Mises Wire

Democracy, the God That's Failing

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When Professor Hans-Hermann Hoppe made his famous argument against democracy back in 2001, the notion that voting was a lousy way to organize society was still radical even among many libertarians. Virtually everyone raised in a western country over the past century grew up hearing “democracy” used as a synonym for wonderful, good, just, and valid. It takes a great deal of unlearning to overcome this as an adult, and to question the wisdom of representative government installed via democratic mechanisms.   

Fast forward to 2017, however, and the case against democracy is being made right in front of our eyes. Witness Hillary Clinton, who not long ago gushed about our “sacred” right to vote — that is until her stupendous loss to Trump. Today she clings to the specious nonsense that the Russians somehow influenced our election by planting stories and using social media, which if true would be an excellent argument against voting rights. If the natives are so easily duped by a few silly posts in their Facebook feeds, why on earth is their vote meaningful or sacred?

Other progressives like Michael Moore demand that Trump be arrested, presumably for treason. Left-leaning cable news pundits openly call for Trump to resign or be impeached. Mainstream newspapers wonder whether he’ll even finish his four-year term. The overwhelming message from the media is that Trump is a disaster, an existential threat that must be stopped.

But it’s not just progressives questioning democratic outcomes. Neoconservative Bill Kristol tweets that he’d rather be governed by an unaccountable deep state than Trump. Mild-mannered conservative moralist Dennis Prager, a reasonable and likeable right winger in my view, argues quite seriously that we are in the midst of a second civil war with those who simply reject their electoral defeat. And the libertarianish jurist Richard Epstein, writing for the somnambulant Hoover Institution, unloads a litany of grievances against Trump that would make Bill Maher blush.

We should recall that as democratic elections go, Trump’s victory was perfectly legitimate. Nobody seriously challenges his margins in the key states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Florida. Lamentations about Clinton winning the so-called popular vote are irrelevant and blatantly partisan — the Electoral College is as much a part of the “rules” as having two senators per state.

Meanwhile in the UK, former Prime Minister Tony Blair employs the language of revolution in urging Remain forces to “rise up” against Brexit and overturn the referendum in Parliament. Never mind that Blair is no longer an elected official and holds no government office, never mind that both the referendum process and the Brexit vote were perfectly valid: he just doesn’t like the results. His argument that Leave voters had “imperfect knowledge” is both hilarious and disingenuous: voters always have imperfect knowledge about candidates and policies prior to elections; pertinent new information always comes to light after elections. If Blair thinks we can start overturning elections based on any degree of voter ignorance, then I must suggest he begin with the vote in the House of Commons that made him PM. And why does he, a democrat, imagine some right to overturn election results at all?

It’s time to call a spade a spade. All of this angst hardly comports with our supposed reverence for democracy. Again, Trump handily and fairly won a democratic election just three months ago. If he’s the devil, a wrecking ball that cannot be stopped by the other branches of government, then our entire constitutional system and its democratic mechanisms are defective. Why doesn’t the #neverTrump movement take its arguments to their logical conclusion, and insist an electorate that would install Donald Trump never be allowed to vote again or have any say in organizing society?

The reality is becoming clear, even as it remains uncomfortable for many: democracy is a sham that should be opposed by all liberty-loving people. Voting and elections confer no legitimacy whatsoever on any government, and to the extent a democratic political process replaces outright war it should be seen as only slightly less horrific.

As I stated before the election last year:

… no matter who wins, millions of people — maybe 40 percent of the country — are going to view the winner as illegitimate and irredeemable.

In fact a recent Gallup poll cites that fully one-third of Americans won’t trust the election results anyway — which is to say they don’t trust government to hold an honest election.

Trump vs. Hillary represents something much bigger: what we might call the end of politics, or at least the limits of politics. Americans, and Europeans too, are witnessing the end of the myth of democratic consensus. Democratic voting, so called, doesn’t yield some noble compromise between Left and Right, but only an entrenched political class and its system of patronage.

Great libertarians like Thomas Jefferson have long warned against democracy, even as they uneasily accepted it as a necessary evil. Both Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek were democrats, men who championed both the virtues of an intellectual elite and the necessity of having that elite gain legitimacy for its ideas through public acceptance. Mises termed democracy a “method for the peaceful adjustment of government to the will of the majority.” Hayek viewed democracy as potentially wise if tempered by built-in safeguards to protect individual liberty.

But these men lived in very different times, coming as they did from pre-war Old Europe. We can’t know what they would think of modern social democratic welfare states, or Trump, or Brexit. I suspect they would find democracy quite wanting, in terms of producing what either would consider a liberal society. Both were utilitarians (of a sort) in their economic thinking, and it’s not hard to imagine they would take a consequentialist view of a society gone awry via democracy.

Things are getting strange in America when Michael Moore and Dennis Prager start to sound the same, and that’s arguably a very good development. We are close to a time when the democracy illusion will be shattered, for good and all. Democracy was always a bad idea, one that encourages mindless majoritarianism, political pandering, theft, redistribution, war, and an entitlement mentality among supposedly noble voters. It’s an idea whose time has passed, both on a national and international scale. The future of liberty is decentralized, and will be led by smaller breakaway nations and regions where real self-determination and real consensus is not an illusion. Jefferson and Hoppe were right about democracy, but it took Trump and Brexit to show the world how quickly elites abandon it when they don’t prevail.

Jeff Deist is president of the Mises Institute. He previously worked as a longtime advisor and chief of staff to Congressman Ron Paul. Contact: email; twitter.


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