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2. Fundamentals of Intervention > 2. Different Effects of Intervention on Utility

B. Democracy and the Voluntary

It might be objected that all these forms of intervention are really not coercive but “voluntary,” for in a democracy they are supported by the majority of the people. But this support is usually passive, resigned, and apathetic, rather than eager—whether the State is a democracy or not.7

In a democracy, the nonvoters can hardly be said to support the rulers, and neither can the voters for the losing side. But even those who voted for the winners may well have voted merely for the “lesser of the two evils.” The interesting question is: Why do they have to vote for any evil at all? Such terms are never used by people when they act freely for themselves, or when they purchase goods on the free market. No one thinks of his new suit or refrigerator as an “evil”—lesser or greater. In such cases, people think of themselves as buying positive “goods,” not as resignedly supporting a lesser bad. The point is that the public never has the opportunity of voting on the State system itself; they are caught up in a system in which coercion over them is inevitable.8

Be that as it may, as we have said, all States are supported by a majority—whether a voting democracy or not; otherwise, they could not long continue to wield force against the determined resistance of the majority. However, the support may simply reflect apathy—perhaps from the resigned belief that the State is a permanent if unwelcome fixture of nature. Witness the motto: “Nothing is as permanent as death and taxes.” Setting all these matters aside, however, and even granting that a State might be enthusiastically supported by a majority, we still do not establish its voluntary nature. For the majority is not society, is not everyone. Majority coercion over the minority is still coercion.

Since States exist, and they are accepted for generations and centuries, we must conclude that a majority are at least passive supporters of all States—for no minority can for long rule an actively hostile majority. In a certain sense, therefore, all tyranny is majority tyranny, regardless of the formalities of the government structure.9,10 But this does not change our analytic conclusion of conflict and coercion as a corollary of the State. The conflict and coercion exist no matter how many people coerce how many others.11

  • 7. As Professor Lindsay Rogers has trenchantly written on the subject of public opinion:
    Before Great Britain adopted conscription in 1939, only thirty-nine percent of the voters were for it; a week after the conscription bill became law, a poll showed that fifty-eight percent approved. Many polls in the United States have shown a similar inflation of support for a policy as soon as it is translated to the statute books or into a Presidential order. (Lindsay Rogers, “‘The Mind of America’ to the Fourth Decimal Place,” The Reporter, June 30, 1955, p. 44)
  • 8. This coercion would exist even in the most direct democracies. It is doubly compounded in representative republics, where the people never have a chance of voting on issues, but only on the men who rule them. They can only reject men—and this at very long intervals—and if the candidates have the same views on issues, the public cannot effect any sort of fundamental change.
  • 9. It is often stated that under “modern” conditions of destructive weapons, etc., a minority can tyrannize permanently over a majority. But this ignores the fact that these weapons can be held by the majority, or that agents of the minority can mutiny. The sheer absurdity, for example, of the current belief that a few million could really tyrannize over a few hundred million active resistants is not often realized. As David Hume profoundly stated:
    Nothing appears more surprising . . . than the easiness with which the many are governed by the few and the implicit submission with which men resign their own sentiments and passions to those of their rulers. When we enquire by what means this wonder is effected, we shall find that because Force is always on the side of the governed, the governors have nothing to support them but opinion. It is, therefore, on opinion that government is founded; and this maxim extends to the most despotic and most military governments. (David Hume, Essays, Literary, Moral and Political [London, n.d.], p. 23)See also Etienne de La Boétie, Anti-Dictator (New York: Columbia University Press, 1942), pp. 8–9. For an analysis of the types of opinion fostered by the State in order to obtain public support, see Bertrand de Jouvenel, On Power (New York: Viking Press, 1949).
  • 10. This analysis of majority support applies to any intervention of rather long standing, carried on frankly and openly, whether or not the groups are labeled “States.”
  • 11. See Calhoun, Disquisition on Government, pp. 14, 18–19, 23–33.
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