On The Counting Of Heads
Over reading the posts from the Democracy Symposium from everyone else so far, I couldn’t help but notice that Democracy, in itself, isn’t the interesting part of the term “Liberal Democracy”. “Liberal” is the interesting part… which makes me ask why is Democracy such a big deal? Well, in the Liberal Tradition, the idea of “the consent of the governed” is a very big deal… and Democracy is one of the simplest ways to measure what it is that “the governed” consent to by having them choose who will be in charge of telling them what to do.
As such, when I look at the term “Liberal Democracy”, I can’t help but think that there’s some kind of dissonance going on. I mean, we’ve seen a handful of elections in a handful of countries in the last handful of years and we know that “Democracy”, in itself, is no guarantor of Liberalism. We could point to examples of Majority Rule turning out poorly when it came to the the minorities being ruled and point to examples of the Majority Government shrugging when questioned about it… indeed, history is littered with examples. If we felt like looking, I’m sure we could see how history continues to litter even today.
So I’d want to look at the interesting part for a bit…
“Liberal.” What in the heck do we mean when we say “Liberal”? Do we mean what Locke meant? What they meant in the Enlightenment? Are we talking about Natural Rights? Liberty, Equality, Fraternity? For ease of argument, let’s go with “yeah, pretty much”. An emphasis on freedom, individualism, and how no one is entitled to more standing under the law than anyone else. All that stuff. Freedom from meddling… but then you think about those things and compare them to, say, recent events with, oh, gay marriage. There are people who argue that whether gay marriages are recognized by the government should be left up to popular vote… and people who argued that, say, rights ought not be left up to something as capricious as popular vote. (And people who argue the one side today may have been arguing the other, because it was to their own side’s perceived interest, a decade ago.)
The problem is that, many many many times, “the voice of the people” is one that is more than happy enough to abandon freedom, individualism, equality, fraternity, and, yes, liberty at the drop of a hat. Antoine de Rivarol has a fairly insightful quotation that points out:
The absolute ruler may be a Nero, but he is sometimes Titus or Marcus Aurelius; the people is often Nero, and never Marcus Aurelius.
Or look at recent local votes on such things from interracial marriage (still!) to whether certain things ought to be contained in school curricula to certain religious policies being given primacy over other religious policies (and all of them with the enthusiastic support of the right 51% of the people). The main thing keeping these policies in check is *NOT* Democracy but *LIBERALISM*.
This brings me to the idea that the culture of “Liberal Democracy” must be one where “Liberal” is the important part… if “Liberal” is there, then it doesn’t matter if there is a Democracy, or Monarchy, or Socialist Meritocracy… and if Liberal is not there, then “Democracy” is as likely to be two wolves and a lamb voting on what to eat for dinner. Democracy being superfluous, it makes me wonder about the question of “is liberal society viable?”
And I don’t know if I really want to dwell on what I suspect the answer to that question is.