by Robert Metz – February 1990

Rather than offer a rational defence for the system of governance we have come to know as “democracy”, most of its supporters merely end up apologizing for it. Fundamentally, their arguments all boil down to this: “What — in practice, not in theory — works better than democracy?” as if their inability to consider viable alternatives somehow constitutes an intellectual defence. But for those who ask, my answer is simply this: a social system under which individuals can freely exercise their freedom of choice, and where that freedom of choice is protected (by law!) from majority rule, not made subservient to it.

It is understandable that most people, when comparing “democracies” to totalitarian regimes, have come to associate the “theory” of democracy as a system of government that protects individual rights and freedoms; however, this is not true when democracy degenerates into a system of majority-rule, without the proper checks and balances that will guarantee the protection of individual rights and freedoms.

There are, after all, many kinds of “democracies” in the world; a failure to distinguish between free democracies and authoritarian democracies represents an intellectual and moral rejection of the former and acceptance of the latter. A democracy is no less socially evil than a totalitarian regime if it is incapable of protecting the individual rights of its citizens.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “democracy” as “Government by the people; that form of government in which the sovereign power resides in the people as a whole, and is exercised either directly by them (as in the small republics of antiquity) or by officers elected by them. In modern use, often more vaguely denoting a social state in which all have equal rights, without hereditary or arbitrary differences of rank or privilege.”

Thus, as you can see, even the dictionary definition of the word refers only to a “vague” association of democracy with equal rights, while making it very clear that both in theory and in practice, democracy bestows “sovereign power” upon majorities. If we now turn our dictionaries to the word “sovereign”, we will discover that this does indeed mean “supreme in power, rank, etc.; above all others; greatest; of or being a ruler; reigning.” Now ask yourself a simple question: How can being “supreme”, “above all others”, or “being a ruler” possibly be compatible with a society where all individuals are equal before the law? The contradiction is obvious.

In a truly free society where individuals have equal inalienable rights, no one, not even “majorities”, should have “sovereign” power over others; this destroys the entire spirit and original intent of “democracy”. The only form of democracy compatible — both in theory and in practice — with individual rights and freedoms is the “democracy” of the free market, where individuals freely “vote” with their minds, their hearts, their actions, and their money for the things and ideals that they each individually support, and where they are not forced (i.e., legally coerced) to support causes or act in a manner with which they do not agree. In such a society, the rules of social behaviour would be based on the principles of voluntarism and consent, not on force and coercion (which are only justifiable in the self-defence of life, liberty, or property).

In a democracy that wishes to protect individual freedom of choice, have free elections, and have a responsible government, the power of politicians must be restricted to one of representing individual rights as opposed to representing interests — whether individual, minority group, or majority group interests. Thus, the interest of individual, politicians, or lobby groups opposed to something like Sunday shopping should have no justifiable bearing on the rights of other individuals who may wish to shop or work on Sundays. When store owners are being legally forced — even by a “democratic majority” (which, by the way, is not even the case in Ontario’s Sunday shopping issue) — to close the doors of their own private property on a given day of the week, then their fundamental rights and freedoms have been directly violated, not protected, by the “democratic” process.

I have heard many people, by their own admission, suggest that “Sunday shopping laws are ridiculous”, yet go on to proudly boast their willingness to sacrifice their freedom of choice to the will of the majority: “I don’t feel that strongly about it, and any way the matter turns out will be fine with me,” said one editorial writer in the local press. Clearly, for apathetic individuals who are not even willing to stand up for what they believe in, Majority-Rule-Democracy may indeed “work best”. But at what, and to what end?

This may well be the most profound political question facing generations of the next century.   {end}

- Robert Metz      Consent #12      February-April 1990