Democracy Versus Freedom

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have ever been spectacles of turbulence and conflict; have ever
been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of
property; and have in general been as short in their lives as
they have been violent in their deaths.

Madison, fourth president of the United States
and primary Framer of the U.S. Constitution

and major media constantly tell us that oppressed peoples crave
“democracy,” and that only a democratic world will be
free and peaceful. Now President Bush has launched a campaign to
bring “freedom and democracy” to the world.

But are freedom
and democracy the same thing? And will democracy imposed by force
guarantee peace?

collectivism, and individualism

Consider the
meanings of three key political concepts:

  1. Democracy:
    that form of government in which sovereign power resides in
    the people as a whole, and is exercised either directly by them
    or by officers elected by them.

  2. Collectivism:
    a politico-economic system in which the means of production
    and the distribution of goods and services are controlled by
    the collective, that is, the society or state considered as
    a group – e.g., Nazi Germany and Communist China.

  3. Individualism:
    the social theory which advocates the free and independent action
    of the individual person, as opposed to collectivist methods
    of organization and state interference.

In fact, democracy
is much closer to collectivism than it is to individualism. Like
collectivism, democracy places essential political power with the
group, rather than with the individual person – thus making
everyone’s freedom subject to the passions of the mob or those
with the most power.

What is democracy?

the world, democracy is as often a cover for tyranny as it is a
protection for liberty. Many countries call themselves “democracies”
and have regular elections, yet systematically oppress their own

For example,
Stalinist North Korea calls itself “the Democratic People’s
Republic of Korea” and communist China calls itself the “People’s
Republic of China.” Like the old Soviet Union, they have regular
elections, elected legislatures, and even some choice of candidates.

However, it’s
all a fraud. Voting is mandatory. The only party allowed to run
candidates is the Communist Party. Legislatures rubber-stamp the
decrees of party bosses. And anyone who objects strongly or tries
to set up another party ends up dead or in a slave labor camp.

Many countries
in Africa, Asia, and Latin America also now have multi-party democracies
– but little freedom. Vote fraud is massive, opposition candidates
are often beaten or murdered by government thugs, and a small elite
controls all power. Citizens have little freedom, but lots of poverty.

What of Western
democracies? Things are better, but far from free of corruption,
fraud, and manipulation of voters.

Even in the
United States, more and more people report their votes are not being
counted. Electronic voting makes fraud easy (and nearly undetectable).
Congressional districts are gerrymandered to guarantee that one
party always wins. Third parties, such as the Libertarians and Greens,
face virtually insurmountable obstacles, including oppressive ballot-access
and campaign-finance laws. Only Republicans and Democrats are allowed
in most televised political debates. And third-party election results
are often not even reported by the media.

Whatever its
virtues, democracy is not freedom. As the 19th-century French philosopher
Alexis de Tocqueville warned in his classic Democracy in America,
a democracy can be just as tyrannical as a dictatorship once the
voters decide to vote themselves money from the treasury.

is a method of deciding who shall rule. It does not determine the
morality of the resulting government. At best, democracy means that
government has popular support. But popular support is no guarantee
that government will protect your freedom.

In a democracy,
if most voters support freedom of speech, press, religion, association,
and enterprise, their elected government will probably respect such

But if voters
prefer that governments impose a welfare state and confiscatory
taxes, ban unapproved drugs, impose censorship, imprison critics,
seize the property of unpopular groups, torture prisoners, and draft
the young, a democratic government will probably grant those wishes

Conceived in
liberty, not in democracy

Founders were well aware of the evils of pure democracy and wisely
made the United States a limited constitutional republic in which
individual rights were strongly protected.

The word “democracy”
does not appear either in the Declaration of Independence or in
the U.S. Constitution. Instead, Article IV, Section 4 of the Constitution
guarantees “to every State in this Union a Republican Form
of Government.”

The difference
between a constitutional republic and a democracy is the difference
between liberty and slavery. As Ira Glasser, former director of
the American Civil Liberties Union, explains,

Even in a democracy the majority must be limited in order to guarantee
individual rights and personal autonomy.

