April 20, 2004
Synopsis: The problems of the modern "liberal democracies" begin at their shaky foundation. This third Critique of Democracy reconsiders the assumed relationship between democracy and freedom, and questions the chimeric ideal of liberal democracy. Includes exposure of enfranchisement, republics and rights.
The chief endorsement for democracy has always been its advertised association with freedom. Many often go so far as to consider democracy and freedom nearly synonymous concepts, or at least assume implicitly that democracy provides freedom, or freedom comes with democracy. To understand democracy and what it means to us, it is critical to determine the accuracy of those unexamined notions of democratic liberty. We must reconsider the accepted liberal-democratic principle.
We could certainly examine the supposed relationship between democracy and freedom in a number of ways. But we might begin by generously taking democracy at face value, as it is supposed to function. But that would only yield a civics lesson. We must follow up by examining democracy as it has factored into the lives of human beings who are supposed to have lived under that theory in practice.
That is, we could first compare freedom with a preliminary evaluation of the sociopolitical theory of democracy, and then proceed to a more interesting comparison to democracy in actual realization, as an employed system of political governance and cultural sensibilities.  The test of actuality should provide our real answer, although surprisingly it usually does not for believers in democracy. However, brief examination of the theoretical does prove somewhat instructive, particularly hinting at why the actual results of the theory take the form they do.
Abstractly, people consider democracy the political system of a free people, accordingly desired by free people.  But this is the merely associative component of the ‘liberal-democratic’ compound idea. For one reason or another influential conceptions have seized upon this asserted link without deriving any theoretical relationship, except through passionate claim or uncritical assumption. Until I can deal with it more fully, I will put aside for the moment the notion that this association has been acquired and indicated by actual experience with 'democratic freedom' rather than by assertive propaganda (and on top of that by a supposed non-coincidental and causative experience with both together, rather than a circumstantial coincidence). For the moment I am looking at theory itself. And the functional aspect of democratic theory indicates something quite different from the assumed liberal-democratic association, even before appraising historical experience.
Even in itself, that is to say in theory abstracted from context, democracy does not mean individual freedom of choice, nor does it mean personal expression, nor even any misunderstanding of personal freedom to mean freedom from something undesirable — "freedom from want" or anything similar. To the contrary, democracy incorporates condoned aggression into its defining principle of majority rule.
Majority rule supersedes whatever meaning any individual’s choice during an election (or other ballot or poll) might have, in that one person — the individual — gets overruled, by definition. Whether the "majority will" constitutes something meaningful or fabricated requires another discussion  beyond the scope of this Critique, but even provisionally assuming collective will means more than so much hollow nonsense, the wants of other people are clearly still forced upon particular individuals as an intrinsic part of the democratic process. And in any democratic system the many is supposed to have the ultimate power to override and subdue individual resistance to achieve conformity with 'the will of the people', so-called. Despite any attempted checks to modify or limit this in the theory behind democratic republics, in serious matters (and matters taken as serious), majority rules and minority yields to its compulsion, even its aggression, in the avowed basic theory behind every society which is democratic in definition. “Serious matters” here means (at the very least): concerning any questions of individual sovereignty versus mass sovereignty. And therefore, individual sovereignty under a democracy is not sovereign at all. Force remains implicit against individual choice and its exercise, should the individual contradict sufficient number of others. Democratic theory condones aggression, at the very least for the compulsion of those who take exception.
This is because democratic theory is still a governmental theory. It provides for political power and the institutional, hierarchic rule of authority by a centralized monopoly on force, the ultimate monopoly which may obtain any other monopoly, and which means centralized compulsion, by intimidation or ultimately, violence. A democracy is still a fundamentally archic or (politically) ruled society, instead of inhabiting the alternate spectrum of fundamentally anarchic possibilities. In fact this -cracy is more basic to the system in theory than its popular qualification, that the demos is supposed to rule. A democracy is still governed politically, which tends against freedom in practice as well as theory.
The assumption that real exercisable, individual freedom and centralized, political control in government can coexist as a hybrid social system — the sine qua non of modern “liberal democratic” states — is a contradictory, impractical and dangerous principle utterly at odds with the implications of majority rule, and as we will see, at odds with actual experience of employed "democracy" also, far more importantly.
Under the banner of Democracy, that is in times and places considered “democratic,” citizens have enjoyed commonplace individual freedom undreamed of in previous ages, yet also under Democracy citizens have suffered under rare tyrannies as well. Democracy has had breadth indeed, from social climates of 1800 America to 1933 Germany, for just two greatly contrasting examples. It has left history with exemplars as disparate as Thomas Jefferson, Pericles and Robespierre. How can this variance be explained?
