Tuesday, June 21, 2011

No Love For Democracy

Pretty much every day you'll hear, in some for or another, the virtues of democracy being espoused.  Most notably, this sentiment is expressed when we justify our overseas wars.  "We are making the world safe for democracy" is a phrase that's been thrown at us for decades now.  It's accepted that governments have the ability to enslave and restrict freedoms to their citizens, the only variable being the degree to which they do those things. Enough dictators and despots throughout history have certainly proven this fact. It is also accepted that simply having a democratic form of government is enough to ward off these evil tendencies of governments and ensure that people remain free. It's why we fight wars that “bring freedom and democracy to a nation.” But very little discussion is actually had on the virtues and implications of democracy.

It is generally accepted that with democracy comes freedom.  This is something we all seem to understand without even giving it any thought.  In a democratic society, the will of the people will prevail and surly that is emblematic of freedom itself.  So long as democracy is allowed, it will ensure that freedom is upheld.  Majority rule is clearly the most moral form of government one can aspire to.  Perhaps these are the generally accepted beliefs, but those beliefs are wrong.  In fact, I'll go one step further and posit that the only difference between a totalitarian government and a democratic government is that a dictator is simply replaced with a majority.  More specifically, a voting majority.

When you get down to the basics of democracy, it's clear that it is nothing more than a system whereby the majority is legally able to impose their will on the minority.  Not only does this not guarantee freedom, but it almost ensures that freedom will not exist.  The only question is to what extent will freedom be forbidden.  

One needs not look further than present day America to see the immoral effects of democracy.  We have laws that forbid the use of recreational drugs because the majority has voted politicians into office that made that behavior illegal.  Does freedom enter into this decision at all?  Certainly not.  If 55% of the population doesn't approve of the use of certain drugs, they can simply use the democratic process and summon the coercive power of government to impose their will on the other 45%.  While there is nothing undemocratic about this, there certainly is, in my opinion, something extremely immoral with it.

There are a whole host of issues where, simply because something is not popular, it is made illegal and therefor limits the freedom of individuals to engage in certain behavior.  Personally, I feel that prostitution is abhorrent behavior.  But my personal opinion on the matter should not give me the ability to use government to prevent others, people who might not hold the same opinion as I do, from engaging in that activity. Why should I have the ability to use the power of government to impose my will on those who disagree with me?  Why should the legality of certain behavior depend on popular opinion? Why should anyone's freedom to engage in behavior that causes no direct harm to others be restricted simply because most of his neighbors voted to do so?  Why should someone be forced to give up half of their earnings to a man with a gun and a cage simply because The Majority approves of it?  The answer is simple: Because we have democracy, and restricting the behavior of others can be done whenever a majority supports it.

And yet most of us hoist democracy onto a pedestal.  Even worse, we put freedom right next to it.  It seems to me that freedom and democracy are not inherently compatible.  And why should they be?  Democracy is the will of the majority.  But that's only the first half of the definition.  If we're being honest, democracy is the will of the majority imposed on the minority with force and the threat of violence.  That has nothing to do with freedom.  Freedom is something that everyone espouses, few people understand, and even fewer people desire.  The proof lies in our democratic government, our willingness and ability to vote ourselves other people's money and our incessant need to use the democratic process to restrict behavior simply because We The Majority don't approve of it.

Forgive me if I retain the pedestal for something more deserving.