Democracy or Freedom?

March 30, 2009

Could any decent moral principle ever justify a mob banding together and telling you that if you want to remain on your own property, you must “consent” (although that word doesn’t actually apply, since consent implies the right to refuse–and they aren’t offering you that) to the orders given to you by their organization, or else they will band together to lock you in a cage—and that your only other option is to abandon your property, quit your job, leave behind your family, and relocate outside the bounds of the arbitrarily defined geographical area that gang claims dominion over? If any individual approached you on his own and demanded, “Either submit to my commands or relocate outside of the lines I’ve randomly drawn on this map, or else I’m going to lock you in the cage,” you would immediately dismiss him as a lunatic. So why do we pretend that it is morally legitimate for individuals to do precisely this very thing simply because they have banded together as a mob? Certainly a mob doesn’t gain more rights than the individuals composing it just because a majority of that mob (not even the whole thing!) got together in a room to raise their hands and write someone’s name on a piece of paper. . . . so why do we continue to pretend democracy is a morally justifiable system?

Nineteenth-century lawyer, political philosopher, and slave abolitionist Lysander Spooner summarized the ethical problem with democratic “representation” (sic) succinctly, in the late 1870s: ”It is self-evident that no number of men, by conspiring, and calling themselves a government, can acquire any rights whatever over other men, or other men’s property, which they did not have before as individuals. And whenever any number of men, calling themselves a government, do anything to another man, or to his property, which they had no right to do as individuals, they thereby declare themselves trespassers, robbers, and murderers, according to the nature of their acts.” Voltairine de Cleyre, echoing his words in 1890, wrote: ”[A] body of voters can not give into your charge any rights but their own; by no possible jugglery of logic can they delegate the exercise of any function which they themselves do not control. If any individual on earth has a right to delegate his powers to whomsoever he chooses, then every other individual has an equal right to do the same; and if each has an equal right, then none can choose an agent for another without that other’s consent. Therefore, if the power of government resides in the whole people, and out of that whole all but one elected you as their representative, you would still have no authority whatever to act for the one. The individuals composing the minority who did not appoint you have just the same rights and powers as those composing the majority who did; and if they prefer not to delegate them at all, then neither you, nor any one, has any authority whatever to coerce them into accepting you, or any one else, as their ’representative.’”

The formula here is simple: If you don’t have the right to murder me, then you don’t have the right to hire a hitman to murder me. Holding an election in which a majority “voted” in favor of my murder would give no moral legitimacy whatsoever to the hitman’s attempt on my life. Likewise, if you don’t have the right to steal from me or conscript me into a war, then you don’t have the right to force a politician on me to steal from me or conscript me into a war, either. A “democratic election” would give no more moral legitimacy to that politician’s theft of my property and time than it would have to the hitman’s theft of my life.

To rephrase the points made by Spooner and de Cleyre in modern language: men have the right to choose rulers for themselves, and to delegate their rights to life, liberty, and property to others if they so choose—but they have no right to impose rulers or “representatives” on non-consenting individuals. Politicians are only human beings; thus, they are not exempt from the ethical law by which we are morally required to guide our own conduct: namely, the obligation not to initiate force or fraud against the person or property of any non-consenting, noncriminal individuals. In this respect, politicians possess no rights which are not possessed by their citizens—and those citizens, likewise, have no right to delegate to politicians rights that they themselves do not possess. Governments therefore have no right to take any actions that would be illegitimate were they performed by a citizen of that government. And yet, as even apologists for democratic government admit, “almost everything that governments do would be crimes if committed by individuals.” This approving quote is from lawyer Dan Evans. Here’s a question Mr. Evans should ponder: Since when is government not composed of individuals? Does an act does cease to be a crime simply because the individual committing it calls himself a representative of “government?”

It is worth taking a moment here to point out that, strictly speaking, no such thing as “government” actually exists. The ever-insightful Voltairine de Cleyre clearly acknowledged this fact in the eighteenth century when she wrote: “Try to approach God, and you are doomed always to confer with an agent, a mere representative—a priest. But government is just as unreal, just as fictional, and just as as imaginary as God. Try it, if you don’t believe it—seek through the legislative halls of America and see if you can find the “Government.” In the end you will be doomed to confer with a mere agent, just as in the case before. The politician is a representative of that abstract entity known as “Government” in the same sense and to the same degree that the priest is a representative of that abstract entity known as “God.” Each pretends to represent some venerated fiction in hopes of awing you into respecting him enough to hand over a tithe—and just as the priest always handles your money only in the name of God, so the politician always handles it only in the name of Government.” So does an act does cease to be a crime simply because the individual committing it calls himself a representative of that unapproachable fiction we refer to by the word “government?”

“Man,” to continue this series of quotes with another one from Lysander Spooner, “is no less a slave because he is allowed to choose a new master once in a given term of years.” But democracy does not even allow a citizen to choose his own masters—it merely grants him but one voice out of thousands or even millions over who his new masters will be. Thus, Spooner’s statement could be updated to read: “Man is no less a slave because he is given the right to squeal amidst screams over who his new masters will be.” To the Americans forced to shell over thousands of dollars each year for “agricultural subsidies” in which farmers are paid to throw away perfectly good food, it makes no difference that the decision to give those farmers money stolen from American citizens was made through the democratic process. The rights of an individual forced off of his own property are no less being violated because a majority votes for it and then calls it “imminent domain.” The one million innocent Iraqis murdered in the invasion of Iraq and two million more displaced from their homes are no more grateful for their deaths and displacements because the invading country decided to do so by vote. The six million Jews slaughtered in Nazi Germany were no better off because Adolf Hitler was democratically elected by a majority of Germany’s voting population. None of these victims of democracy were any better off because they were allowed to write a name on a piece of paper before becoming victims of theft, force, and murder. This can all be summarized as follows: “Democracy” is not freedom; it is not justice—it is, in fact, nothing more and nothing less than rule by the fleeting whims of the voting majority of a mob.