The answer is that as with any society, 'democratic' or not, shared cultural tendencies tend to be expressed in the practice of government. Where people will accept a tyrannical central government — whether out of passivity (a pattern often evident in modern America) or wholehearted acceptance and endorsement of an authoritarian foundation for political science like Leviathan, or Manifest Destiny (often evident in societies with imperial heritage) — they will get a tyrannical central government. On one hand the popularity of National Socialism in Germany followed the resurgence of prideful nationalism of a cowed population, and thus Nazism triumphed through the mechanics of democracy. On another hand the greater personal freedom exercised in early America among the settlers, first in the colonies and then in the States, could hardly have been a credit to democracy (because it preceded widespread representation), but a credit to a shared belief in freedom among intrepid people — and in the comparably free  colonial days preceding the democratic republic, also to a temporary lack of interference by an imperial Crown which happened to be occupied elsewhere.
At this point we might take as a hypothesis: the association between suffrage ("the vote") and openness, opportunity, and freedom has developed from circumstantial historical accident. This arbitrary linkage came from no necessary relation or similarity.
If so we cannot give democracy credit for popular freedom any more than we can blame it for popular tyrannies. The comparatively great freedom of the early United States and its resulting prosperity was not the result of the foundation of a political democracy in the form of an elective republic. Rather, it was a temporary continuance of the freedom and prosperity of the American colonies which had happened to enjoy a laissez-faire treatment under the Crown which largely ignored their existence. By the time the King and Parliament acted to tighten the mother country's grip, the colonists had grown accustomed to the proven advantages of freedom. With that and a heady intellectual diet of English Enlightenment era writings endorsing the rights of the individual citizen, they would not stand for it. After the Revolution, this culture of freedom survived for some time under a political democracy — and the relative freedom and relative prosperity of the 19th century, and then the 20th such as it was, followed as the result. One can imagine an alternate history without coincidence of democracy and liberty, in which paper ballots do not by now suggest to anyone a bold spirit of personal expression.
Democracy has become associated with freedom (by coincidence, we have just hypothesized). But a democracy is not limited by some intrinsic inclination to a common appreciation for freedom, or respect for individuals. In political theory democracy encompasses something much more general: popular government, that is enforcing the will of the majority.
Democratic people attend, regard, and even enshrine popularity, which in politics takes the form of majority (or plurality) consensus in elections, polls, referenda and plebiscites. Popular consensus does not deserve to be enshrined simply because of greater numbers. Sometimes popular consensus happens to be in favor of individual freedom and autonomy, and that is what deserves to be enshrined — freedom, perhaps even the desire for freedom — regardless of its unpopularity.
Whatever constrains a majority consensus to prefer to respect freedom of individuals? To take an abject example, a lynching counts as democracy, too. It is, after all, the majority's wish, the mob's wish, to lynch. At first, a lynching may seem to present an unfair illustration. What we are trained to balk at would be the absence of a due process of law. But, democratic law  is largely rubber-stamping what is accepted if not favored by a majority; a majority could certainly favor a law to lynch a man. That is, unless they are legally prevented from this exercise of democracy by an undemocratic law (which people must also observe to make it effective). The American Constitution with its Bill of Rights is one set of undemocratic laws, but even this is democratic enough to provide for popular amendment. With enough approval in the process, any law, even a hypothetical Law of Lynching would be properly legal. Unfortunately this point is not merely a thought experiment. Under democracy law presents a meager obstacle to the tyranny of the majority. In fact, I could point out that the death penalty remains legal in America because it is popular, not because it follows the principles of inviolable freedom. Whatever the majority or plurality supports can easily become legalized regardless of its implications for freedom, and if democracy functions at all as intended, this should tend to happen.
There are countless ancient and modern examples of what happens when the majority rules and the unpopular minority is exploited or killed, and not simply on the local level of a lynching — the genocide of America's native populations, for instance . In many times and places the majority has preferred to violate the individual’s freedom or constrain an isolated group of individuals. But this does not necessarily mean the extreme of the excused killing of minorities or individuals, but far more universally, discriminatory laws against a group, or laws designed to empower influential groups against less powerful individuals. When the American Constitution itself was drafted and ratified, the legal recognition of slaves as 3/5 citizens for the purposes of legislative representation (without accompanying liberty) reflected popular attitudes which assumed they were less significant people. (The 3/5 compromise related to a debate between Southern desires to have them count legally as full people in a census and Northern desires to have them not count at all, with no popular insistence on the recognition of their freedom.) Indeed, democracy in itself provides no protection to the individual, not to mention a group of individuals, when they come up against the whims of greater numbers.
