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Thread: Why Vote?

  1. #1

    Default Why Vote?

    http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critic...o_books_menand

    Books

    Fractured Franchise

    Are the wrong people voting?

    by Louis Menand July 9, 2007

    Why should anyone bother to vote? The chance that one vote will change the outcome of an election is virtually nil, and going to the polls involves a significant cost in time and opportunity. Presidential elections, in which more than a hundred million people vote, never turn on a single ballot. The lesson of the 2000 Presidential election was not “Your vote can make the difference”; it was more like “If you’re taking the trouble to vote, at least fill in the ballot correctly.” Yet many people do bother to vote. We praise these people, and we encourage non-voting citizens to follow their example. We tend to feel that political participation is an unmixed good, a symptom of civic health and virtue.

    Bryan Caplan, an economist who teaches at George Mason University, thinks that increasing voter participation is a bad thing. He thinks, in fact, that the present level of voter participation—about fifty per cent of the electorate votes in Presidential elections, a much lower percentage than in most democracies, as Americans are frequently reminded—is a bad thing. Caplan is the sort of economist (are there other sorts? there must be) who engages with the views of non-economists in the way a bulldozer would engage with a picket fence if a bulldozer could express glee. The cover illustration of his new book, “The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Politics” (Princeton; $29.95), shows a flock of sheep. This is meant to symbolize the voting public. It looks like a flock of cloned sheep, too.

    The average voter is not held in much esteem by economists and political scientists, and Caplan rehearses some of the reasons for this. The argument of his book, though, is that economists and political scientists have misunderstood the problem. They think that most voters are ignorant about political issues; Caplan thinks that most voters are wrong about the issues, which is a different matter, and that their wrong ideas lead to policies that make society as a whole worse off. We tend to assume that if the government enacts bad policies, it’s because the system isn’t working properly—and it isn’t working properly because voters are poorly informed, or they’re subject to demagoguery, or special interests thwart the public’s interest. Caplan thinks that these conditions are endemic to democracy. They are not distortions of the process; they are what you would expect to find in a system designed to serve the wishes of the people. “Democracy fails,” he says, “because it does what voters want.” It is sometimes said that the best cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy. Caplan thinks that the best cure is less democracy. He doesn’t quite say that the world ought to be run by economists, but he comes pretty close.

    The political knowledge of the average voter has been tested repeatedly, and the scores are impressively low. In polls taken since 1945, a majority of Americans have been unable to name a single branch of government, define the terms “liberal” and “conservative,” and explain what the Bill of Rights is. More than two-thirds have reported that they do not know the substance of Roe v. Wade and what the Food and Drug Administration does. Nearly half do not know that states have two senators and three-quarters do not know the length of a Senate term. More than fifty per cent of Americans cannot name their congressman; forty per cent cannot name either of their senators. Voters’ notions of government spending are wildly distorted: the public believes that foreign aid consumes twenty-four per cent of the federal budget, for example, though it actually consumes about one per cent.

    Even apart from ignorance of the basic facts, most people simply do not think politically. They cannot see, for example, that the opinion that taxes should be lower is incompatible with the opinion that there should be more government programs. Their grasp of terms such as “affirmative action” and “welfare” is perilously uncertain: if you ask people whether they favor spending more on welfare, most say no; if you ask whether they favor spending more on assistance to the poor, most say yes. And, over time, individuals give different answers to the same questions about their political opinions. People simply do not spend much time learning about political issues or thinking through their own positions. They may have opinions—if asked whether they are in favor of capital punishment or free-trade agreements, most people will give an answer—but the opinions are not based on information or derived from a coherent political philosophy. They are largely attitudinal and ad hoc.

