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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/10116/is-democracy-for-the-demos/

Is Democracy for the Demos?

June 11, 2009 by

Who benefits from democracy? To believe the standard reply, the masses — the demos — benefit from majority rule. I no longer accept that notion. That’s because I recently finished Étienne de La Boétie’s The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude. The book is powerful, indeed. The essence of his argument is that the tyrant rules by the will of the people, as no other means exists for one man to control the fates of millions. FULL ARTICLE

{ 29 comments }

I Hate Psychiatrists June 11, 2009 at 9:31 am

How can I benefit from everybody else deciding for me except myself ?

Democracy means “power to the people”. I don’t feel I have any power.

So I’m fed up with this circus and lie. I no longer vote. On election day, I stay home and do something more productive for my immediate life.

Jake Le Master June 11, 2009 at 10:22 am

The first three letters of the Mises-Hoiles correspondence were linked to last week on Mises.org. The remaining letters have been put up over the past week and I think Hoiles’s arguments are very relatable to this article.

http://www.wendymcelroy.com/news.php?extend.2495

David Spellman June 11, 2009 at 11:15 am

Almost every nation in the world has elections. In some countries you can vote for only one candidate, in some you can vote for two or more candidates. How many names are on the ballot to choose from has little to do with the ensuing tyranny.

Common thieves and government officials share the common bond of willingness to harm or kill you to take your money and property. The only free man is the one equally willing to defend himself from the thieves and government officials who seek to take his goods against his will.

The vast majority shrink in horror at the statement I just made. That is why the vast majority are servile bondsmen. They much prefer the flesh pots of Egypt to crossing the desert to the Promised Land.

Michael A. Clem June 11, 2009 at 11:43 am

On the surface, demcracy seems reasonable–isn’t it better to have things decided by a majority of people than by a minority? But without the right or ability to opt out of democratic decisions, it’s easy for the majority to coerce the minority into things against their will. Thus, democracy is not synonymous with liberty.
One other complication is that most, if not all, of the liberal democracies in the world are merely representative democracies, not pure democracies. Thus, “the people” are one step removed from the actual decision making process, which invites all sorts of problems involving said representation, corruption, elitism and such.
Voting itself raises questions about who gets to decide who or what gets voted on, thus generating another set of problems to deal with.
In short, democracy leaves a lot to be desired.

Scott Fox June 11, 2009 at 12:05 pm

A great book. I also recommend The Menace of the Herd or Procrustes at Large – available at the Mises.org bookstore. It is a bit more challenging that Discourse, but provides exceptional historical context.

Mark June 11, 2009 at 1:40 pm

Good thing we don’t live in a democracy.

Sovy Kurosei June 11, 2009 at 1:43 pm

Jim Fedako

As I see it now, democracy is not to the advantage of the demos, it is to the advantage of the power elite.

Everything is to the advantage of the power elite regardless if you are living in a dictatorship, democracy, capitalist-anarchy, etc.

I Hate Psychiatrists June 11, 2009 at 2:31 pm

David Spellman,

“The only free man is the one equally willing to defend himself from the thieves and government officials who seek to take his goods against his will.”

And how do you propose doing that ? All the employers are forcibly taking away money from your paycheck and act like the taxman’s collectors. If you refuse to let your employer take money away from your paycheck then either you will be fired or you won’t be hired.

If you start a company or run a company, then you have to be registered and pay taxes on your profits and collect taxes on your employees wages.

If you fail to do this the IRS will raid your business.

If you start an illegal underground business also.

And if you hoard all your money in your house and wait for them with your shotgun, they will send in the SWAT and finish you off.

Really, HOW do you defend yourself. It’s not that we are not willing to defend, we just don’t see HOW it can be done ?

I Hate Psychiatrists June 11, 2009 at 2:34 pm

Michael A. Clem,

“One other complication is that most, if not all, of the liberal democracies in the world are merely representative democracies,”

So the most popular dictator wins, the one who promises to tax the rich the most and “redistribute” the most wealth to the voters.

jc butte June 11, 2009 at 3:26 pm

That the function of democracy is to provide legitimacy to whatever puppets the oligarchy elevate to manage their enterprise doesn’t strike me as a particularly original idea, however I’ll put the book on my reading list at any rate.

