Most people living in the United States today would say that one of the greatest virtues of this country is that it is democratic. This seems to be one of the few things people from all over the political spectrum can agree upon. However, I think that this country is great in spite of democracy.
Democracy is simply a process- every citizen is given equal chance to access the halls of power, and the people who are to be ruled get to choose their rulers by majority vote. In many circle, it is widely agreed upon that democracy is the only humane way to administer government. We have fought wars to spread our superior style of government and we advocate for it ceaselessly, but for what? There is nothing inherently moral about the whims of the majority. Lord Acton’s saying that “absolute power corrupts absolutely” is as applicable to a totalitarian majority as it is to an individual tyrant. The vote of the majority does not determine what is just and true.
What has made America, and to a lesser extent, the rest of the Western world, great over the last 200 odd years is not the process of democracy, but the ideology about government expressed in classical liberalism.This is where the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights have their origins. “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is inspired by the classical liberal Locke’s “Life, liberty and property.” Freedom of speech, religion, the press and the right to peaceably assemble are not an inevitable product of majority vote, they are a product of a political elite educated in the classical liberal theory of government. This ideology, that the purpose of government is to protect life, liberty and property, is the wellspring of the exceptional freedom and prosperity that Americans enjoy even to this day.
Since it is classical liberalism and not democracy which made this country great, in order to determine the merit of democracy, it must be asked what its relation to classical liberalism is. Historically, the original classical liberal countries of the United States, Great Britain and France were also democracies. This is largely because most of the classical liberals embraced democracy. They thought it was compatible with their goals of limited government. However, over the last 100 years we have seen a shift away from classical liberal ideas. The liberal democracies have become social democracies. This must confuse any lover of liberty. If democracy is an ally of liberty like the classical liberals believed then why has it been decreasing even as democracy has spread?
The answer to this is that the classical liberals were mistaken. Democracy does not aid the cause of individual liberty. Karl Marx was far more accurate when he described democracy as “the road to socialism.” Democracy as administrated in the countries which practice it today is more compatible with socialism and nationalism, both anti-individualistic ideologies. The classical liberals, including the Founding Fathers, thought they could rein in government by placing written restrictions on its powers. They also tried to prevent any individual from gaining too much power by dividing it into the famous three branches of government. This, in a sense, led the fox to guard the chicken coop, as the government was the institution enforcing these restrictions. The result, the constitutional limits of government have faded into near oblivion.
Many people have told me that if I am upset with the growing power of the government, I shoud vote against it. But this will only temporarily slow down the expansion, and there is a downside to voting. If you vote, you legitimize the system by participating in it. I am not holding my breath as I wait for more than a couple libertarians to win positions of power. The system works against them, as anyone who saw Ron Paul delegates refused seating at the Republican National Convention can attest to. The only meaningful, non-violent way to keep a government in line is the threat of secession. If government is really a contract, as so many apologists for its abuses insist, then you should be able to reject it if you don’t like the terms. It is not a decree handed down from God that every person north of the Rio Grande and south of the forty-ninth parallel must obey the dictates of Washington D.C. If you want to preserve freedom then instead of choosing between the lesser of two evils you should reject the entire evil system. If you cannot withdraw your consent to be governed without being forced off your property then you are not truly free.
Rane McDonough is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.