by Doug Casey, International Man:
Democracy is vastly overrated.
It’s not like the consensus of a bunch of friends agreeing to see the same movie. Most often, it boils down to a kinder and gentler variety of mob rule, dressed in a coat and tie. The essence of positive values like personal liberty, wealth, opportunity, fraternity, and equality lies not in democracy, but in free minds and free markets where government becomes trivial. Democracy focuses people’s thoughts on politics, not production; on the collective, not on their own lives.
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Although democracy is just one way to structure a state, the concept has reached cult status; unassailable as political dogma. It is, as economist Joseph Schumpeter observed, “a surrogate faith for intellectuals deprived of religion.” Most of the founders of America were more concerned with liberty than democracy. Tocqueville saw democracy and liberty as almost polar opposites.
Democracy can work when everyone concerned knows one another, shares the same values and goals, and abhors any form of coercion. It is the natural way of accomplishing things among small groups.
But once belief in democracy becomes a political ideology, it’s necessarily transformed into majority rule. And, at that point, the majority (or even a plurality, a minority, or an individual) can enforce their will on everyone else by claiming to represent the will of the people.
The only form of democracy that suits a free society is economic democracy in the laissez-faire form, where each person votes with his money for what he wants in the marketplace. Only then can every individual obtain what he wants without compromising the interests of any other person. That’s the polar opposite of the “economic democracy” of socialist pundits who have twisted the term to mean the political allocation of wealth.
But many terms in politics wind up with inverted meanings. “Liberal” is certainly one of them.
The Spectrum of Politics
The terms liberal (left) and conservative (right) define the conventional political spectrum; the terms are floating abstractions with meanings that change with every politician.
In the 19th century, a liberal was someone who believed in free speech, social mobility, limited government, and strict property rights. The term has since been appropriated by those who, although sometimes still believing in limited free speech, always support strong government and weak property rights, and who see everyone as a member of a class or group.
Conservatives have always tended to believe in strong government and nationalism. Bismarck and Metternich were archetypes. Today’s conservatives are sometimes seen as defenders of economic liberty and free markets, although that is mostly true only when those concepts are perceived to coincide with the interests of big business and economic nationalism.
Bracketing political beliefs on an illogical scale, running only from left to right, results in constrained thinking. It is as if science were still attempting to define the elements with air, earth, water, and fire.
Politics is the theory and practice of government. It concerns itself with how force should be applied in controlling people, which is to say, in restricting their freedom. It should be analyzed on that basis. Since freedom is indivisible, it makes little sense to compartmentalize it; but there are two basic types of freedom: social and economic.
According to the current usage, liberals tend to allow social freedom, but restrict economic freedom, while conservatives tend to restrict social freedom and allow economic freedom. An authoritarian (they now sometimes class themselves as “middle-of-the-roaders”) is one who believes both types of freedom should be restricted.
But what do you call someone who believes in both types of freedom? Unfortunately, something without a name may get overlooked or, if the name is only known to a few, it may be ignored as unimportant. That may explain why so few people know they are libertarians.
A useful chart of the political spectrum would look like this:
A libertarian believes that individuals have a right to do anything that doesn’t impinge on the common-law rights of others, namely force or fraud. Libertarians are the human equivalent of the Gamma rat, which bears a little explanation.
Some years ago, scientists experimenting with rats categorized the vast majority of their subjects as Beta rats. These are basically followers who get the Alpha rats’ leftovers. The Alpha rats establish territories, claim the choicest mates, and generally lord it over the Betas. This pretty well-corresponded with the way the researchers thought the world worked.
But they were surprised to find a third type of rat as well: the Gamma. This creature staked out a territory and chose the pick of the litter for a mate, like the Alpha, but didn’t attempt to dominate the Betas. A go-along-get-along rat. A libertarian rat, if you will.
My guess, mixed with a dollop of hope, is that as society becomes more repressive, more Gamma people will tune in to the problem and drop out as a solution. No, they won’t turn into middle-aged hippies practicing basket weaving and bead stringing in remote communes. Rather, they will structure their lives so that the government—which is to say taxes, regulations, and inflation—is a non-factor. Suppose they gave a war and nobody came? Suppose they gave an election and nobody voted, gave a tax and nobody paid, or imposed a regulation and nobody obeyed it?
Libertarian beliefs have a strong following among Americans, but the Libertarian Party has never gained much prominence, possibly because the type of people who might support it have better things to do with their time than vote. And if they believe in voting, they tend to feel they are “wasting” their vote on someone who can’t win. But voting is itself another part of the problem.
None of the Above
At least 95% of incumbents in Congress typically retain office. That is a higher proportion than in the Supreme Soviet of the defunct USSR, and a lower turnover rate than in Britain’s hereditary House of Lords where people lose their seats only by dying.