Monday, January 30, 2012

Critique of "benign democracy"

Mon nombril me démange.
— Napoléon Bonaparte

[a re-post]

Question of the day: Most people in the West nowadays would object to the concept of a "benign tyrant"; so, why don't they object to the "benign tyranny" of a democratic government?

To explain:

Oftentimes, I hear from different people that they believe in the necessity of the government stronger than a minimal one — i.e., one that does more than just protect safety of our lives and property, locally and nationally — because they believe in something that needs to be done (charity, public education or medicine, liberating people from tyrants, checking for safety of food and drugs, prayer in school, etc.). As my mother-in-law put it another day, "I am a moral person, and I believe that some things are right, and some things are wrong, and I believe in supporting those things that are right."

Interestingly, these people can be either conservatives or liberals. Obviously, their views of what's "right" and must be done by the government are different, but they believe that they must have a strong government, because they believe in X and they want the government to do X.

Here is why I believe that these people are wrong.

[Before I explain what I mean, let me state that I take it self-evident that the government that governs least governs best and that any application of law is violence and therefore must be done minimally, only when there is no alternative to the government using the force. I.e., I am not going to justify in this post the basic tenets of libertarianism. I am only going to explain why the people who wish for a strong democracy that would enforce these people's pet peeves are logically wrong.]

Most people in the Western society today would rather live in a democratic state, in which the government doesn't do all one wants it to do rather than live under a tyranny. For instance, imagine one is in favor of gay marriage. Or, one is against abortion. And the democratically elected government in one's state (or country) bans gay marriage and supports abortion. Well, I assume most people would rather live under democracy that does these things despite their will than live under a tyranny that would acquiesce to their wishes in these two areas.

So, for the same reason, I would rather live in a free society (with limited, or, better yet, decentralized government) even though not everyone would do in it what I would want them to do ideally (for instance, some rich people would not give charity).

Furthermore, the above argument — I believe in a strong government, because I believe in X, and I want the government to uphold X — can be extended to a tyranny too: a tyrant who would uphold X would be more effective. But you don't want to live under a tyranny, right? You'd rather take X-less democracy, because you believe it to be the lesser of two evils. Well, I'd rather take X-less free society, free of a strong (even democratic) government.

Otherwise, what you're getting with a democracy is a slightly more benign tyranny — and slightly more benign because for the most part, in terms of legislative process, it is less efficient — that sometimes takes your point of view.

Last point. If one lives in a democracy that bans gay marriage, but one is a supporter of the gay marriage, as I mentioned before, one does not say: "Let us institute a tyrant that will support gay marriage." One says: "I will continue living under a democracy, but I will lobby for gay marriage to be allowed." In other words, he will try to convince as many people as possible to agree with his point of view.

Well, what prevents one doing so in a free society? Let's say, one believes that rich people are not giving enough charity. Well, why, instead of making a tyrant out of the government and getting it to take money from the rich people by force, he won't try to "lobby" the rich people? Try to convince them personally to give more charity. Try to convince their customers to "lobby" them or not buy their products if the rich people won't give more charity. Etc.

Remember: the connection between the vox populi and the response of the entrepreneurs is always much tighter than the connection between the will of the people and the response of the bureaucrats and politicians.

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