The brilliance of the democratic idea is that it makes the serfs believe they are not serfs, an act of deception the king could never pull off (assuming he were bright enough to even try).

Mart Grams June 11, 2009 at 5:22 pm

What seems so terrible is the willingness of the masses to surrender so much for so little. As the Jews sold their freedoms for food to Pharoah, we seem to be selling ours for homeland security and cheap aspirins. The elites facade is so easily shorn away if we merely listen, analyze the words and reflect. I read yesterday on global warming. I swear I read that same article 10-5 years ago on global cooling???? The real problem: we who know seem to be frustrated intellectuals swimming in a slient muck!!

Mrhuh June 11, 2009 at 5:28 pm

Good point. It would seem that the great tragedy of Democracy IS that it replaced bullets with ballots instead. But even if democracy is inconsistent with liberty, isn’t tyranny of the majority better than tyranny of the minority.

Brad Warbiany June 11, 2009 at 5:55 pm

jc,

“That the function of democracy is to provide legitimacy to whatever puppets the oligarchy elevate to manage their enterprise doesn’t strike me as a particularly original idea”

I think it was probably a more original idea when de La Boétie wrote of it 450 years ago…

Sadly, to many people it seems like an original idea now, because we haven’t learned the lesson laid out back then.

john f June 11, 2009 at 7:37 pm

This is a good article except we are not a democracy. None of the Government officials care what we think. Didn’t Bush say he doesn’t care what the polls are, he is the decider. They only need to be elected and even then its them or them. Its either one side of the coin or the other. Try to be elected if you are not one of them (R’s or D’s).

Gil June 11, 2009 at 10:02 pm

Complain if you will but the majority with power is better than a elite minority. Besides, “it’s a Republic” is meaningless, as a ‘republic’ is merely a society without a ruling family (i.e. a monarchy). The U.S.A. is a constitutional representative democratic republic, get over it. But is anyone here really that misty-eyed as to believe the ‘magical alternative’ – a oligarchy of private landowners will be uncorruptable or, at least, if it is does then it will still be better than a representative democracy or a dictatorship? Are you hoping that the ‘right system’ will trump human nature?

pbergn June 12, 2009 at 1:44 am

Powerful stuff!

Just a small note on Democracy:

Democracy cannot exist in practice in medium to large size societal groups, due to practical impossibility to establish and enforce various rules and property rights within the group, as it becomes sufficiently large… This is stipulated by mere fact that the members of the group exhibit sufficiently divergent behavior, and have varying conflicting desires and end-goals…

While it is true that relatively small groups tend to co-operate in achieving a common goal, with its growth, the differential of the individual goals also grows, creating centrifugal force, that can only be equilibrated by the external force outweighing the combined benefits of pursuing individual goals…

What concerns the Republic – this is another utopian concept on par with Democracy, Socialism and Communism:

While the idea of the Republic is to have predetermined set of values and laws reflecting them, and enforcing them regardless of how many of its citizens tend to agree or disagree with this predetermined set of laws, it is a practical impossibility to enforce a Republic.

To prove the validity of the above statement it is sufficient to point out that in order to enforce the pre-determined set of laws, there has to be established some mechanism of selecting the enforcing and governing bodies which can be either elected by the majority, appointed by the leading members or be entirely in the hands of private entities…

It is easy to see that in all three cases the inevitable outcome will be the power grab by small number of the members, or the elite, given the smallest chance to interpret the laws of the Republic, with all the ensuing consequences…

Conclusion:

My analysis of all forms of governance show that all forms will eventually deteriorate into Plutocracies with the strong tendencies of eventually becoming classic Fascist states – when the minority ruling the societal entity will become powerful enough not to require any diversion, and will openly and de facto own the State, the land and its people, with physical survival left as the only incentive to its members to follow the rule …

Gil June 12, 2009 at 5:30 am

No prize for you pbergn. TheIron Law of Oligarchy has postulated decades ago.

