Our current President's statements about democracy are typical: one has liberty and one has the free exercise of one's rights when one can cast a vote for one's leader. In that is consent. In that is no coercion. In that is freedom. He may even believe this. At least he says so. And even if he does not believe this, it is the ruling orthodoxy. It's commonly believed that elections are the basic girders of liberty.
Democratic leaders worldwide claim that they cannot do simply anything with their powers, even as they do just about anything. They claim that they are constrained by constitutions, by the invisible wires of consent, and sometimes by the internal checks and balances of their own governments. Such constraints as exist don't prevent governments from becoming half or more of their economies.
The conventional wisdom is that if we combine free elections with these constitutional constraints, we obtain liberty. Be happy, then, citizens! You are free!
This notion of liberty is as sadly deficient and defective as it is false. What difference does it make to be told one must buy health insurance or be searched at an airport or pay taxes to support invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan or pay taxes to support the production of ethanol if the power behind these commands is a dictator, an elected premier, a parliament, or a legislature? Coercion is coercion, whatever its source. If one person or a majority of your neighbors or their representatives coerce you, does the source of this coercion determine whether or not you have your liberty? Do elections and your capacity to cast a vote eliminate the coercion?
Democracy no less exercises power against rights or liberty than does any other form of government in which the Person is violated, chained, intruded upon, threatened, made to pay, robbed, constrained, and forced to obey commands against his will. Why write Person rather than person? It is to emphasize the prime importance of the Person in connection with liberty. It is the Person in you that is the locus of your free will, the will to act, and the will to create. That which crushes this freedom of the Person, as does democracy, is that which enslaves. Voting is merely one possible action of a Person. A voter is a political concept, not a Person. Likewise, a citizen is a political concept, not a Person. A Person is a real creative being.
In the conventional view of democracy, there is always a People. The term "People" doesn't mean just any collection of persons or people, but a collection that somehow sets itself apart or that others think is set apart by some recognizable and shared characteristics. In his brief remarks on Egypt, President Obama used the phrases "people of Egypt" and "Egyptian people" thirteen times. Democracy and the People are linked inextricably. His rhetoric reflected that.
But emphatically the People is not at all the same as the Persons who comprise it. Each Person is unique. The People connected to the concept of democracy is, like voter and citizen, at bottom a political concept. Even if the Persons who comprise the People are connected by common bonds of language, or religion, or culture, or ethnicity, each of them as Persons still maintains irreducibly unique aspects of Personality, consciousness, creativity, and free will. What makes them a People is something else that is labeled as political when taken in conjunction with government by democracy. Democracy connects to a People but it is coercive power used against Persons. Which matters more, you as a Person or you as part of a People?
Obama does not set himself apart from other politicians past and present, here and around the world, in having extraordinarily limited aspirations for the Egyptian people or any people. His aspirations for them, as were his predecessor's, are that they have democracy, which is linked to the People. Then all will be well. This is both a limited and false vision. The reason is that it ignores Persons.
Freedom of the Person does not mean freedom of the People to have a democracy. Freedom of the Person opposes dramatically the coercion and thus enslavement present in every democracy on earth. Freedom of the Person means an unhampered capacity to develop one's Personality through action and creativity. Freedom of the Person is immeasurably distant from casting a vote periodically for a government whose powers invariably find very wide scope and boundaries even when constitutionally limited. Freedom of the Person and Freedom of all Persons, even those comprising a People, is not freedom of the People to have a democracy.
Why does the Egyptian people or any People need or want democracy or any coercive government anyway? All such governments suppress freedom of Persons. Why not go straight for the freedom of Persons? Does any person aspire to democracy? Who is it who aspires to vote? Isn't the most basic aspiration of any Person to be a Person, which is to say, to be free to exercise and develop one's capacities? Democracy and voting are, at best, means to this deeper end. Any persons and people may aspire to democracy as a means to improve their lot, but let us keep in firm view that one's development is found at the personal level, not as a voter or citizen. The aspirations of human beings go far deeper and/or should go far deeper than becoming political animals or even politically democratic or politically republican animals.
The existing answer as to why people choose government was given by James Madison in The Federalist No. 10: "Among the numerous advantages promised by a well constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction." The People are actually disunited politically, Madison says, even though they are a People. They form factions. They fight with one another. The answer to this, in Madison's view, is to have a government of this (disunited) People that unites them and that stops the fighting. The People will unite enough to create a politics by which they sublimate their conflicts and transfer them into the arena of elections, constitutions, and political control. Some will rule all, and all will select that some by an agreed upon means. They will agree to abide by the consequences. The blood will no longer flow in the streets.
Madison's answer is a close relative to that of Hobbes, differing only in the nature of the sovereign. But the idea that there must be a sovereign is present in both. Can a Union be "well constructed"? The history of the United States provides little encouragement. The more power that a Union is given "to break and control the violence of faction," the more it can turn that power against Persons. The factions may stop bleeding each other directly. Instead they will bleed each other through the instrument of government, and the government will bleed everyone.
Let the current champions and advocates of democracy at least admit that coercion is undeniably part of the overrated democratic fabric or solution, if you will, to the problem of factions that Madison raised. Let us at least see clearly the immorality and injustice that is built into such a system. Let us see that democracy is inherently anti-Person and therefore anti-freedom. Let us not be fooled by fraudulent rhetoric that supposes that democracy is the highest form of human organization or that human civilization will have reached its zenith and final form when the earth is blanketed with democracies.
Was Madison even correct that democracy ameliorated factional conflicts? The American Civil War or War Between the States not only shows the coercion at the heart of the American democracy but it shows that democracy only ameliorates conflicts insofar as the factions already choose not to fight. In other words, democracy, in its many forms, might arise as an outcome of a kind of peace process among interests; but it cannot be peacefully sustained without that cooperation of interests and factions.
Democracy does not itself cause peace to break out. It reflects a degree of peace already subscribed to by factions. That degree is a highly imperfect degree because coercion lies at the heart of the system, and that coercion overrides the freedom of Persons in order to maintain a particular political system.
That imperfection cannot be stressed enough. In practice, the coercion has incalculable and widespread negative effects by suppressing the freedom of Persons and enslaving them. In this is hidden death. In this is a hidden means of destroying life and creativity. In many instances, the death becomes all too tangible and visible when the democracy engages its population in warfare of a great scope that could not be possible unless the People had come together under one government and allowed it to amass the massive resources to carry out such fighting, as in the total warfare of the twentieth century. In the last few decades, we discover that, in the name of democracy, these amassed resources are turned in the most brutal fashion against Peoples of other lands.
Democracy doesn't make factional conflicts disappear. Peace doesn't break out because we change from being Persons into citizens or voters. Government is not the conveyor of peace. Caesar doesn't bring peace. He always brings the sword. Government is not the solution to power. It is itself power. The conflicts among people do not disappear with a constitution, or with checks and balances, or with votes.
Democracy is anti-Person and anti-freedom. Democracy is the sword. Democracy is pro-enslavement. Democracy is Caesar, too.
Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is a retired Professor of Finance living in East Amherst, New York. He is the author of the free e-book Essays on American Empire: Liberty vs. Domination and the free e-book The U.S. Constitution and Money: Corruption and Decline.