Friday, January 21, 2005

Democracy vs democracy

Posted 1/21/2005 to Left2Right

Part of the problem here is the confusion between(what I'll denote as) "democracy" (the majority rules) and "Democracy" (used by politicians and the public to denote a liberal state). So Hong Kong in 1997 was a Democracy but not a democracy; Zimbabwe today is a democracy but not a Democracy.

In practice, democracy is dangerous--as Jeff Cooper said, "It's the system that says that in a boat with 5 castaways, 3 can legitimately decide to eat the other two". There are plenty of historical examples--the Terror in France, Hitler in Germany, the Tojo government in Japan--of democracies treating minorities horrifically; pure democracy doesn't protect minorities.

When the President opposes Democracy to tyranny, he is clearly using the second meaning--Democracy as in liberty, respect for minority rights, and so forth.

The USA is not designed as a democracy; that was very clearly not the intent of its Constitution or of its Founders. Many of the un-democratic features of US government--the Senate, the Supreme Court, the Electoral college--were explicitly designed to protect minorities. First-past-the-post elections are beneficial in some ways; they protect geographical minorities, and they reduce the influence of fringe groups (Greens, nativists, etc) which is often desirable.

There are numerous national laws, though, that reduce the ability of the States to experiment with different electoral arrangements; almost all of these are in the democratic direction. For example, the Motor Voter Act and the proscription of a requirement to show ID before voting (which make effective controls on election fraud much more difficult to implement), the proscription of literacy and property qualifications for voting (which protect property-owners against others), and the proscription of geographically based voting districts in the States (although they are permitted in the Senate).

So while I certainly wouldn't argue that the US system of government is perfect, I think it does a better job of protecting minority rights, and has proven to be more stable and resilient over time, than any other system that's out there. As such, I think it prudent to let States and cities experiment, but to be very hesitant to do so at the national level.


Post a Comment

<< Home