If whites
have more votes than blacks, they cannot be allowed to deny blacks
their constitutional rights. If men have more political power than
women, that cannot permit them to deny women certain individual
rights. Winning an election should not permit the victors to assemble
their votes and enact laws or govern in a way that strips those
who lose of their liberty.

Electoral versus
substantive rights

To understand
why democracy does not guarantee freedom, it is essential to distinguish
between electoral and substantive rights.

rights define your ability to participate in the election of some
government officials.

rights give you some say in who governs. They do not guarantee that
elected officials will respect your freedom.

rights are the ability to control your own life and property. They
are the core elements of freedom.

Your substantive
rights include your: (1) right to life, liberty, and property; (2)
freedom of speech and press; (3) right to trial by jury; (4) freedom
to travel; (5) freedom of religion; (6) freedom to educate your
children as you see fit; (7) right to own and run your own business;
(8) right to defend yourself, including the right to own guns; and
(9) right not to be spied on by government.

The Declaration
of Independence expresses this vision well:

We hold these Truths to be self-evident; that all Men are created
equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable
Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness….

is no guarantee of peace

Just as democracy
is no guarantee of freedom, neither is it a guarantee of peace.

It is true
that the relatively free democratic states are less likely to fight
each other.

But democratically
elected regimes frequently attack weak nondemocracies.

As Ivan Eland
explains in The
Empire Has No Clothes
, “The three greatest imperial
powers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries – France,
Great Britain, and the United States – were democracies.”

Indeed, in
the 20th century, the United States attacked more countries than
any other nation. Since the end of World War II, the United States
has engaged in more than 200 armed conflicts, killing hundreds of
thousands of civilians – waging wars or military actions in
Korea, Vietnam, Panama, Grenada, Colombia, Haiti, Iraq, Afghanistan,
Serbia, and Bosnia. In nearly all of these conflicts, there was
no threat to the United States.

It is clear
from the history of Britain, France, Germany, and the United States,
that democracy is no guarantee of peace.

Is democracy
necessary for freedom?

While democracy
doesn’t guarantee either freedom or peace, there are many historical
examples of societies that didn’t have either elections or
legislatures, but in which people’s rights were strongly protected.

Examples include
the American colonies before the Revolutionary War … the American
West in the 19th century, where violence was one-tenth of what it
is in large U.S. cities today … many cantons in Switzerland today,
which have little government … and the nations of Andorra and

In fact, for
centuries much of the world had law and order without legislatures
or elected rulers. Instead they had what might be called “free-market
justice” provided by traveling judges adjudicating disputes,
with decisions enforced by local communities and sheriffs.

This nonelectoral
legal system (explained in the book, The
Enterprise of Law
, by Bruce L. Benson) created what is today
known as “the common law” – thousands of collected
decisions that provide the basis for law in America, Europe, and
much of the free world.

The path to
freedom and peace

the world, thugs and despots – some democratically elected,
and some not – solemnly give lip-service to “democracy”
and “freedom,” while doing everything in their power to
destroy them.

To have a
free and peaceful world, we must create societies in which the inalienable
rights of the individual person are again respected, and the powers
of government are strictly limited.

That means
ending confiscation of property without trial, secret arrests, imprisonment
without conviction, and torture of prisoners. It means abolishing
sovereign-immunity laws, which exempt government agents from legal
responsibility when they kidnap, steal, torture, or murder.

It means creating
truly independent citizens’ grand juries with the power to
investigate and indict corrupt government officials and police.

And it means
ceasing government spying on its own citizens and ending foreign
invasions to impose “democracy” by force.

No, democracy
is not the same as liberty. All too often, building “democracy”
has been used as a justification for destroying freedom.

To achieve
a free and peaceful world, we must restore freedom and individual
liberty, not democracy.

4, 2006

Wollstein is a director at The
International Society for Individual Liberty
and co-founder
of the original Society for Individual Liberty in 1969. He is the
author of 28 books and special reports, including Surviving
and Shadow
Over the Land: The Government’s War On Your Liberty

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