At this point we may begin to suspect we should reconsider our previous provisional idea of no relationship between democracy and freedom. Our previous hypothesis of coincidence did not go far enough. It seems instead that sometimes democracy does have a relationship with freedom — an antagonistic relationship. This connects with the implications of theory considered earlier.
People, or at least speechmakers and editorial molders of public opinion, often discuss democracy as a liberating influence, as an antidote for authoritarianism. It is thought that democracy safeguards freedoms — in the loose and faulty political vocabulary of these times , that it safeguards rights. In this line of thinking, democracy itself has become an avowed right along with lists of real, personal freedoms of expression. But voting itself is not an expression of a basic freedom. It is from one perspective a participation in compulsion; political power depends on force, and voting attempts to exercise political power, so in an extended sense, voting involves the application of force which will compel others to follow. From another perspective, probably a more accurate one, voters willingly involve themselves in politics and thus accept and invite official enforcement of politicians' orders directed against themselves as well as others, more than they actually participate in that force by doing so. After all, the actual influence one vote has in itself is usually quite negligible. In any case no one may opt out as far as governments are concerned; to justify this political theorists have even made up an implicit "social contract," to which they claim everyone unwillingly subscribes by existing. Yet, no one forgets or is allowed to forget that a democratic official is popularly elected, and that whatever he commits in office "we have asked for it" by voting. The sanction of democracy can thus be a powerful tool against freedoms.
gives every man the right to be his own oppressor."
For democracy to safeguard freedoms presupposes a popular desire which may or may not be a reliable assumption depending on culture, as alluded above. While we may correctly observe that living with a democratic sociopolitical system hardly impacts freedom neutrally and I would argue tends to detract rather than conduce, still its qualities depend on the shared sensibilities which contribute to culture. But just how likely is a culture of freedom in a political society? Particularly in a democratic one? If influential people within government or attached by profit or advantage find it in their interest to mold public opinion, they may have little trouble doing so through the organs of mass media, manipulating or withholding information and making use of the highly developed techniques of propaganda. And manipulating public opinion through mass media is most profitable in a democracy, which is institutionally based upon the principle of a uniform public collectively conceptualized as a willing actor, differences dismissed in the name of “the people.” Unfortunately, many bureaucrats, politicians, associated industrialists, beholden journalists, lobbyists, lawyers, activists, celebrities, and others generally perceive the apparent advantages of minding one's own business to compare poorly with those of minding everyone's business, whether they chase after financial, power-aggrandizing, reputation-building, or attention-getting gains. A shared cultural affection for freedom, while inconvenient to such people's aspirations and agendas, will not take very long to erode of meaning even as it probably continues on as a useful source of marketable slogans and national shibboleths.
Particularly, in the modern era economic freedoms get systematically violated by democratic governments which might otherwise sustain other social or bodily freedom (although some do constrain those areas of personal freedom almost as often as economic activity, in the name of decency and the standards of the community). This possibly follows the legacy of millennia of indoctrinated and compulsory moral altruism, commonly invoked upon others where there is avarice to be sated — or possibly it happens just because collectivizing wealth itself directly rewards powerful people most readily in the naked terms they typically appreciate. In practice, democracy tends to eventually favor not individual financial independence but the seizure and distribution of wealth and property to whichever groups can best organize political leverage through election. Politicians in a democracy quickly find that pandering to the redistributive desires of constituents offers the easiest road to election, combined with factional banding by party and smaller political action groups. Complex bargaining organizations and procedures invariably spring up, from the political machines of ancient Rome to modern era Chicago or New York City (e.g. the infamous Tammany Hall). For this reason H. L. Mencken said "government is a broker in pillage, and every election is a sort of advance auction in stolen goods." The phenomenon of progressive financial corruption within a democracy was dramatically encapsulated by the historian Alexander Tyler in a famous quote:
I have encountered the opinion, erroneous or not, that he intended this strictly as a criticism of pure democracy, not a democratic republic. Comparing his account with the ongoing histories of democratic republics, I certainly wonder why he would restrict such an apt, universal description.
Democracy is thought of as "self-rule" — an idea intimating freedom. But on what grounds?
Prometheanism implies and posits a few related reasons why individuals should have to master themselves, not simply obey others as their master, and should "rule" (or manage) themselves, not rule or be ruled by other people.
Freedom, therefore, is more desirable in usual cases, and the obvious overriding unusual case is transgression of others' freedom, to which the second reason relates. And considering those reasons we can observe that self-rule is really inseparable from personal freedom; by enabling sensations of power in and over oneself, self-rule inspires a sense of freedom opening the world for an individual’s ventures, as well as describing a condition of freedom among and between individuals at the same time.
