“What I would prefer is that you should fix your eyes every day on the greatness of [Liberty] as she really is, and should fall in love with her. … Make up your minds that happiness depends on being free.” -Pericles
I assume that within libertarian circles, the opinion that the democratic system of governance has proven insufficient is common sense. Yet, for most other people, democracy is sacred. It is still true that whichever party in a debate claims to be on the side of democracy has, supposedly, automatically won the argument. As long as something is “undemocratic,” it is considered unworthy of discussion and thought. I speculate that this is a very important reason why liberty has been neglected.
First, this series of articles (here and here) by Professor Roderick T. Long very clearly shows what the initial conception of democracy was. Democracy, defined as power to the “demos,” the people, did not initially translate into anything like majority rule. Democracy for the Athenians meant “both popular participation in governance and the protection of civil society from such governance.” The Athenian conception of democracy ensured that the government was somewhat meaningfully representative, by not being bound to represent solely the wealthy or the special interest groups, by rendering those in power accountable due to the threat of prosecution, and even by “fostering competition among systems of dispute adjudication” — a very modern libertarian idea!
As Professor Long goes on to explain elsewhere, “Libertarians don’t oppose democracy (in the conventional sense) because they hanker after autocracy; they oppose democracy because it is too much like autocracy.” In fact, Professor Long concludes that “It might be argued that such a system actually has a better claim to the term ‘democracy’ than those regimes that typically receive that label.”
Indeed, I often wonder if a society being “democratic,” assuming that by that we mean that its major characteristic is majority rule, signifies anything substantial about how free that society is. What if 75% of the population decide that they should shoot the remaining 25%? What if 99% of the people decide that the sun revolves around the earth and not the other way round? Another example that strikes home due to its personal significance: what if the Greek public elects (while less than 51% of the vote is needed) as its government the Golden Dawn Party? A party whose leader praises Hitler and Greece’s former dictator Georgios Papadopoulos, demands the plantation of landmines along the border with Turkey, and declares that “the Army is Greece’s only hope?” That would be democratic, but in what sense would it ensure anything substantial for society? Wouldn’t it show that the democratic process is flawed? Wouldn’t it show that still believing in the sort of “democracy” we do nowadays is more unrealistic and less safe than anything else? Isn’t a regime that allows such a development and has done in the past with, for example, Hitler’s ascent to power reprehensible?
What does it take to open our eyes and shake off this flawed historic conception? For how much more will we trust “democracy”? Even the people we claim to have inherited it from, the Athenians, never believed in it.