    For fifty years, it has been standard to explain voter ignorance in economic terms. Caplan cites Anthony Downs’s “An Economic Theory of Democracy” (1957): “It is irrational to be politically well-informed because the low returns from data simply do not justify their cost in time and other resources.” In other words, it isn’t worth my while to spend time and energy acquiring information about candidates and issues, because my vote can’t change the outcome. I would not buy a car or a house without doing due diligence, because I pay a price if I make the wrong choice. But if I had voted for the candidate I did not prefer in every Presidential election since I began voting, it would have made no difference to me (or to anyone else). It would have made no difference if I had not voted at all. This doesn’t mean that I won’t vote, or that, when I do vote, I won’t care about the outcome. It only means that I have no incentive to learn more about the candidates or the issues, because the price of my ignorance is essentially zero. According to this economic model, people aren’t ignorant about politics because they’re stupid; they’re ignorant because they’re rational. If everyone doesn’t vote, then the system doesn’t work. But if I don’t vote, the system works just fine. So I find more productive ways to spend my time.

    Political scientists have proposed various theories aimed at salvaging some dignity for the democratic process. One is that elections are decided by the ten per cent or so of the electorate who are informed and have coherent political views. In this theory, the votes of the uninformed cancel each other out, since their choices are effectively random: they are flipping a coin. So candidates pitch their appeals to the informed voters, who decide on the merits, and this makes the outcome of an election politically meaningful. Another argument is that the average voter uses “shortcuts” to reach a decision about which candidate to vote for. The political party is an obvious shortcut: if you have decided that you prefer Democrats, you don’t really need more information to cast your ballot. Shortcuts can take other forms as well: the comments of a co-worker or a relative with a reputation for political wisdom, or a news item or photograph (John Kerry windsurfing) that can be used to make a quick-and-dirty calculation about whether the candidate is someone you should support. (People argue about how valid these shortcuts are as substitutes for fuller information, of course.)

    There is also the theory of what Caplan calls the Miracle of Aggregation. As James Surowiecki illustrates in “The Wisdom of Crowds” (2004), a large number of people with partial information and varying degrees of intelligence and expertise will collectively reach better or more accurate results than will a small number of like-minded, highly intelligent experts. Stock prices work this way, but so can many other things, such as determining the odds in sports gambling, guessing the number of jelly beans in a jar, and analyzing intelligence. An individual voter has limited amounts of information and political sense, but a hundred million voters, each with a different amount of information and political sense, will produce the “right” result. Then, there is the theory that people vote the same way that they act in the marketplace: they pursue their self-interest. In the market, selfish behavior conduces to the general good, and the same should be true for elections.

    Caplan thinks that democracy as it is now practiced cannot be salvaged, and his position is based on a simple observation: “Democracy is a commons, not a market.” A commons is an unregulated public resource—in the classic example, in Garrett Hardin’s essay “The Tragedy of the Commons” (1968), it is literally a commons, a public pasture on which anyone may graze his cattle. It is in the interest of each herdsman to graze as many of his own cattle as he can, since the resource is free, but too many cattle will result in overgrazing and the destruction of the pasture. So the pursuit of individual self-interest leads to a loss for everyone. (The subject Hardin was addressing was population growth: someone may be concerned about overpopulation but still decide to have another child, since the cost to the individual of adding one more person to the planet is much less than the benefit of having the child.)

    Caplan rejects the assumption that voters pay no attention to politics and have no real views. He thinks that voters do have views, and that they are, basically, prejudices. He calls these views “irrational,” because, once they are translated into policy, they make everyone worse off. People not only hold irrational views, he thinks; they like their irrational views. In the language of economics, they have “demand for irrationality” curves: they will give up y amount of wealth in order to consume x amount of irrationality. Since voting carries no cost, people are free to be as irrational as they like. They can ignore the consequences, just as the herdsman can ignore the consequences of putting one more cow on the public pasture. “Voting is not a slight variation on shopping,” as Caplan puts it. “Shoppers have incentives to be rational. Voters do not.”