Democracy however does not equate with this free self-rule at all. Democracy only amounts to “self-rule” if the phrase loses its personal meaning, if "self" becomes an imaginary collective individual conflated with a group of individuals, and "rule" means political machinations for mastery and management over others, instead of mastery or management of one's own faculties and personal affairs. It seems that the misidentification of political democracy with freedom, and eventually the perceived synonymity of the two must have resulted from this confusion over two very different senses of "self-rule" (or "self-determination" in the preferred political phrase). It seems likely the present liberal-democratic idea, as incongruously crossbred as a Chimaera, came from this conflated, agglomerated notion of self-rule. Such a outwardly semantic problem, as so often happens, was likely compounded at the more primal levels of ideation by the lingering, culture-collectivizing habits of the prehistoric clan, and even much older genetic instincts of species to adopt the "identity" of the social group, flock, herd, or pack in place of personal identification. Thus, despite intimate phenomenal experience indicating oneself as a primarily distinct entity in perceptions and internalized characteristics, by now a human being could actually get subsumed into a sloppy and inaccurate linguistic ideation of just what oneself means — with little remark about it.
Thus a mythic "political freedom" through "democracy" has at times become verbally and conceptually indistinguishable from functional individual freedom in both common and esoteric discourse. With their continual progression along this course and tremendous strides in doublethink, people have even acquired the ability to assert freedom itself just in rhetoric and hold it for themselves as a true mental chimera, a figment without any evidence whatsoever reflecting and proving beliefs in appreciable terms.
For example, during wars and other political upheavals replacing one group of leaders with another, people receive the order that they have been "liberated" — particularly when it is said that "democracy" will be installed, although dictators also like to sound like this. Ballot boxes somehow make people "free", whatever functional freedoms rulers deny them on an individual basis.
Reconsider the American example itself, for the United States government is the prototype, self-styled champion and apotheosis of "freedom and democracy." After over two centuries of originally few but generally increasingly arrogant and arbitrary restrictions imposed upon official citizens inside "The Land of the Free," plus almost four centuries of capricious, violent exploitation and oppression of the members of tribes who jointly owned the land (unrecognized as citizens when it was taken), and of course the exploitation of enslaved Africans for up to two centuries — not to mention imperialist, colonialist and mercantilist expansions outside — an idyllic vision of America still gets much press and much adulation as the bastion of "freedom" because of its so-called "self-rule" via government. Which reputation factually derives from having a long-standing politically democratic tradition, if not nearly as much real individual freedom to think and act and conduct one's personal and private affairs.
Elsewhere virtually every government, regardless of the local allowance of really applied rather than theoretical self-rule, has since caught on to this utilitarian pretense as well. The incentives of politics render this procession of politicians’ invoking mythic freedom quite understandable from their top-down point of view. The more remarkable thing is that so many other citizens in democratic societies like America continue to prefer mythical and undifferentiated freedom despite getting the receiving end of applied unfreedom at the same time. Or perhaps this too is not so remarkable at all, since a critical eye would cast freedom as something that must still be won with great collaborative personal efforts, rather than something which was already and long ago won by other people in a political revolution.
Such ludicrous confusion, which takes democracy as self-rule and proceeds to detach freedom from experience entirely, comes with sloppy thinking and sloppy language, in other words rampant philosophical error. Mainstream political philosophy regarding democracy clings to superficial fallacy, with an accustomed distraction from inconvenient reality which only those sponsored by government and schooled in centralized and orthodoxical systems could perpetuate so tenaciously.
How did this daunting problem snowball to quite such enormous proportions? It was actually rolling along on its inexorable way before the overtly democratic age, having been given early pushes by those who already advocated democratic principles before there was much democracy in practice. So the answer is probably just that no one could put on the brakes, given the related ideological limitations of the age before the democratic age. Alternative precursors amounted to either abject or customary dictation by absolute rulers, before the elective and legislative procedures associated with democracy infiltrated political thinking and institutions, so no sensible disputation of the self-rule mythos could come forth from the political sphere, which relied on precisely the same fallacies. In particular, since monarchs had long been struggling to centralize and solidify power in their countries, pushing the myth of national unity personified in them versus aristocratic rule identified with local character, for royals to refute collective thinking and collectivizing would have meant cutting their own political heads off in advance, if they would even allow themselves to conceive of the philosophy involved. Similarly aristocrats depended on identity-conflation too on a smaller, marginally more personalized scale. Both depended on depriving people of some of their freedom in functional terms, as does any government, if only due to that institution's assumed, attempted monopoly on effective social force.
