This op-ed from Tapu Misa contains an odd mix of democraphobia (yay!) and statophilia (boo!). First the good:
The catalyst for the march was the Government daring to ignore the result of the recent ambiguously worded citizens-initiated referendum on the child discipline law.
Which means the Government is clearly undemocratic. “The people are the boss and the Government has to listen to them,” said Craig.
Well, yes and no.
The trouble with the might-is-right, majority rules brand of democracy has always been painfully obvious for those of us accustomed to occupying minority perches.
As Benjamin Franklin put it: “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.” In a straight-out numbers game, the lamb always loses.
I couldn’t agree more. She goes on, however, to defend a utopian version of representative democracy:
But representative democracy, as advanced by 18th century British MP Edmund Burke, promotes a higher ideal built on notions of the common good.
Burke felt MPs weren’t just delegates, elected to do their constituents’ every bidding. While “their wishes ought to have great weight”, he argued that an MP’s “unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience” ought not to be sacrificed in the process.
“Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”
True to his convictions, Burke backed several unpopular causes during his time in Parliament, knowing that it would probably cost him his seat (which it did), but determined to show “that one man at least had dared to resist the desires of his constituents when his judgment assured him they were wrong”.
He was right. Sometimes, the people can get it badly wrong.
Yes, they can. But so can those representatives they elect to lead. Afterall, they are elected by those same people who sometimes get it badly wrong. Representative democracy does have the capacity to mitigate the effects of moral panics and other short-term fluctuations in preferences. It does this by introducing some inefficiency into the transmission of preferences into policy, however, rather than by electing noble leaders.
There’s simply no justification for the assumption that politicians will be better than the rest of us. Sometimes politicians will make better decisions than the majority; sometimes worse. Representative democracy is still two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch, but with some slack in decision-making that may occasionally save the lamb when the wolves have only a fleeting craving.
As Crampton has argued, government implies a trade-off between the costs of populist democracy and self-serving politicians. When we give politicians more power in an attempt to reduce the mob-rule nature of democracy, we enable them to take advantage of the rest of us. As long as we have government, we can only ever strike a balance between these problems, never avoid both (unless we can elect wise and benevolent philosopher kings, of course, which seems to be the preferred option of many).
Still, it’s nice to see something other than democratic cheerleading from the MSM. I particularly like Misa’s conclusion:
As the philosopher and writer Ayn Rand observed, “Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by the majority (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual).”
I find her proposed solution (and Rand’s, for that matter) hopelessly utopian, however. As long as we have government, there’s no way to navigate between the problems of mob rule and arbitrary power and have an acceptable degree of freedom.
Sounds like a good reason not to have government to me.
Filed under: anarchy, libertarian, New Zealand, political philosophy, politics | Tagged: anarchy, democracy, democraphilia, moral panic, nz politics, political theory, politics, public choice | 2 Comments »