Massachusetts Daily Collegian

The misconception of democracy

By Rane McDonough

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Flickr/Cristian Ramarez

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 [email protected]



11 Responses to “The misconception of democracy”

  1. Brian on February 21st, 2013 2:43 am

    I see you conveniently neglect to mention that your “political elite educated in the classical liberal theory of government” kept 12% of the population of the United States LITERALLY in chains. Oh, and the fact that women did not have any of those wonderful classical liberal rights or freedoms. Then there is the small matter of what happened to the Native Americans… And before the 20th century, even white men were routinely beaten or shot by private mercenaries if they were poor workers and tried to start a union.
    Whatever supposedly made America “great” in the past, it certainly wasn’t freedom. With the exception of a very small club of rich white men, everyone had FAR less freedom in the “original” America than they do today.
    The “growing power of the government” has not only improved the living standards of most people, but it has also – contrary to libertarian dogma – actually made the vast majority of Americans MORE FREE.

  2. SHerlitz on February 21st, 2013 12:38 pm

    I would have to disagree with you. Although I’m perfectly acceptive of Democracy and have no desire to secede, I must point out that you haven’t actually equated big government with freedom at all.
    The Constitutional Amendments which freed slaves and gave everyone equal voting rights don’t involve more government power at all. In fact, they are quite logical progressions from Classical Liberal thought.
    Note how the author does not, at any point, say that the Constitution was perfect in the beginning, nor that the “original founders” were the climax of classical liberalism. His term “political elite educated in the classical liberal form of government” isn’t restricted to pre-1800 figures. He says they “include” the founding fathers, not that they are exclusively the founding fathers.

  3. Kevin on February 21st, 2013 1:06 pm

    The founders didn’t care much for majority rule Franklin called it “Two wolves and a lamb deciding what’s for lunch.” That’s why they put in so many checks and balances..including the electoral college. Elections alone mean squat..without rule of rights.. education and individual liberty..etc. What’s exceptional about this joint is that our rights from God ..not the government.. that means if we didn’t get em from the Govy..the Govy can’t take em away. The only reason for government is to ensure these rights. As far as democracy as a road to socialism? Alexis de Tocqueville did say “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.” and I must say this somehow sounds strangely familiar… Now as far as our darker not so perfect past? Please my guest ..take a trip over to commie China ..or Cuba..North Korea or Iran or the old Soviet Union and see how much freedom ya got ..while your waiting on line for a couple hours tryin to buy a roll of toilet paper…

  4. right at ya on February 21st, 2013 7:47 pm

    Truth of the matter is your missing the point behind the scenes is where the action is. We have allowed bankers and lobbyist to control America. Obama 2008 Contribution and Romney 2011 who were the biggest donors to there campaign. You will find JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs every where in government. Many of the congress are in there pockets dont believe me do the research. We have become sheep in allowing America to be bought. Does anybody know how much money Halliborton made off the war with Iraq. Who is the owner of Halliborton is it Dick Cheney ?And why was KBR given $300 millions dollars a subsidiary of Halliborton. Why was Halliborton main office moved to Dubai? You ask about the election process you follow the money then you know why Ron Paul that won Iowa was robbed of the victory and announcement . Most of Americans are stupid and lazy if anybody dare to show the evidence they walk the other way because it is contraversal and a headache to address.

  5. N. on February 21st, 2013 10:26 pm

    Brian, I don’t think Mr. McDonough made any secret of the fact of his anti-democratic/oligarchic leanings, for instance, in the fact that he only sees the U.S. as having been greater until 100 years ago… you know, right before women got the vote. Or when he quotes a feudal Lord on the corruption of power (who’d know better, right?). Jeez, the stuff they fill their heads with over at Isenberg…

  6. hm? on February 22nd, 2013 12:30 am

    According to N, Brian loves denying women the right to vote because during the time in America’s history he admires, something bad was also occurring. Similar to how people who like Obama’s presidency right now also adore mass unemployment and the murder of Syrian civilians.

  7. The Enlightenment on February 22nd, 2013 11:09 am

    It’s not just that something bad was also occurring during the time in American history that Rane admires (it is Rane, by the way, not Brian). It’s that the bad things in question (slavery, and lack of rights for women and lower-income white men) are the precise opposite of freedom, and freedom is the thing that Rane claims to be concerned about.

    So, to use your analogy, admiring the America of the 1700s or 1800s for its supposed freedom is like admiring the Obama presidency for supposedly giving jobs to everyone. There were positive things about the old America, sure, but freedom wasn’t one of them.

    Oh, and Kevin, the reason the founders didn’t care much for majority rule was because they were rich slave-owners who didn’t particularly feel like sharing power with women, poor people, or blacks. Here’s the thing, you see: In human society, just like in nature, the sheep always outnumber the wolves. Majority rule is giving power to the sheep. “Checks and balances” means giving equal consideration to the opinions of the sheep and those of the wolves.

  8. jr23 on February 25th, 2013 8:15 am

    one problem we are a democratic republic .
    and the founders laid in the foundation to correct the problems
    that could not be solved at the start of the country by allowing amendments and they followed with the 10 amendments.

  9. M on February 25th, 2013 9:14 pm

    Okay, lets get a few things straight.
    Nobody thinks early America was perfect. We had slavery, women didn’t have the right to vote, we had child labor, ect. And granted, the people who wrote the constitution were white slave owners.
    But you are judging social conditions by the standard of this century and not those of the last. Does that make it right? No. But you have to bear in mind that society was subject to different rules. I do not think that Mr. McDonough is condoning slavery or advocating that we take away the rights of women.
    But the very democratic system everybody seems to be so enthralled with is, quite honestly, stupidity. It was the democratic system of Athens that condemned reason and executed the man that embodied that reason.
    Many of you are claiming Democracy is what gave rights to women and freed slaves. But let me make something very clear. Democracy (Which when you get down to its very core is mob rule) has a tendency to take away the rights of those minorities rather than grant them.
    Government is a contract. Government is a group of people agreeing to live under a certain set of rules. Now government only exists while every single person lives under those rules. We respect each others rights to life liberty and property. In these conditions, democracy can exist without turning into mob rule.
    But that’s not whats happening, is it? 100 years ago, we weren’t going around demanding our neighbors to pay for our health care or for our retirement. But that’s whats happening today. We are not respecting each others rights to our own property. We no longer live in a democracy. We live under mob rule. If you don’t sway to the mob than you will be overrun by it.
    You see, and I’ll quote Hobbes on this, “Man is a wolf to man.” Democracy is not protecting the sheep from the wolves. There are no sheep. There are only wolves. Early American democracy, despite its flaws, allowed each person to live in peace. You could be as rich and successful as you wanted to be without having to worry about your neighbor taking that away from you. But modern democracy is not about equality at all. Its about being in the biggest pack.

  10. john on March 4th, 2013 8:02 am

    Let’s change our form of government so people can more easily own guns, that’s a genius idea.

  11. Ken on March 4th, 2013 11:36 pm

    Sounds good to me John, considering we have a right to own them and such

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