As it happened, nobody offered any accurate ideas on freedom to the monarchs' disgruntled or desperate subjects which could revise the underpinnings of the new democratic-liberty mythology spreading among them and compete with this new idol, and certainly the competing old regime systems would hardly have supported such revision of their own fundamentals anyway. Lack of attention to the demands of realistic, pragmatically-evaluated philosophy threw the world into redoubled confusion in the age of popular government, chaining people in sometimes even more onerous subjugation, even as they supposedly became free masters of their own lives for the first time in history, and even as the differentiating prosperity of the industrial age could provide them more leisure, options and opportunities to make use of freedom then ever before. Out of this muddled contradiction of power and powerlessness has come a disconnected, mass madness almost tangible in certain cultural effects upon life… a predicament from which the world has not yet recovered, in which freedom has become meaningless and yokes cannot be felt unmistakably even by those who wear them.
Supposing that people mistake democracy for self-rule, as I have said, we should at least expect them to operate on this assumption in good faith. And in fact taking this at face value does describe the most common, good-natured attitude towards democracy. It does not however in any way cover the political attitudes towards democracy, which find it useful and employ it cynically for the reasons that the agendas of kings, emperors, lords or clerics once employed any opiate of the masses.
Chief among the cynical political uses of democracy is the way power crafts a more beguiling civil bond from enfranchisement and the hope it represents.
The main reason for electoral enfranchisement has not been and is not the superficial cause, a desire to set more men (and then with the women's suffrage movement, women) "free," according to the literal meaning of the word enfranchisement and a firm if naïve belief in popularized representative democracy as the ideal political form, because of a false equation of political action with freedom. That ideological reason has been professed far more than it has had any bearing, except for a few true believers such as John Stuart Mill, an early proponent of women's suffrage in Britain.
For most proponents of enfranchisement with a stake in power or ambition to acquire one, the main reason has been political opportunism. These proponents want to strengthen their own status quo or impose a new one; the issue of others’ choices serves as a means to an end, and they do not truly entertain the unpredictability of others’ wishes as a welcome part of the future they have already planned out. They have sufficient confidence in the unwillingness or inability of any new minority electorate to overthrow their agenda in some capricious result, and sufficient confidence in the manageability and malleability of the new voters' supposed "voice" at the polls, when properly mobilized to become absorbed in the challenge or resistance against opponent factions. They are willing to risk enfranchisement for their sake; they do not envision liberation, nor would they wish to bestow it if they did.
The substance of the situation since then continues to be the manipulation of power, which uses the idealism of democracy to hide behind. This strategy offers the invitation to full membership in a nation to silence skepticism and harness pent-up, churning emotions in the name of patriotism — rather than the unthinkable alternative: real, deep, philosophical-and-pragmatic rebellion against power aggrandizers' eternally preferred form of order: political control, which can always be captured or influenced if they do not have it, and exercised or enlarged if they already do. Now in the democratic age, ages-old naked political power aggrandizement masquerades in finery, making a cloak of the flag which appears to citizens as freedom, the idea.
It is by now common to hear people in America, Britain and elsewhere bemoan an insufficient quantum of democracy in their systems. They complain about an undemocratic corruption, by which the less appealing activists mean the inability to push their agendas on others, but fortunately more of those complaining seem to describe with this term “undemocratic” a more stifling authoritarian statism, or less expression of what people actually want. That is, in this terminology people perceive a lack of personal freedom and sense of expression. They sadly stake their faith for these things on politics rather than themselves. They may not naively trust in politics — they do criticize the system — they just fault it for insufficient democracy, most of all.
It is however critical to remember that the "undemocratic" (in the senses of dictatorial, regimented, bureaucratic, authoritarian) current republics did not come from nowhere, systemically. The causative, or at least enabling precedent was the establishment of democratic institutions which follow from democratic assumptions. These states did not begin as something other than democratic societies, and democracy was necessarily the means by which factions consolidated their power. As I noted preliminarily in the previous Critique, it seems that democracy beckons and presages dictatorship. Those who accuse a president or prime minister of acting like a tyrant today and call for more democracy as the antidote to liberate themselves should remember the democratic origins of their predicament, and that any tyrant or usurping faction can only have employed democratic machinery of election and party in order to consolidate power beforehand. In fact the project of power accretion through such machinery is an old one by now. Within less than a century (to say nothing of weaker power grabs before then) the United States already had a tyrannical president who suspended civil legal protections, jailed dissidents, closed newspapers, brazenly served highest-bidder corporate interests in concerted economic fascism, fomented imperialism, employed propaganda of shameless biblical proportions, and overall abused others' personal freedom and safety for his own or his adopted interests.  Modern day should really suggest a sense of déjà vu recalling the history of that time and the century and a half of “great men” in office since that precedential president, not a sense of baseless nostalgia calling for the restoration of democracy.
