The Evils of Democracy

It is with great amusement that I observe the “international community” bend over backwards to support the “democratically elected” president of Honduras, who was overthrown and packed into exile by a Honduran military operating vaguely under the aegis of the Honduran Supreme Court. This shows the tragedy of elevating the means, democracy, over the end, liberty. This, once again, raises the crucial distinction between a republic and a democracy.

Democracy is based on the principle that an effective majority can determine everything about a society. Vox populi, vox dei. A republic is based on the principle that concentrations of power have to be avoided in order to preserve liberty for all or part of a population. Democracy is a weighing. A republic is a balancing. In a democracy, some selected degree of control is given to the people because it’s the people’s right. In a republic, some selected degree of control is given through various sundry paths because the people hopefully provide a check on the elites of their polity, preserving space for liberty. It is the series of balances, power being made to counter power and ambition being made to check ambition, that define a republic. If giving people none of the power would maintain liberty, that would be an acceptable republican solution. If giving people all of the power would maintain liberty, that would be an acceptable republican solution. It is the maintenance of liberty, not the expression of the will of a majority, that is the overall goal of a republic.

The Peisistratos playbook has been to use democracy, the means, to undermine liberty, the end. You get support from the poorest against the elites and, using the numerical and moral superiority of commanding an effective majority of the people, you gain enough power to overturn the fundamental law of a political community. This opens the road to tyranny. However it’s a special type of tyranny. It’s tyranny legitimized by the magical invocation of democracy. The clause “democratically elected” attached to any petty tyrant is an instant red flag that something is terribly wrong. Even the original form of democracy instituted by Cliesthenes in Athens was not called demokratia. It was called isonomia (”equality vis à vis law”, iso=equality; nomos=law). Equal rights was the refrain, not equal suffrage. It may even be that sortition, rule by the lot, also used in places by the Athenian democracy, is a better mechanism than majority rule to ensure liberty. Republics like Venice used a mixture of sortition and election quite successfully.

Democracy is not an ideal to uphold. It is an evil to be tolerated because other means have greater toxicity for liberty.

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