    Caplan suspects that voters cherish irrational views on many issues, but he discusses only views relevant to economic policy. The average person, he says, has four biases about economics—four main areas in which he or she differs from the economic expert. The typical noneconomist does not understand or appreciate the way markets work (and thus favors regulation and is suspicious of the profit motive), dislikes foreigners (and thus tends to be protectionist), equates prosperity with employment rather than with production (and thus overvalues the preservation of existing jobs), and usually thinks that economic conditions are getting worse (and thus favors government intervention in the economy). Economists know that these positions are irrational, because the average person actually benefits from market competition, which provides the best product at the lowest price; from free trade with other countries, which (for American consumers) usually lowers the cost of labor and thus the price of goods; and from technological change, which redistributes labor from less productive to more productive enterprises.

    The economic biases of the non-economist form a secular world view that people cling to dogmatically, the way they once clung to their religious faith, Caplan thinks. People do not, he proposes, vote their self-interest: they are much more altruistic than the standard model, in which voters behave like shoppers, predicts. (This explains the phenomenon, puzzling to many social critics, of the auto worker who supports the elimination of the inheritance tax and the Hollywood producer who favors its retention.) “Precisely because people put personal interests aside when they enter the political arena,” Caplan says, “intellectual errors readily blossom into foolish policies.” People really believe that the country would be better off if profits were regulated, if foreign goods were taxed, and if companies were prevented from downsizing. Politicians who pander to these beliefs are more likely to be elected, and the special interests that lobby for protectionism and anticompetitive legislation are the beneficiaries—not the public. The result, over time, is a decline in the standard of living.

    Caplan insists that he is not a market fundamentalist, but he does think that most economists peg the optimal level of government involvement in the economy too high, because they overestimate the virtues of democracy. He offers some suggestions for fixing the evils of universal democratic participation (though he does not spend much time elaborating on them, for reasons that may suggest themselves to you when you read them): require voters to pass a test for economic competence; give extra votes to people with greater economic literacy; reduce or eliminate efforts to increase voter turnout; require more economics courses in school, even if this means eliminating courses in other subjects, such as classics; teach people introductory economics without making the usual qualifications about the limits of market solutions. His general feeling is that if the country were run according to the beliefs of professional economists everyone would be better off. Short of that consummation, he favors whatever means are necessary to get everyone who votes to think like a professional economist. He wants to raise the price of voting.

    It is not clear whether “The Myth of the Rational Voter” is intended merely to be provocative (a motive that has been known to get other economists in big trouble) or whether its recommendations for changing the rules for political participation are to be taken seriously (and by whom?). The book is, in part, a challenge to some of the assumptions made about voting behavior in the academic field known as public choice theory. Caplan has assembled a lot of data that reveal significant disparities between the average person’s views on economic questions and the views of professional economists: the public thinks that the price of gasoline is too high, for instance, but most economists think it is about right or too low; the public thinks that most new jobs being created in the United States are low-paying, but economists disagree; the public thinks that top executives are overpaid, and economists do not. Caplan’s point is that voters’ views on the economy are not random, the result of “rational ignorance”; they reflect systematic biases caused by an erroneous understanding of the way economies work.

    But, as Caplan certainly knows, though he does not give sufficient weight to it, the problem, if it is a problem, is more deeply rooted. It’s not a matter of information, or the lack of it; it’s a matter of psychology. Most people do not think politically, and they do not think like economists, either. People exaggerate the risk of loss; they like the status quo and tend to regard it as a norm; they overreact to sensational but unrepresentative information (the shark-attack phenomenon); they will pay extravagantly to punish cheaters, even when there is no benefit to themselves; and they often rank fairness and reciprocity ahead of self-interest. Most people, even if you explained to them what the economically rational choice was, would be reluctant to make it, because they value other things—in particular, they want to protect themselves from the downside of change. They would rather feel good about themselves than maximize (even legitimately) their profit, and they would rather not have more of something than run the risk, even if the risk is small by actuarial standards, of having significantly less.