Unfortunately, by modern times the common association is a connection between democracy and freedom, not democracy and tyranny. This is partly due to the historical coincidences of greater freedom and democracy in America and in England, or both resulting from common cause (primarily mutually appreciated ideals and prosperity). Moderns believe they know democracy means freedom. But the ancients knew otherwise because they had different paradigms, such as the instability of Athens, from where we got the word “demagogue” for a reason.  The Europeans of the late 18th century and Napoleonic period clung ever more to their ancient regimes because of their knowledge of just what blood liberty, equality, and brotherhood liked to spill, in practice. Of all modern people, Orwell knew better than to trust in democratic revolution, or should have, if only through dystopian insight, because he understood the danger of political upheaval and that the point of a political revolution is power, not ideals: “no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.” 
Yet most moderns can only be perplexed when they find out their cherished democratic institutions are preceding and producing tyrants (and of the most boring kind). People think something must be wrong; democracy must have been betrayed somehow, as they shake their heads at the dictatorial mentalities of powerful people. As I have noted, to the most accumulated and consolidated power come the most upsetting cases, attracted by the opportunity. To that sort of power an unbroken string of petty tyrants for presidents have wormed their way — not just the brute buffoon presently in office but many, for a long time, in fact, but which increasingly in recent years resembles a series of miscreants fit for a new Suetonius to chronicle.
The “common people” democracy supposedly serves don't realize that everything is working perfectly, for the tyrants. Democracy, another political system accordingly designed for the rulers and by the rulers, is serving its function. Democracy is working as it must, having reached its fruition: mob rule. But that does not mean what most think; typically when the mob rules an oligarchy really rules the mob, unless they entirely fail in their chosen role and the mob becomes uncontrollable. Mob rule goes hand in hand with demagoguery, and manipulation of the masses.
“Democracy” concerns the demos (Athenian Greek), “the people” collectively, the common populace. Democracy considers the numbers and favors the "masses" and so it produces them. To recast a common political metaphor, democracy raises sheep. Sheep do not want to lead, nor think discriminately. Sheep feel most at home in the herd, led wherever they go. They want a shepherd, one will keep them feeling safe, safe and the same, leading them wherever they go, without droving them so hard that they ever must realize (and resent) that they might as well be dragged by the nose. Whether said shepherd (inevitably) fleeces or consumes them, they get a rude surprise — as they were on a dutiful lookout for a wolf in the fold.
By various areas of approach I have talked about how very erroneously democracy gets identified with freedom. One pillar of the liberal-democratic concept remains.
Freedom implies choice. It means self-determined rather than regimented behavior, enforced by violence and compulsion.  Without choice, “freedom” is a meaningless assertion. And ultimately the most substantive support for the idea that democracy intrinsically provides freedom is that democracy appears to offer choice.
In democracy, although most officials remain installed bureaucrats some officials and leaders may be elected by the mechanisms of popular elections according to majority or plurality of ballots, from among the available options (those candidates named from within dominant political parties). Certain issues may be subject to popular referendum. Popularity polls may influence policy considerably. In a sense, these involve choices. So democracy does admittedly supply choice — in a very limited, channeled, specific and particular political sense.  But it really operates not through the practice of choice in the usual sense of the word, but on the basis of yielding it.
People, and especially those trained to act as the herd so valued in the culture of democracy (and in other mass-oriented value systems), will use their opportunities for choice to choose not to have choice, whenever possible. They will choose, according to whim, to yield the freedom to make future choices they might have made for themselves, especially demanding ones. They will instead empower leaders, officials and bureaucrats to think for them. Otherwise what could possibly explain the recurring appeal of censorship throughout the ages? (Remember how often censorship appeals not only to those who wish to become empowered censors, but to those who would accept censorship which affects them.)  Or the modern affection for banning or regulating potentially dangerous substances or inventions , contravening the complete personal choice of the buyer?
Like most lifeforms, humans tend to prefer the easy way, or more exactly the way which seems easier or least consumptive of energy compared to evident reward. They may instinctively prefer to yield responsibility to others if they believe they can do so in trust (which democratic faith promises: “government for the people and by the people”). They will choose not to have to be responsible unless they must discern and discriminate for themselves. To avoid this from moment to moment, it may seem easier to make “the public” or people as a whole responsible for oneself, which really means empowering politicians and bureaucracies, losing freedom and yielding choice.
There is a sense in which people must be 'forced' out of their complacency. They would often prefer not to be responsible for personal choices and therefore must be compelled by circumstances. I do not mean they must be compelled by force in a political, militant or physical sense here, but rather by the implications of their actions. They must be 'forced' to think and act for themselves by the repercussions of choices and circumstances.
