Power & Market

What’s So Great About Democracy?

U.S. officials and statists in the private sector incessantly sing the praises of democracy. They even invade and wage wars of aggression against countries that lack democracy. 

But what really is so great about democracy? Actually, only one thing. And, no, it’s not freedom.

After all, if democracy is so great, why does the Bill of Rights protect us from it? We often forget that. 

The First Amendment, for example, protects us from a democratic vote in the U.S. Congress that would punish us for criticizing government officials. In other words, even if Congress were to vote in favor of such a measure by a 95 percent margin and then it was signed into law by the president, this democratically enacted measure would still be null and void.

In fact, if one carefully searches the entire Constitution, the document that called the federal government into existence, one will note something important: Nowhere in the document is the word “democracy” mentioned. Given the outsized importance that U.S. officials and private-sector statists put on democracy today, isn’t that an interesting and revealing omission?

The reason that the Framers didn’t include the word “democracy” in the Constitution was because they understood something that all too many Americans today fail to understand: that democracy is actually a grave threat to liberty. That’s why the Framers strictly limited the powers of the federal government to just a few enumerated powers. They didn’t want federal officials, including democratically elected ones, to be empowered to do whatever they wanted to do in the interests of the people or of society.

Our American ancestors were extremely leery of democracy. That’s why they demanded the enactment of a Bill of Rights as a condition for approving the Constitution. They were not satisfied with the enumerated-powers concept, which ostensibly limited democratically elected federal officials to the few powers that were enumerated in the Constitution. They wanted additional protection from democracy. That’s what the Bill of Rights was designed to do — to protect us from democracy.

So, what is the one thing that is good about democracy? It enables the citizenry to change the political direction of the country in a peaceful manner by voting out public officials with whom they disagree and replacing them with people with whom they agree. Without the ability to do that, the only recourse the citizenry would have to change direction would be a violent revolution, which can be costly in terms of death and destruction.

Given that voting people out of office and replacing them with others is the sole benefit of democracy and given the grave threat that democracy poses to the rights and liberties of the American people, is it really worth all the celebratory hoopla or waging foreign wars of aggression over? I say no. I say let us instead do what our American ancestors did. Let’s focus on freedom and figure out how we can achieve it here at home.

Originally published by the Future of Freedom Foundation. 

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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