John Singleton with Bob Howard, Rip Van Australia (Stanmore: Cassell Australia, 1977), pp. 77-80, under the heading “Democracy”.
A man can ethically tap only his own resources. A thin veil called democracy cannot conceal plunder. Coercion by a majority is no less reprehensible than that perpetrated by a tyrant, even if its application is less bold and bloody and bright. ~ JAMES W. MULLER
The State is the great fiction by which everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else. ~ FREDERICK BASTIAT
Democracy is inherently immoral. In theory, democracy means government by the people — Lincoln’s famous “of the people, by the people, for the people”. In practice, this means rule by numbers. According to democratic practice, we hold elections, and vote into office, by majority vote, representatives to, supposedly, do our bidding.
This never works perfectly, even by democratic standards. We have had many instances of minority votes electing governments, and the concept of mandates is a very nebulous one anyway. But the basic aim of democracy remains majority rule.
On the surface this sounds plausible, but, in fact, it is rests on a false dichotomy. The assumption is that we have to choose between a minority rules a majority, or a majority ruling a minority. If that was all there was to it, then it would seem more just to have the minority submit to the wishes of the majority. However, the dichotomy rests on the assumption that there are only two possibilities, when in fact there is a third: neither group rules the other. In other words, have all individuals free and autonomous, subservient to no group, no matter whether a majority or a minority.
In this third case, the fundamental principle of non-interference would be the guide, for, if all people are free, then a necessary implication of this is that no person, or group of people, may interfere with the freedom of another or others. If they do, then the initial condition of all people being free is violated. The intended function of the elected members in a democracy was simply to ensure such freedom from interference was in fact maintained. In this situation, no majority or minority would rule. Individual people would rule their own lives and all associations would be on the basis of voluntary consent. Any problems would be solved by voluntary co-operation. This would be a truly free society — free because the people were free from external coercive domination by any form of State (King, Queen, Emperor, Liberal, Labor, etc.).
An imperfect constitution has allowed politicians to lay the foundations for our modern corporate State. Alexis de Tocqueville, a very famous European historian, visited the United States soon after it achieved independence, and, when asked for his comments on this new democracy, with incredible foresight replied, “Democracy in America is doomed when the people learn to vote themselves money from the public trough.” This, of course, is exactly what has happened in all democracies. Instead of electing representatives to perform the very strict peace keeping role, envisaged by those who framed their constitutions, faults in these constitutions have allowed wider scope. It wasn’t long before vested interest groups began to look to using the government as an instrument for achieving personal gain.
The early American Constitution, for example, gave the U.S. Government the power to levy taxes, run the Post Office, regulate foreign and interstate trade, establish post roads, and, most importantly, granted the State a monopoly on the issue of money and allowed it to fix its value and the foreign exchange rate (Article 1, Section 8). It also contained some dangerously ambiguous words and phrases, which have subsequently been used to justify all manner of evils — “promote the general welfare”, for example — as did the Declaration of Independence — “that all men are created equal” probably being the main offender.
These early, limited, powers of government, and ambiguous terms such as those mentioned, have gradually been used as a lever by bested interests to progressively burden and extend the powers of government.
As soon as a constitution is adopted or a law passed, at least four distinct things happen: (1) the majority of people obey them; (2) a minority disobeys them; (3) a substantial group sets to work to figure out loopholes in them or ways to get around them; and (4) a substantial group sets to figuring out how to use them to their own advantage. This is simple human incentive at work.
With this gradual increase in he influences of government, people have indeed learned how to “vote themselves money from the public trough”. The democratically elected government no longer simply keeps the peace. A quick look through the sections in the front of your local telephone book dealing with Federal, State and local Government will give some idea of the range and variety of government activity.
Our governments are increasingly moving to regulate all aspects of economic and social life in this country, and now represent the major enemy of our individual freedom. Because of the power of these governments, the democratic process has been given a very dangerous twist. Instead of a majority vote simply electing people to keep the peace — something that would only be a source of interference to criminals — majority vote is now being used to distribute privilege and enforce conformity on all Australians. It is being manipulated and used to give enormous power to a few people. Politicians buy the votes of vested interests (which are often represented by organised pressure groups or lobbies) by distributing privilege. This is how people vote themselves money from the public trough. This is how the State has become an organisation of the political means of gaining wealth.
In this situation, group is set against group, person against person, industry against industry. For example, our secondary industry was long ago granted the privilege of protection by tariff. This in turn raised the costs of our primary producers by preventing them from purchasing cheap supplies from overseas. But, primary producers have to sell their product on the open world market, so these high costs severely disadvantaged them. To survive, the primary producers pressured the government and were granted the privilege of subsidies. They don’t particularly want subsidies, but the government won’t redress the situation by abolishing tariffs. Both groups then cop it from the tax paying consumer, who pays both the high prices that result from the situation and the taxes necessary to support it.
Unfortunately, all the groups waste their time and energy fighting one another instead of taking on their common enemy and the original cause of all the trouble — the State. This is modern democracy — pressure group warfare, with the State acting as a distributor of privilege. Thus, through the democratic process, organised and vocal pressure groups are able to gain some advantage at the expense of others. Furthermore, by claiming to have a “mandate” for all the policies in its election platform, the government of the day enshrines the notion that half the people plus one have the right to kick the rest around. (It never has a “mandate”, because not all voters accept the total platform. This is one of the vicious aspects of party politics.) We are thus being conned into accepting the totalitarian idea that might makes right. But truth and principle do not necessarily have anything to do with numbers. One million people have no more right to enforce their will on one person than that one person has to enforce their will on them. If they did, then it could indeed be said that a lynch mob is democracy in action.
What we see in the Western world today is a most evil and vicious perversion of the original idea of democracy. Instead of being limited to keeping the peace, to protecting individual rights, the State has become an instrument of tyranny. It is when the State has the power that we see the inherent immorality of the democratic process — the domination of one group by, in theory at least, a larger group. The solution to his dilemma is not necessarily to rid ourselves of democracy. Rather, what we have to do is to strip the State of its excess power and regain the original idea of democracy: that is, to have a government, elected by the people, which only has the power to protect the rights of all the people, and has no power to grant privileges to some people at the expense of others.
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