Independent responsibility forces freedom of choice in a realistic direction. Freedom and choice of course do not always turn out well. With a certain snide pessimism and misanthropy for those they claim to help, advocates of the rights of authority to dictate to citizens notice this fallibility. They seize upon this “evidence” for private, personal and individual incompetence. They insult individuals’ abilities to make wise choices and conduct themselves well, neglecting that planners and supervisors and leaders of government are people also, and not as such fallible or omniscient. (And in addition have their own personal self-interests, agendas and preferences like anyone, maybe far removed from those of citizens they take it upon themselves to oversee.) But the simple realization that every option accessible by choice may not bring productive, profitable, safe or advantageous results only becomes useful in practice, and teaches us by experience to avoid unproductive, unprofitable, dangerous or disadvantageous repercussions in future choices if those who make the choices must also bear them out. Democracy certainly involves repercussions, but not often for those who make choices for other people. And the occasional and very much channeled ‘choices’ of the democratic process are far too hard to learn from, too removed from extended consequences, too intermittent and too impersonal.
Freedom includes responsibility for oneself, and therefore compels people to take care of themselves. By exercising this ability they become more able to perform it. In the end one powerful argument for freedom (and against democracy, or in fact any form of government) is not that freedom coddles people and makes life easy for them; it is that freedom can be hard for them.
But the temptation to escape this exercise, to yield personal freedom-responsibility for some sort of nebulous, collective freedom-responsibility and in practice obtain regimentation and irresponsibility, may remain quite a pronounced inclination to slouch indeed. In conjunction with the other democratic pretensions to freedom noted above, it has given something of an edge to democratic politicians — those who know how to promise much to everyone and pledge their altruism believably. The mechanisms of democracy, primarily in elections, give them the role of superseding individual choice, via the ‘choice’ of ballots and polls. If this were freedom, we should still want no part of it.
There is quite a difference after all between the freedoms of choice and whim. Democracy functions as an enforcement of electoral whim, not considered choices which are supported by ongoing consequences for the one who makes them. Instead democracy imposes the ongoing consequences of officials’ choices on citizens, once they are empowered by citizens’ whim.
Democracy does not mean freedom, if freedom means anything worth choosing.
2. In saying "free people" I am taking as an assumption, as almost all people do at some level by now in history, that this condition must indicate freedom for actual individuals, not in some fictional way "the people" as a collective whole. (Though the commonly low grade of that awareness is in a way the essence of the democratic problem. More on the inadequate, inconsistent realization of this under Origins of the Liberal-Democratic Chimaera in Confusion Over Self-Rule.) Effective social freedom can only be evaluated in these empirical terms which are ultimately individual in scope and implications. In order for the idea of "a free people" to be a meaningful and measurable one rather than an empty slogan asserted in political propaganda, it must refer to effectively measurable freedoms of real-life individuals. Since human beings as independent actors are not collective organisms such as ants for whom individuals' lives mean little compared to the life of the whole group, for them collective ‘freedom’ simply means nothing tangible or experiential — nothing real. I take as the prerequisite for discussion of freedom for a group, a "free people," that this term acquires significance only by the freedom of component individuals. [back]
4. In the early 18th century, even up to the period of the famous Stamp Tax and other interventions under which the colonists chafed, living in the thirteen American colonies was probably even freer in general from a personal standpoint before the Revolution, depending on the colony in question. [back]
5. Note this point applies to both statutory (legislative) law and the customary or polycentrically-evolved legal systems sometimes touted by freedom advocates, such as English common law or Somali xeer. Both are supposed to reflect the community, if democratic in their operative assumptions, and a community may share a desire for anything at all, including violence. Whatever else a customary law system may offer to improve upon prevalent statutory law systems, customary law does not solve the problem of the tyranny of the majority which may be expressed in cultural preferences which become customary law. [back]
7. That is not to suggest that the political vocabulary of the past was not also sloppy, and often intentionally so. Orwell got hold of a valuable generalization in Politics and the English Language: "Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind." I merely mean that the beleaguered concept of rights is one of the celebrated social concepts lost in haze and distortion, in modern times. See Commentary on the Complications of Rights and Republics. [back]
8. In further Critiques of Democracy I will continue and expand on the theme of corruption beyond its treatment here and in the previous Critique, including patterns and implications of corruption and decay. [back]
