Quo vadis, domine?

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If voting could change anything, it would be illegal. ~
Kurt Tucholsky

I still remember
sitting on the wooden benches in front of Blakley Library at the
University of Dallas on an early summer morning years ago, reading
The Free and Prosperous Commonwealth, (originally
Liberalism) of von Mises, surely the most
succinct statement of classical liberalism ever written. Looking
down the brick concourse and up at the Braniff Tower and at the
bright clouds in the hard Texas light, it was easy to think that
here the great project of the Enlightenment, the application of
science to the problems of society, was realized. How easy to make
this my ambition: not to devise some labor-saving invention, but
to make people free! How obvious that the von Mises distillation
of thousands of minds aspiring to freedom would sweep all before
it!

Well, the most
purely classical liberal program in the history of our republic
has just been set before this democracy by Ron Paul, and it has
not caught fire. It should be fairly obvious that the great majority
of adults, all of whom enjoy the franchise, are not only unable
to recognize a defender of their freedom in Ron Paul, but given
the u201Cspectacles
of turbulence and contentionu201D
in our democracy (substance abuse,
obesity, the popularity of talk radio and the u201Cchoking
gameu201D
– I draw a distinction, celebrity worship, sports
obsession, snake handling, UFO belief, psychic belief, occult belief,
cult belief, belief that government
prayer can cause rain in Atlanta
), are unable to even use freedom
to advance their own happiness. We must admit the Ron Paul failure
in the 2008 presidential election and ask ourselves quo vadis,
where do we go now? His candidacy and the youthful, passionate support
it generated should counsel against despair. The real temptation
to despair lies in this foremost challenge: How are we to bridle
democracy? The Founders feared
it as much as any tyranny
, and for nearly two centuries their
mechanisms of federalism and the dispersion of powers were the bit
in its teeth.

Institutional
constraints

Let's meet
the temptation head-on, and proceed top down from there. To pursue
in this country an antidemocratic alternative would be despair itself.
But let's state the case provocatively. Which is more probable:
that the premier of communist China would open his country to liberalism,
or that the American public would pass an amendment limiting the
growth of the federal government? That question has already been
answered, and the friends of democracy are embarrassed. In 1979,
Deng Xiaoping decided to turn Shenzhen, a tiny fishing village near
Hong Kong, into a laboratory of capitalism (The Chinese,
Becker,
p70). Thirty years later Shenzhen is home to 12 million people and
the seventh-tallest building in the world (Newsweek, 12-31-2007,
p42). In 1983, in his book Tyranny of the Status Quo, Milton
Friedman described a u201CConstitutional
Amendment to Limit the Growth of Spending.”
The notion was kicked
around the democratic
forum for some 15 years
and died.

In the forceful
Democracy:
The God that Failed
of Hans-Hermann Hoppe, anarchism and
kingship are given plausibility. You may think that they have no
practical force, but Hoppe's central critique, that democracy has
no long-term incentive for preservation of capital, must be addressed
by every realistic thinker. The answer may suggest some institutional
mechanism for lowering the time preference of capital in a democracy.
Practical or not, the Prince
of Liechtenstein
is apparently impressed enough to invite professor
Hoppe over to Schloss
Vaduz
to talk about these ideas. Also, it is no small thing
that the most learned man I have ever read, Erik
Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn
, was a persuasive monarchist.

u201CBridlingu201D
democracy means limiting its scope. Before James Madison, it was
thought that democracy could only succeed in small communities.
The genius of the American Constitution is that it compartmentalizes
the scope of democratic power through federalism so that it is safe
for a nation of any size. In our original federal republic the public
could vote directly only on matters where it had direct knowledge:
the funding of the local school, or the character of the representative
they were sending, not to the central government, but to the state
congress. Now, not only has the purview of government grown, but
the franchise votes on matters of which it has not the slightest
knowledge. Along with the widening of the scope of both government
and of matters controlled by the franchise has come the consolidation
of government power at the center. If u201Cconsolidationu201D
is an evil, and if unlimited purview is an evil, then surely consolidation
of all-intrusive government under direct democracy is worse still.
The failure of Friedman's rather modest Constitutional amendment
to limit the federal leviathan shows the difficulty of that approach.
Ayn Rand famously advocated u201Ca
separation of state and economics, in the same way and for the same
reasons as the separation of state and church.u201D
It's time for
the Randians to put up or shut up on that score. Let them translate
this sound bite into a specific Constitutional amendment, if they
can.

At a lower
level, many alternatives have been offered to simple plurality voting.
Range
voting
is one of these. Olympic scoring, where an average of
the judges' scores is determined, is one example of range voting,
as is the YouTube rating system. For voters, this would mean that
they list several alternatives, and the averages of all alternatives
would determine the winner. According to mathematician and voting
theorist William
Poundstone
, range voting is the most fair. A less-favored alternative
to plurality voting is instant runoff voting, or IRV. Under this
method you also list alternatives, but choices below your first
one are not considered unless the first choice fails to win a plurality,
in which case your vote transfers to a front-runner. This method
is not a novelty. For example, the Australian
lower house has been using it since 1922
.

Rob Richie
at FairVote.org has been trying to mend various flaws in the democratic
process since 1992. One interesting proposal is impartial redistricting,
which would fix the inherently biased redistricting by the party
in power. Another interesting proposal addressing the flaws in the
primary process is The
American Plan
of Thomas
Gangale
. This proposal would order the primary process from
smaller states to larger, with the states ordered randomly within
10 groups. In other words, states with a u201Ctownhallu201D approach to
candidates would hold primaries before media circus states.