Shadow June 12, 2009 at 5:08 pm

What historically has proven more beneficial than our current government for the same period of time?

Shadow June 12, 2009 at 6:50 pm

I do realize that the government that America started out with will probable what fit as technically a minarchy, but other than that?

Som June 13, 2009 at 5:55 pm

Nice! I love the discourse!

The greatest tragedy of democracy seems to be that the people are given the illusion of control. The fact that most people think they control their government through voting for politicians keeps people from forming their own revolutions from tyranny. They basically think “Hey, we voted for it, so we must all want it and thus we’re stuck with it” even though I doubt the majority really would vote for something directly like for paying to burn and destroy iraq and afghanistan.

In reality, all people are really voting for is for a person to do whatever he wants with the public, no matter if they want or not. But it’s illusion of control of public affairs that keeps them going to the voting booths. The power elite loves to promote this.

No monarch could have ever dreamed of such power, to tax and conquer as much as he wants at the expense of the people because the people think they in control. By voting for government, we’re losing or rights to “vote” in every other aspect of our lives.

Perhaps a big task for liberty is to expose to the masses the fraud of democracy and voting, not just abstain from voting. Then maybe we can see those lovely revolts revived in communities…

Gil June 13, 2009 at 8:58 pm

“No monarch could have ever dreamed of such power . . .”

What hogwash Som! Absolute Monarchs existed in the 1600s. Mao had near absolute control over some 1 billion Chinese people. If Libertarians can’t tell the difference between the everyday living of a Westerner and the geniune powerlessness of people living under cruel despots then it’s a good thing they can hardly get heard outside Internet blogs.

whatever June 14, 2009 at 5:32 pm

People are constantly commuting “democracy” with “mob rule”. The real value of democracy lies in its inherent protections for minorities, not in the bludgeoning power of “majority rules”, always & everywhere. When has that EVER been an aspect of a democracy?

whatever June 14, 2009 at 5:43 pm

“we who know seem to be frustrated intellectuals swimming in a slient muck!!”

Anyone who denies climate change isn’t an intellectual. Period. Argue that it doesn’t matter, if you like, but denying it makes you look like an idiot, not a frustrated intellectual.

Som June 14, 2009 at 6:41 pm

Gil,

“What hogwash Som! Absolute Monarchs existed in the 1600s. Mao had near absolute control over some 1 billion Chinese people.”

Ok, I’m not sure what you’re trying to tell me by stating that absolute monarchs existed in the 1600′s since Mao’s regime occurred in the latter 20th century, but Hans Herman Hoppe showed that democracies have had an unusually higher degree of state power and control over the history of monarchies, (about 10 times higher). I think this figure includes the absolute monarchs of the 1600′s.

As far as Mao goes, why were the protesters in Tienanmen square demanding that Mao’s policies be restored in the spirit of “democracy”? Certainly at least SOME common Chinese people thought they were in control in Mao’s “democratically elected” regime (how democratic it actually was i don’t know, but it seems like the people there thought it was democratic, pretty significant I say)

“If Libertarians can’t tell the difference between the everyday living of a Westerner and the geniune powerlessness of people living under cruel despots then it’s a good thing they can hardly get heard outside Internet blogs.”

Well to this I highly recommend the book promoted in this very article (convenient!) called the discourse of voluntary servitude, by Ettiene de la Boetie. What he says there applies just as much to Mao’s “democratic” dictatorship as anywhere else people are. If think that reference is too archaic, Leo Tolstoy and Gandhi followed Boetie’s suit in the 20th century

Finally, let me ask you, what’s a more scary “check and balance” to a ruler, getting voted out by ballot every few years, or getting voted out by poisoning of a close heir anytime the ruler messes things up?

Thinker June 14, 2009 at 6:44 pm

whatever: assuming you actually have “democracy”, how can it be anything other than “mob rule”? What expression of “the will of the people” is there other than the rule of the majority? Such a system does not protect minority rights at all.

If you instead have a “representative democracy”, then you don’t end up with “rule by the people”, but rather with “rule by the elites who control the government regardless of what ‘the people’ want”. For examples, see the governments of every industrialized nation.

