Democracy's Little Mendacities

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It
is usually around election times that we are instructed in the high
theory of democracy.

We
are instructed that the right to vote is “the sacred right of a
democratic people,” a right that many people died to preserve. We
are instructed that only in a democracy is the will of the people
fully expressed and honored. And we are instructed that government,
in a democracy, is an institution that empowers the people.

These
notions are mendacities masquerading as high-minded, lofty thought.

There
is nothing sacred about the right to vote, except to those who have
rejected God and now turn to the government for mercy and grace.

Many
Americans, indeed, have died in wars. But they didn’t die to preserve
the right to vote. Most died because they were conscripted by the
government to fight in wars against people who posed no threat whatsoever
to our right to vote.

This
does not detract from the honor and courage of the men who fought
and died for the country. No doubt most of them believed they were
fighting for the principle on which this country was founded. But
that principle was liberty, not democracy.

Liberty
and democracy are not the same. Where there is liberty, there can
be no tyranny, but tyrants have rarely found democracy to be much
of an obstacle. Even in the U.S. If any two US presidents qualify
as tyrants, Lincoln and F. D. Roosevelt would be the two — the
very two that most Americans regard as the nation’s greatest presidents.

Popular
thinking has it that a democracy is ultimately governed by the will
of the people. Governed by mob rule would be more accurate. For
there is no such thing as “the will of the people.”

A
person has a will. A person chooses and acts. But “the people” is
an abstraction. “The people” is not a separate being with a will
of its own, a separate being that chooses and acts on its own behalf.

What
is meant by “the will of the people,” of course, is the consent
of the majority (a notion only slightly less obscure than “the will
of the people”). But what makes the consent of the majority a worthy
standard? Is the majority always right? Should the majority get
what they want?

Suppose
a majority of people want to string up a man because they don’t
like his skin color. Should they get their way? Isn’t that what
honoring the will of the people would require? And, if the will
of the people is to be honored, wouldn’t this grotesque majority
be justified in forcing the man to spring for the rope?

In
a democracy, government does, indeed, empower the people. It empowers
them to be parasites.

Government
is an inherently parasitic institution. It finances itself through
its power to tax — that is, its power to take money from people
by force.

Democracy
empowers people to grab hold of that power and use it for their
own particular benefit. And grab hold they do.

The
democratic arrangement of power is different from other arrangements
but no less parasitic: money dispensed by government to some must
first be taken by government from others. In fact, the democratic
arrangement is more parasitic, for now, any one can get in on the
act.

Government
becomes the middleman, the parasitic intermediary, in the democratic
arrangement, and the politicians and bureaucrats who run the operation
secure a good buck at it. Their work is called public service.

Recent
presidential campaigns show how people, empowered by democracy,
assert themselves. The standard criterion many voters use to evaluate
a candidates is: What is he going to do for me? The candidates know
this is the standard criterion, which is why they grovel and pander
and fall all over themselves to persuade “working families” and
“all Americans” that the goods they want will be delivered.

And
on election day, the people descend on the polls like hungry tapeworms
digging their way through a host.

November
22, 2000

Don Matthews is a columnist for the Brunswick (Ga.) News.

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