Far too often, people use the terms “liberty” and “democracy” as if they were interchangeable. President Woodrow Wilson justified intervention in other countries to “make the world safe for democracy.” Most if not all of the presidents who have followed have made similar arguments as an excuse to place military bases on every continent. Democracy in of itself is no guarantee that the people will live in a free society.
One thing that drives me nuts is this notion that everything needs to be “put up for a vote” whenever the item in question is not at all the business of the would-be voters. Sometimes communities have meetings to decide if the people should “allow” a Wal-Mart to be built. Those who oppose the building of a Wal-Mart in their community argue such things as Wal-Mart won’t allow their workers to unionize*, Wal-Mart will drive out existing businesses, and Wal-Mart imports too much of their “cheap,” “inferior” products from China rather than American products. These might be valid reasons for you to decide not to shop at Wal-Mart but what makes you think you have the right to deny me that choice by holding a vote?
Perhaps a less sympathetic target to some here in Colorado are the medical marijuana dispensaries. These dispensary owners set up shop and followed the existing rules but in the back of their mind they know that community activists can shut them down if they can gather enough signatures to force a vote**.
Then there are those who believe in wealth redistribution. The “rich” need to pay more taxes to benefit the “less fortunate” we are told.
What about economic liberty? Is economic liberty somehow a lesser liberty than any other liberty? The people from Learn Liberty argue that economic liberty is of more value to the individual than any right to vote. There are just some freedoms that ought not be voted away.
*This is more of a selling point for me.
**I’ve yet to hear of a vote to shut down a Walgreens because its within 1000 feet of a school even though they dispense drugs that are many times more dangerous than marijuana.
Additional Thoughts & Further Reading:
Brad reminded me of a great post he wrote nearly 6 years ago along the same lines entitled: Libertarianism and Democracy. After re-reading my post, I realized that I might have left the impression that democracy is of no value to those who value individual liberty. Brad does a much better job explaining that “liberty is an end, democracy is a means to an end.”
In truth, democracy is often better for making decisions than monarchy, or aristocracy. After all, what can empower people more than to allow them to have a hand in making their own decisions? The key is that democracy can be used in ways that don’t reduce liberty, but it can also be used in ways that do.
So it’s not really democracy that libertarians fear, it is force. The sentiment that elicits anti-democratic quotes, though, is the fear that democracy will marshal government to impose force that destroys our liberty.
I think the important thing that people need to recognize is that there are limits to what a government should have the power to do even if the process is a democratic one. What are the limits? Simply the recognition that the individual has the natural rights of life, liberty, and property that cannot be taken away provided that s/he does not infringe on the same rights of another.