Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Worship of democracy

The late Bill Weddell said “Democracy is the counting of heads, not what’s in them”. However, the sustenance of this form of government is probably best defended by Winston Churchill “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried”.
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By and large he’s right. Democracies don’t tend to go to war with each other, although a democracy needs a bit more than a vote and competing candidates. After all, Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina all had that. There needs to be “enough” free speech, “enough” open media and “enough” individual freedom that government is not above the law. It has to be genuinely possible for the incumbents to lose, and for the opposition parties and candidates to get a fair amount of coverage. This is clearly not the case in Zimbabwe, and increasingly not the case in South Africa. Because democracy demands an independent judiciary and a certain degree of free speech to function effectively, defence of democracy does provide some defence to individual freedom. Its best defence is enabling people to “vote the bastards out”, removing those who oppress them. However, this only happens if the majority are sufficiently motivated – which is typically rare.
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The Bush administration pushes democracy abroad. That, in itself, is an enormous mistake. One need only look at the Palestinian Authority and the victory of Hamas to demonstrate that the majority do, sometimes, not actually want to live in peace with their fellow men. History is full of examples of democratically elected bullies – Hitler being the most noteworthy. The Nazis won 43.9% of the vote in their last election in 1933, with their coalition partner the DNVP winning 8% (the pro Stalin Communist Party got 12.3%) Without constitutionally protected individual rights, a democracy is the chance, as PC once put it, for three wolfs and a sheep to vote on what they are having for dinner. You see this in a lesser form, with people voting for more welfare, more subsidies, protection for their business (e.g. local content quotas) or to push around people they don’t particularly like. As philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon once said:
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“Democracy is nothing but the Tyranny of Majorities, the most abominable tyranny of all, for it is not based on the authority of a religion, not upon the nobility of a race, not on the merits of talents and of riches. It merely rests upon numbers and hides behind the name of the people”
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That is why minorities are always at risk in democracy, and the smallest minority is the individual.
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PC's Cue Card Libertarianism - Democracy

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