On climate change, of course the climate changes. It would be very difficult to find someone who seriously believes that this gigantic, chaotic system remains the exactly same throughout time. But that is not the issue. Neither is whether it matters. People will deal with (or not) its effects as they meet them. The issue is whether any given observed climate change is man-made. This issue is disputed by those who say No and ignored by those who say Yes. And the elites all say Yes.

Gil June 14, 2009 at 9:17 pm

Som, I s’pose it’s funny how Ayn Rand had at explaining to average schmoes that it does matter a great deal if your employer is a privater operator or a public one. Of course, to average worker, both operators boss him around for eight or more hours, he has to some sort of work and follow some sort of rules and at the end of the week gets paid for it. Apparently for Libertarians they must be the meat in the sandwich where only they can’t tell the difference between private landowners and public landowners. “Monarchs? Presidents? Prime Ministers? They’re all the same!”

Besides where does this greater control of Democracies comef from? Is it not a coincidence that Democracies happen take hold at the same time as there was great population and technological growth? Modern government have more control simply because there’s a helluva lot more people around these days, not to mention telephones? Still, since when do Monarchs get routinely bumped off? And since when did Monarchs get bumped that led to change in the betterment of society or just ‘more of the same’?

Som June 15, 2009 at 10:08 pm

Gil,

“Of course, to average worker, both operators boss him around for eight or more hours, he has to some sort of work and follow some sort of rules and at the end of the week gets paid for it.”

Unless you actually work for your government boss, trying quitting the military whenever you feel like it. Sounds absurd huh? Well you and everyone know (alotta times subconsciously) that the rules of the game are different when dealing with the state.

“Apparently for Libertarians they must be the meat in the sandwich where only they can’t tell the difference between private landowners and public landowners. “Monarchs? Presidents? Prime Ministers? They’re all the same!”

They have the same goals perhaps, but are you trying to say the tragedy of the commons doesn’t apply to territorial monopolies like the state?

“Besides where does this greater control of Democracies comef from? Is it not a coincidence that Democracies happen take hold at the same time as there was great population and technological growth?”

The correlation does not imply causation. One possibility is that the great population and technology growth could have occurred out of freer times and conditions under monarch, while democracy could have been a luxury effect for the power elite. It seems to take relatively enormous amounts of wealth to sustain a democracy for a little while (only 90 years and failing so far)

“Modern government have more control simply because there’s a helluva lot more people around these days, not to mention telephones? Still, since when do Monarchs get routinely bumped off? And since when did Monarchs get bumped that led to change in the betterment of society or just ‘more of the same’?”

What if you have alot of strong willed, independent people who don’t trust the state in any form, and love liberty will all their lives? No amount of telephones and transmitters will bring about a state in their lands.

I don’t know much about the history of monarchy rule, so I can’t tell you who got knocked off or who didn’t. But even if hardly any got knocked off, what does that prove? Most slaves weren’t whipped, but that doesn’t mean the whip wasn’t there. They just knew that it’s better to avoid getting whipped instead of messing things up. Humans are mindful of consequences, so they more often shape up than defy when defiance will most likely lead to injury or death. And for the new replacement rulers making things better vs more of the same, I think the rule of “once bitten, twice shy” applies. Its more likely the new replacement rulers were afraid to do too much except reverse the bad policies of the past ruler.

gene June 16, 2009 at 2:10 pm

What is the alternative in this article “rule by the minority”? which minority? some group will love that!

sound governing involves setting up very basic laws that all agree to. part of these laws is deciding how decisions are to be made. Any decision cannot break the essence of the basic laws. It seems the best method WOULD be the consent of the majority as long as it lies within the boundaries of the original law [constitution, etc.]. Would it be better to rely on the minority? or the appointed few? appointed by who?

Anarchy is another option.

The problem is not so much the “type” of government or the fact there is a government. The problem is and has always been the “human” element.

Michael A. Clem June 16, 2009 at 2:25 pm

The problem is that there is voluntary consent and involuntary consent. Democracy may be an improvement on minority rule, but it still involves involuntary consent. Anarchy isn’t an option–it is THE option.

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