by Jarad Perry
In the most recent version of The Freeman, there is one article that poses an interesting question about democracy, yet ultimately fails to grasp even a tertiary understanding of the concept. The article, “Can We Correct Democracy?” attempts to assert, in an almost contradictory manner, that direct democracy is both ill suited for governing society and the best method to correct it.
This seems odd given that the author tries to reason out the manner in which democracy can be corrected in a system that is not at all like what the author describes. He does briefly mention “representational mechanism” but fails to link this concept to the fact that governance in the United States is based upon a republican form of government.
Modern voters seem to use the terms “democracy” and “republic” interchangeably when, in fact, they are based on two very different value sets. Democracy as outlined by the author values open rule by all citizens on all matters without regard to the longevity of institutions and structures. And Republics, on the other hand, favor some control by citizens but value stability and continuity, which in turn allows for market economies to flourish.
After the author outlines the basic premise of his argument he then goes on to explore the issue of “[h]ow can we safely tap the power of democracy without blowing out the fuses that keep government within safe bounds?” Of course, what is so striking about this question is that we can already answer it by pointing to the form of government already within the United States, a Republic. So the entire endeavor seems moot.
Yet in some seemingly illogical leap, the author then goes on to talk about the franchise of ex-felons and other groups not normally part of the voting populace. This seems nothing more than a non sequitur and shows no clear relation to the original premise.
The final argument the author asserts as a way to curb “excess” in government is that the losers must pay for any vote that is called on a specific rule that is unpopular.
So now on to why the author’s premise is not only incorrect, but why the failure to define “democracy” undermines any possible points he was trying to make.
The premise of “corrective democracy” fails on several accounts. First, as mentioned, the author seems to contradict himself by both claiming that “[g]iving total and direct control of the government to the majority of voters can work, if at all, only in the smallest and most intimate of groups. It cannot work at the scale of a city, much less a state.”
And then claiming “A corrective democracy allows voters to do only one thing: Strike down a specified rule. Voters would get a fair shot at any law, regulation, ordinance, or order that offends them.”
This seems wholly inconsistent because he doesn’t explicitly say at what level of government this is meant for. Either it will work or it will not work, one cannot have it both ways. And yet the author tries that very trick.
Second, the author does not define the term “democracy” clearly enough and assumes the reader fully understands the meaning. Nor does he explore the “representational mechanisms” or safeguards and also fails to define their framework. It is one thing to have a well-argued position on the merits of democracy versus republican government, it is quite another to make the false assumption that the author’s definition of democracy matches anything tangible in the United States.
And while the author does mention ex-felon franchise ,that has nothing at all to do with the initial premise so I will not address it.
However, the final bit of criticism I have regarding the initial premise of “corrective democracy” is the very notion of voter nullification of laws or rules. It is fine in small doses e.g. recall elections, constitutional referendum, or other voter initiatives yet to have all laws, rules, and regulations subject to a vote of the people would create a very unstable environment not only for citizens but for businesses.
A major foundation of economic freedom is contract law and the very idea of law is one of stability with incremental changes made after studious thought and reflection. The author tries to assure the dear reader that this will not descend into “mob rule” but does not at all explain his rationale for that assertion. How else does he see such a model coming to a head?
The government of the United States was founded as a republic for good reasons, not the least of which is the fear of mob rule as well as the necessary stable environment for markets to thrive. In fact, the entire notion of the Rule of Law is founded on the principle that laws have semi-permanence until the point in which they become a negative for society and then are changed by elected representatives of the people.
Overall, the notion of “corrective democracy” is nothing more than a straw-man argument and the failure to even provide a rudimentary definition of terms and principles leaves the entire premise wanting. There is a serious discussion to be had regarding the merits of pure democracy and citizen nullification of laws, but this article does not even come close to that level of discourse. In the end, the author starts out the piece with good intentions and finishes it with a poor metaphor in relation to the defense of individual rights that does not at all clearly demonstrate a valid point.