9. This insight occurred to me while reading Yevgeny Zamyatin’s weird, prototypical 20th century dystopian novel We. His troubled protagonist is D-503, a sometimes-dissident, often-rationalizing citizen of the One State and soi-disant cell in the body of We (the common social organism). At one point, falling into his recurring role of apologist for authority as if to say “I am not a free man, I’m a number,” he considers rights with both a mathematical abstraction and sheer political realism: “Even among the ancients, the most mature among them knew that the source of right is might, that right is a function of power. And so, we have the scales: on one side, a gram, on the other a ton; on one side “I,” on the other “We,” the One State. Is it not clear, then, that to assume that the “I” can have some “rights” in relation to the State is exactly like assuming that a gram can balance the scale against the ton? Hence, the division: rights to the ton, duties to the gram. And the natural path from nonentity to greatness is to forget that you are a gram and feel yourself instead a millionth of a ton.” (We p. 115) [back]
10. Others such as freedoms to exchange and trade wealth without interference, or own and use property allodially have long been yielded to the state’s ‘rights’ to tariffs, taxes, intrusive bureaucratic regulation and appropriation under seizure or eminent domain, despite at least some original guarantees in law. (A most important economical freedom, the ability to issue money independently and thus determine value under decentralized, commodified terms was never recognized as a legal right, nor should we expect this to happen.) [back]
11. It is unfortunate that most defenders of freedom and enemies of oppression use the language of “rights”: human rights, individual rights, the right to self-determination, negative rights, positive rights, natural rights, etc. In the context of a political society at least, this language serves us poorly. It often confuses, and it is very susceptible to appropriation by the enemies of freedom because it has ambiguous meaning. (Witness "human rights" which we observe can even a) serve as an effective excuse to start wars, or b) according to the UN, 'living wage' advocates, et al., include the likes of a socialist "right to work" or work at a particular wage, although this contradicts freedom of voluntary association and implies confiscation of property). Worst of all, specifying rights plays into the hands of authoritarians. To grant the existence of rights which the government does not have over citizens, or, as those who drafted the American Bill of Rights intended, to specify certain rights held by citizens as part of the larger limitation of government powers in the US Constitution, is to grant also that there are areas which are not citizens’ rights but the state’s. Absent a determination of rights in the hands of officials and bureaucrats and jurists employed by government, people can still access and express an understanding of freedom and individualism (and by extension, property, ownership, responsibility and stewardship) — those desirable concepts which rights advocates only see through the lens of rights. But to discuss rights, is still to expose the fullest freedom to elimination, bit by bit, as negative or positive rights are determined anew in applications over the years. With government’s “right” to name rights, comes the erosion of freedom. [back]
12. Lest this example of Rome appear distant and irrelevant to modern democracies, realize that Roman citizenship provided the original pattern for European and American citizenship, just as the Roman republic, as a celebrated and idealized historical antecedent, provided the prototypical democratic republic for the Western world, and furthermore this model was adopted quite consciously by the neo-classicist founders of the American republic on top of the more immediate British example (a more indirect Roman influence). [back]
In much the same way perhaps that Genghis Khan (aka Temujin) is celebrated as the founder of Mongolia despite some inconvenient historical facts, Abraham Lincoln (the founder of the federalized US) is still celebrated and sainted with a great deal of hagiographic myth-making, primarily for "unifying the country" (resorting to the same method as Genghis, incidentally). Lincoln was even posthumously envisioned as a Christ, as the war had been imagined as Armageddon, in the hyper-religious ideology of his time. He has not, presumably, been commemorated on American money and elsewhere for his less advertisable accomplishments, (e.g.) instituting censorship, getting hundreds of thousands killed, or his bizarre schemes to deport American blacks to tropical lands. See articles and the book The Real Lincoln by Thomas DiLorenzo. [back]
14. Cf. the discussion of Aristotle’s opinions of democracy in Past Alternatives Versus Democracy: Autocracy and Aristocracy. [back]
16. Freedom and choice are by no means the self-evident quanta bandied about in sociopolitical discussions, as evidenced by the confusion over their meanings I discuss in the rest of this section and the rest of this Critique. They are complex and extensible topics. But the discussion of choice here is limited to the social context of outwardly-observable action, conduct, and behavior which is most relevant to democracy and government. Whether, for example, any individual can be said to have had control or “free will” over such an action, or the internal question of why exactly he or she apparently picks one option over another, are questions less relevant here than that he or she would take a given action unless prevented by compulsion or the anticipation of compulsion. For further discussion of freedom and choice see Self-Expression and The Promethean Manifesto. [back]
18. Truly there are endless examples of willing indulgence of censorship from history and modern times, as I trust the reader can investigate independently. At least one concerns others not reading what you are reading. The website on which this Critique appears, Promethea, has been banned inside China along with a great many other significant or informative sites on the global internet. Internet censorship is largely a popular measure in China, from what I have read. At least, one can apparently find many passionate Chinese defenders of the government’s position that it should rightly limit access to contradictory, provocative and dissident speech, both foreign and domestic, in both vocal, printed, and electronic forms. [back]
19. Potentially dangerous substances or inventions might include almost everything, of course. Thus in America, even plastic bags must bear safety warnings! [back]
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