Once Again, Democracy Is Not Freedom (and We Are Not the Government)

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President Bush and his neoconservative supporters were practically teary-eyed on election day in Iraq. No longer did it matter that the weapons of mass destruction that had been used to scare the American people into supporting the war didn’t exist. Or that thousands of U.S. troops and tens of thousands of Iraqis were now dead or maimed. Or that the Pentagon and CIA had plunged America into a shameful orgy of torture and sordid sex acts. Or that billions upon billions of dollars of U.S. taxpayer money were being frittered away, even while the value of the dollar continued to plummet in international markets.

No, all that mattered now was that the Iraqi people had finally been given the opportunity to elect their rulers.

Pardon me for asking some indelicate questions, but under what moral authority does one nation invade and occupy another nation for the purpose of conducting a national election, especially when the invasion and occupation are likely to result in the deaths and maiming of tens of thousands of people, including American soldiers and Iraqi citizens? Isn’t it possible that those U.S. soldiers would have placed a higher value on their lives and health than on a national election in Iraq, especially if they had known prior to the invasion that they were not protecting America from a WMD attack after all? Isn’t it possible those dead and maimed Iraqis would have preferred life and health, albeit under tyranny, just as millions of people in Eastern Europe did through the many decades of the Cold War?

Let’s not forget the simple truth that democracy is not freedom. Thus, the mere fact that many of the Iraqi people voted in a national election does not mean that Iraqis are now free or that they’re going to be free in the near future. In fact, given the political and religious beliefs of the Shi’ite group that garnered the most votes, early indications are exactly the opposite.

“What?” you ask. “How can that be? Democracy is freedom! President Bush and our military leaders tell us so.”

Unfortunately, however, it just ain’t so. President Bush and the Pentagon are as wrong about freedom and democracy as they were about WMDs in Iraq.

The fact is that democracy is the very worst form of government there is, except for all the rest, as Winston Churchill once pointed out. Its only real advantage, as Ludwig von Mises observed, is that it provides the citizenry with the ability to peacefully change a regime by voting it out of office. To change a totalitarian regime almost always entails violence, such as a revolution.

What ultimately matters with respect to freedom is not so much how a ruler is selected but rather the extent of the ruler’s powers once he’s installed into office.

Let’s assume, for example, that an elected ruler has omnipotent power over the citizenry. That is, there is no legislature that enacts laws and no judicial branch to interpret them. Whatever the ruler says, goes. He rules by decree. He has the power to jail anyone he wants for any reason whatsoever, to torture people, to punish critics, to shut down the press and public assemblies, to confiscate weapons, and to send the nation into war. He has unlimited power to tax. He even has the power to force people to attend religious services.

Could people in that society be considered free? President Bush would undoubtedly say, “Yes, because people had the right to vote, and he was the one who won. And if people feel that their ruler has abused his powers, they are free to oust him from office in the next election.”

But how can living under dictatorship, albeit democratically elected, be considered genuine freedom?

It’s not difficult to see how our American ancestors felt about democracy. They considered it so bad that they enacted the Bill of Rights to protect us from it.

After all, carefully read the Bill of Rights. You’ll notice something interesting: It doesn’t give people rights at all. Instead, it protects us from democracy.

The popular refrain, “We are the government,” is false too. After all, if we are the government, then why does the Bill of Rights protect those of us in the private sector from those in the government sector?

Will Bush’s militarily installed democracy bring freedom to the Iraqi people? He says it already has, because the Iraqi people were free to vote. There are strong indications, however, that the new Iraqi regime intends to establish close ties to the Islamic regime in Iran, which Bush says is evil and unfree, and may even mirror many Iranian policies. If that happens, one can only wonder whether he will change his tune about democracy and freedom, especially if U.S. troops end up killing and dying both in Iraq and Iran.

Jacob Hornberger [send him mail] is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

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