In polite company, I can’t think of a greater heresy than to criticize democracy. It’s beyond taboo. Saying something like “Democracy isn’t a good form of government”, is universally interpreted as, “I am an uncivilized barbarian that wants to enslave humanity.”
But earlier this week, democracy-skeptics got some ammunition: the 1st place finishes of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in the New Hampshire primaries. Instead of having to make theoretical arguments about the dangers of democracy, we can point to a concrete example.
The electorate in New Hampshire chose a self-described socialist in Sanders and a thinly-veiled fascist in Trump. Neither candidate forced anybody to vote for them; the elections weren’t dirty. No, the situation is much worse. The voters freely chose these lunatics to govern them.
It’s a bittersweet vindication for libertarians and their criticisms of democracy.
Democracy Without Romance
Let’s cut to the core of the problem: this idea that “we should have a political system that the majority of people want.” On its face, such an idea sounds nice. I mean, what’s the alternative – having a political system that the majority of people don’t want? Surely that’s not preferable.
But with democracy, we quickly run into a problem. It’s about people’s ideas. What if the majority of people want a dumb political system? If they get together and say, “We need society to be structured with a powerful leader at the top! What he says goes!” That’s a dictatorship. There are lots of them around the globe, and none of them are good.
What if the majority doesn’t understand economics? If they say, “We need rent and price controls to protect us from greedy businesses! We need strong tariffs to protect us from international competition!” That’s just ignorant, counter-productive nonsense. It hurts everybody in society and leads to poverty.
What if the majority doesn’t like a minority group. If they say, “Those immigrants/Muslims/Jews/blacks are stealing our jobs and ruining our society! Let’s get rid of ‘em!” That’s a recipe for disaster – permitting everything from Jim Crow to internment camps to the Holocaust.
These problems aren’t merely hypothetical. Democracy has a terrible track record. As libertarians are very fond of reminding people: Hitler himself was democratically elected.
Turning Bad Ideas Into Bad Rules
The underlying problem is this: democracy depends on the intelligence of the electorate. I can’t think of a harsher condemnation of it.
Our society is filled to the brim with nonsense. It overflows in schools, colleges, the media, Hollywood – everywhere. Your average voter is staggeringly ignorant of how the world works. Are we really supposed to trust that, once enough ignorant people together and agree on something, out will pop sensible political decisions?
That doesn’t make any sense.
The purer the democracy, the quicker the public can legislate themselves into oblivion. Democracy is truly “mob rule”, and we got a glimmer of it last Monday in New Hampshire. People desperately want a strong central government.
The problem with democracy isn’t superficial; it isn’t about “educating the electorate”, or trying to protect individual rights with a Constitution. After all, any Constitution can be overwritten by a large enough majority; it just delays the inevitable.
No, the problem with democracy is fundamental. It’s essential to the system. It’s the very idea of “vote for your preferred political system” in the first place.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the solution is to have a bunch of unelected political leaders. We don’t want to replace “mob-rule” with “rule-by-dictator”. Instead, there’s a sensible alternative.
The only logical solution – both long-term and short-term – is to de-legitimize all forms of government in the first place. People must realize: all monopolies are unnecessary. That includes the government’s monopoly on the use of violence. No group of people can claim legitimate authority to rule over others.
All acceptable social interactions must be voluntary. Coercion must be seen as illegitimate – which condemns all governments as illegitimate. If people understood this, society would be protected from both dictators and mob-rule at the same time.
Nobody gets to rule. Period.
Without a government, people wouldn’t be constantly scrambling for political power. Ambitious politicians wouldn’t have any “higher office”, where they could force their ideas down the throat of everybody else.
I envision a society where ignorant, hateful groups of people cannot use the tools of government to accomplish their goals. We wouldn’t have to worry about “having the wrong people in office”, because there simply wouldn’t be an office.
All of the billions of hours (and dollars) that people revolve around elections and politics – it would evaporate. Take away the legitimacy of government, and you’ve taken away every sociopath’s ability to rule.
And think about the freedom we’d enjoy. No worrying about your jealous neighbors, who consider themselves entitled to your paycheck. No worrying about busy-body zealots, who want to throw you in jail for doing something they don’t approve of. No busy-body regulators, who force you to buy their pre-approved lightbulbs, toilets, drinks, appliances, flights, cars, and everything else. No thugs standing between you and your employees/employers. You would be free to enter into contracts however you please – without thinking twice about a “minimum wage”, payroll taxes, Obamacare regulations, banking regulations, etc. Just pure individual freedom.
Those nasty parts of society – the thieves, murderers, and rapists – would be dealt with by entrepreneurs instead of bureaucrats. What’s the best way to protect your home from intruders? I don’t know, and that’s precisely why we should have a market for it. (Though, if I had to guess, I’d say “dial 911 and pray” is not the best method).
Without government, the power of bad ideas gets dramatically reduced. Ignorance, jealousy, ambition – these things wouldn’t ever be coupled with “the legitimized right to rule other people”.
Half-solutions will only delay the inevitable; democracy is too flawed, because the principle of government is too flawed. I suggest libertarians start finding ways to leave the Titanic before it goes fully underwater. Even if it doesn’t happen in 2016, the American electorate will eventually elect their strong leader, and I don’t want to be around when it happens.