“Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!”
–Benjamin Franklin (attributed)
Thanks to the decay in our public schools and colleges, many Americans now believe that democracy is synonymous with liberty. Most Americans also believe that our nation is and was founded as a democracy. Unfortunately, none of this is true. If we are going to revive our cultural understanding and embrace of the foundational principles upon which individual rights and liberty are built, it is essential that we correct this misunderstanding. Correcting this misunderstanding starts by understanding that democracy is one of the most lethal enemies of liberty. Allow me to intentionally use an historic event that has become emotionally charged because of the horror which grew from it.
Suppose we live in a democracy and I have just been elected the leader of the nation. Suppose our nation is facing some sort of crisis and people are suffering. Now suppose I come to you with the results of a new scientific study which purports to “prove” that individuals with blue eyes and blond hair are superior to all other humans and, thus, deserving of holding a higher place in society and special protections under the law. What’s more, this same study “proves” that individuals with brown eyes and black hair are inferior and, thus, undeserving of any protection under the law. Finally, suppose I use this “scientific” study to show that the cause of our national troubles is due to one group of people, all of whom have brown eyes and black hair and I propose that we vote to declare them to be non-humans – based on science, mind you. And suppose that we vote and 51% of our nation votes to agree with me and make my proposal into law. If this happened, we would have just voted to make people with brown eyes and black hair into non-humans with no rights or protections under the law. Now you say, “People would never vote to do that,” and I agree. But what if, after I was elected, I pointed to the crisis that was causing most of the nation to suffer and I declared an emergency and granted myself emergency powers to deal with the crisis? And what if I then used these emergency powers to declare people with brown eyes and black hair no longer had legal rights or protection under the law, and I used my scientific study to support my action? Either way, the “will of the people” – democracy — would have been directly responsible for taking away the rights of people with brown eyes and black hair.
Now, if you do not recognize my example, you need to research Hitler’s “Master Race,” “Eugenics,” and the Holocaust, because this is essentially what I just described. Now, if we equate democracy with liberty, how could we object to a vote that makes people with brown eyes and black hair into “non-humans?” The problem becomes insurmountable if our society doesn’t pin its understanding of rights and morality to the Creator. If that is taken away, then it is possible to create a very powerful argument that is sound, valid and rational which will also justify a vote to make people with brown eyes and black hair into non-humans. In fact, such an argument already exists. It is a group of philosophical ideas collectively known as Utilitarianism, and one of its primary founders, John Stuart Mill, developed one of the strongest forms of Utilitarian theory. Mill’s moral and political philosophy is extremely tight logical reasoning, and it can easily be used to argue that Hitler’s actions were morally justified for his nation at that point in history. It is important that we understand the influence Mill and Utilitarianism have had on the struggle to preserve man’s freedom, but we will have to address them later. What is important to the point at hand is that you understand, unless we appeal to the Creator and Natural Rights, there is no way to argue against voting to make a brown-eyed, black-haired person into a “non-person.” Logic can be used to show that such a vote can be viewed as totally reasonable and even moral for a given situation and time (for a fuller explanation of why this is true, please see The Limits of Logic).
Now, this is not to say that the will of a community has no role in how it governs itself because it does. We have already determined that the willing participation by every individual within a society is what creates and defines the limits of government and its authority over that society. Remember, Natural Rights is all about free will, and Natural Law is about how we act toward each other in regard to restricting or infringing on the free will of others. But we also determined that there are limits on how far we can exercise our free will, and nothing can extend or suspend these limitations. This is especially true of democracy. In fact, in many respects, we should look at the notion of democracy as a man-made or artificial creation designed specifically to justify the violation of Natural Rights and Natural Law. Our founders understood this threat, so they were adamant in their warnings that the popular will must be chained down so that it could not extend past its just limits under Natural Law:
“Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”
— John Adams
“Democracy will soon degenerate into an anarchy; such an anarchy that every man will do what is right in his own eyes and no man’s life or property or reputation or liberty will be secure, and every one of these will soon mould itself into a system of subordination of all the moral virtues and intellectual abilities, all the powers of wealth, beauty, wit, and science, to the wanton pleasures, the capricious will, and the execrable [abominable] cruelty of one or a very few.”
– John Adams
“It had been observed that a pure democracy if it were practicable would be the most perfect government. Experience had proved that no position is more false than this. The ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated never possessed one good feature of government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure deformity.”
–Alexander Hamilton, June 21, 1788
“Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their death.”
“Hence it is that democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and in general have been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths… A republic, by which I mean a government in which a scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect and promises the cure for which we are seeking.”
–James Madison, Federalist Papers, the McClean Edition, Federalist Paper #10, page 81, 1788
[There is another very famous accounting of democracy condemning a man to death who had been found guiltless by the governing authorities. It can be found by reading John 19:1-16.]
So, whenever you hear someone telling you that democracy assures individual rights and liberty, you can know that you are either listening to an ignorant person who does not understand what they are saying, or you are listening to someone who is intentionally trying to deceive you for the purposes of their own hidden agenda. Therefore, you would be wise to hold such people and everything they tell you about democracy and liberty under suspicion. Skepticism is often a prudent position to hold – especially where the protection and preservation of your individual rights and liberty are concerned.