want to understand the other side of the debate (or if you want to enjoy a good laugh), you can peruse my post on E.J. Dionne’s failure to understand history and constitutional governance.

P.S. I applied the lessons of this video in my post about why the U.S. government should promote liberty rather than democracy in the Middle East.

P.P.S. They probably don’t realize it, but Republicans actually came out against marjoritarianism in their party platform.

P.P.P.S. There is at least one Republican who is against majoritarianism (and for the right reason). Click here for the answer.

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