Democracy! (When Convenient)
Over the years of watching the democratic process I've noticed
something important. People tend to reject democracy, indeed, fight it
tooth and nail, when it doesn't go their way. But when it does, well,
it is the tops.
Consider Proposition 187, which cut off welfare to illegal immigrants. Governor Gray Davis of California is now
maneuvering to essentially gut this referendum, one that won with over
60% of the votes. But let us recognize that the leader of the
Democratic Party in California has no problem rejecting what the
majority of the people want when he and his friends believe that the
people are wrong.
Now if you really believe in democracy regarding the handling of certain
problems in society, whether people actually have signed up for that
process, you will go along with the verdict regardless of whether you
like the outcome. That is a principled defense of democracy.
all health care reform debates, it is liberal Democrats who say,
repeatedly, that their demand for a government supervised health care
system merely expresses the will of the public and thus has ample
legitimacy behind it. That is why there is so much polling, too, by
the media--it is widely believed that if "the people" want something,
then it should be granted.
What, then, makes for a good law is whether the majority
wants it to be enacted. One reason that most Democrats used to oppose
a balanced budget amendment is that they believe it would place undue
obstacles before the will of the people. Surely if they people want to
go into debt (read: if that's what the majority wants), we ought all to
comply and go into debt.
The people--the public interest, the general will, the greatest
satisfaction of the greatest number: these have been the objects of
adoration of the leading lights of the Democratic Party. Until the
people no longer like what Democrats want, that is.
The people of California wanted Proposition 187, but the
Democrats do not. Some years back they did want to make people in
business stop hiring illegal aliens, so the enacted federal legislation
and claimed, again, that they impose such restrictions and delegate
such police powers as this requires on business because, well, the
people demand it.
But if you keep fighting the outcome, via law suits and such, you
testify to your dismissal of democracy in favor of something else--say, judicial intervention, some kind of higher law that democracy must
Few people believe it would be okay to, say, vote the Mooney church out of
existence or to vote to shut down the New York Times. That is because
the US Constitution protects church and press from democratic meddling,
no matter how eager the majority of the people are to meddle.
One of the mainstays of the liberal Democrats has been that in most
matters we should leave matters up to a vote. We should vote on
whether smoking is to be allowed in restaurants, whether zoning
ordinances are to be enacted, how high taxes should be, how to run
public schools, and so forth and so on.
The process is declared to be wonderful until things don't quite go the liberal democratic way.
The flack over Proposition 187 is a wonderful case in point. Just how
hypocritical can you get? Be a fervent supporter of "people power"
except when people do not like what you like. Then suddenly "people
power" must be destroyed. I guess California's majority will have to pick and
choose some other issue on which to unite in order to fend off the
duplicitous legalism of liberal Democrats.
At the same time, I am sure that they will have no
problem with voting away private property rights, voting for massive
government intervention in practically any area of human life, voting
for extensive government regulation of business, medicine, and so on.
But if there is a successful vote to rid the community of the
expanding tyranny of government, the liberal democrats suddenly aren't
democrats any more.
It just goes to show you. In their hearts of hearts democrats are
never really democrats at all but merely opportunists who make use of
the power of the majority over the minority's rights. But should the
majority not wish to go along with this plan, well down with democracy--it is the enemy of higher principles in which democrats believe only
TIBOR R. MACHAN teaches at the School of Business & Economics, Chapman University and is an adjunct scholar of the Mises Institute.