At a still
lower level, it might be possible to change the method of governance
at the civic level, in other words, strive to create a model city.
The difficulty here is that the city is doubly burdened by federal
restraints of all kinds as well as by state law, which takes precedence
in setting voting rules, in how a city charters itself, and in many
other matters.

In situ constraints

In stark contrast
to the foregoing institutional bridling of democracy is what we
might call the in situ constraint of democracy. This is the
option of those who take earnestly to heart Franklin's or Rose Wilder
Lane's motto u201Cwherever
liberty dwells, there is my country.”
In this case, those
dissatisfied with their democratic rulers turn the tables and in
effect elect new ones for themselves elsewhere. Once again we move
top down through the possibilities, starting with creating a land
of liberty out of nothing. In 1972 this was the goal of Werner Stiefel's
Operation
Atlantis
, whose attempt to create a new island in the Caribbean
foundered in a hurricane, as it was of Michael Oliver's Republic
of Minerva
, who failed to create a sovereign state in the South
Pacific as well as in the Bahamas. Less difficult than this might
be migrating to a country more favorable to liberty. New Zealand,
Switzerland, Iceland, Lithuania, Liechtenstein, or any of the top
numbers in the Fraser Institute's u201CEconomic
Freedom of the World Projectu201D
might be candidates. The trouble
is, citizenship in these countries is very difficult to acquire,
and even then, as the history of New Zealand and others shows, their
friendliness to liberal principles is not guaranteed. In other words,
they are democracies.

Libertarian
literature on secession is broad and favorable, as Thomas
DiLorenzo
, James
Ostrowski
, C.H.
Wellman
, and others
attest. Unfortunately, this issue was settled by force, to the detriment
of liberalism
. Secession is so forthright and true that the
prevailing powers cannot fail to whip up hysteria against it.

The Free
State Project of Jason Sorens
focuses on the conversion of a
single U.S. state to liberal principles, by having a critical mass
of voters move to the state. That critical mass is thought to be
20,000. However, this number is about equal to the number that migrate
to the state for other reasons. And in spite of the appeal of the
idea, so far only 8,234 have pledged and 518 have actually moved.

Finally in
this broad category is the one who enfranchises his family or himself,
moving opportunely anywhere in the world as he sees fit. This is
the u201CSovereign
Individualu201D
of James Dale Davidson, who proposed it after exasperation
with the half-measures of the National Taxpayers Union, which he
had founded. While we may discount much of what Rothbard derided
as u201Cspace cadetu201D features of Davidson's eponymous book – that
is, the hyperbolic gushing that new technologies would transform
and save everything – the principle works if you can afford
it. Notably lacking in this kind of hyperbole is Bill
Bonner
, who is perhaps a better representative of the principle.

The long
march

The institutional
and in situ constraints above provide medium- and short-term
solutions to the problem of democracy. There remains the u201Clong
march through the institutions.u201D
Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn has said
that all
politics is at bottom theology
, especially meaning that our
view of the nature of man – fixed and fallible for those on
the right; plastic and perfectible for those on the left –
determines what we think politics can do. But however belief may
shape our fundamental views and our motives, it seems proper that
the prevailing notion of the separation of church and state, which
is broader than the Founders' stricture against an established church,
should rule. If this were not so, there would be no testability
or falsifiability of proposals said to have come from belief. An
advocate could say, u201CThe Koran/Talmud/Bible says so, and that's
an end of the discussion.u201D – And the start of the power struggle.
If pastor Ted
Haggard
proposes limiting the advance of homosexual rights,
let him cite Michael
Fumento
, not the Bible. If pastor John
Hagee
thinks that Israel should dictate American foreign policy,
let him convince us without inventing
a doctrine of dual salvation
not found in the scripture he purports
to literally believe.

A successful
long march through the educational system empowered many of the
intellectuals of the 1960s. The truly liberal path must go there
as well. It should include home-schooling at the lower levels and
acquisition of chairs at the higher level. The Ron Paul campaign
proved that classical liberalism is on the side of youth. Failing
to provide it for the generations to come would be to put out the
light completely.

A shadow government
– say alternate government, to distinguish it from the broodings
of conspiracy theorists – should be established by Libertarians.
By this I mean that classical liberal candidates should be named
for every post in government, at every level. The lopsided percentage
of Libertarians who are programmers should make this possible by
providing a multiplayer online application for that purpose. In
this same vein there should be an online u201CProgram for the First
100 Days of a Libertarian Administration.u201D The Libertarian party
should provide a plug-in framework in all the states for these candidates,
should the fickle electorate provide an opening to realize what
had seemed to be an online game.

And finally,
where are the wealthy businessmen and rich eccentrics when you need
them? If someone can waste $20
million for a bad ride into space
, can't he be persuaded to
be the David
Koch
for a good cause? I am convinced that this could happen
if a committee of influential Libertarians determined to do it.
A similar committee should also be created to effect the spectacular
conversion of a u201Cmainstreamu201D Republican with Libertarian leanings.

I offer this
map more as a sketch than a blueprint. But two things I think are
not provisional: that we have much to be optimistic about, and that
the first step from the defeat of Ron Paul must address the failings
of democracy.

February
25, 2008

Terry
Hulsey [send him mail]
is a writer living in Fort Worth, Texas.

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