    People are less modern than the times in which they live, in other words, and the failure to comprehend this is what can make economists seem like happy bulldozers. “After technology throws people out of work, they have an incentive to find a new use for their talents,” Caplan says, discussing the bias that non-economists have in favor of employment over productivity. “Downsizing superfluous workers leads them to search for more socially productive ways to apply their abilities.” This process, he explains, is known as “churn.” (Donald Trump: “You’re churned!” Doesn’t sound the same.) It’s not hard to understand why the average person might contemplate job loss with less equanimity.

    Negotiating the tension between “rational” policy choices and “irrational” preferences and anxieties—between the desirability of more productivity and the desire to preserve a way of life—is what democratic politics is all about. It is a messy negotiation. Having the franchise be universal makes it even messier. If all policy decisions were straightforward economic calculations, it might be simpler and better for everyone if only people who had a grasp of economics participated in the political process. But many policy decisions don’t have an optimal answer. They involve values that are deeply contested: when life begins, whether liberty is more important than equality, how racial integration is best achieved (and what would count as genuine integration).

    In the end, the group that loses these contests must abide by the outcome, must regard the wishes of the majority as legitimate. The only way it can be expected to do so is if it has been made to feel that it had a voice in the process, even if that voice is, in practical terms, symbolic. A great virtue of democratic polities is stability. The toleration of silly opinions is (to speak like an economist) a small price to pay for it. ♦

  2. #2

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    ^ Tacked-on conclusion by the article's author is a bit of a cop-out.

    Still, an interesting article. No realizable solution to the problem?

  3. #3

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    It’s always a bit dodgy to comment on a review of a work one hasn’t read. That said, I implicitly trust the New Yorker (*).

    I think the reviewer’s critique of Caplan’s book is, if anything, fairly gentle. Ever since economists like Becker et al. have expanded the use of incentive-reaction, cost-benefit-analysis heuristics (that’s economics to the rest of youse **) to other aspects of social sciences, all the academic econ types are trying to come across as “Freakonomists”.

    IF (big if), Caplan’s points are fairly represented in the review, his Analysis is superficial and ultimately specious, even from a purely economic standpoint.

    First of all, his data set is highly selective to the point of being specious. Secondly, a lot of his meta-facts relate to what people say they believe and say they vote for. We know very well this bears little resemblance to what people actually do. Furthermore, he fails to mention the counterfactual of non-representative forms of government often performing ‘even worse’ than electoral democracies in economic policy terms. He also misrepresents voting as a system-negative externality in several respects; although he is right in saying that voting is not subject to an efficient market. I could go on and on.

    My biggest beef with him is that (better) economists can take a contribution to political structure through their work. For instance, the problem of bundling is a serious issue in electoral politics and government re-structuring to reduce this might be beneficial. I would even argue that on some issues/fields of control a modification (read: restriction) of the franchise may be more utility-efficient than automatically having so-called universal suffrage.

    What, conversely, Caplan seems to be suggesting is that economic policy be run by economists and other technocrats. That was tried before, largely in command economies, and it did not work well, as I recall. Just because the academic economics orthodoxy happens to be ‘pro-market’ currently it does not mean that economists have unchangeable or indeed monolithic views on things like free trade, etc.

    Take that, for instance. I’m 100% for free trade, but it is undeniable that a substantial portion of people in richer countries have been affected negatively by it. Resolving what takes precedence (their jobs or cheaper imports) or how to compensate the ‘losers’ in such a situation clearly is something for the broader polity to agree on, albeit with contributions from social scientists.

  4. #4

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    "It is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is, after all, a specialized discipline and one that most people consider to be a 'dismal science.' But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance."

    -- Murray Rothbard

  5. #5
    Senior Member Capn_Birdseye's Avatar
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    "Democracy is but a game, a charade, played by those with power to fool the masses into believing they have power, yet nothing could be further from the truth."

  6. #6

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    "Art is the lie that tells the truth."

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    Actually, the masses do have power. It's individuals who don't.

    Quote Originally Posted by Capn_Birdseye View Post
    "Democracy is but a game, a charade, played by those with power to fool the masses into believing they have power, yet nothing could be further from the truth."

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  9. #9
    Chief Antagonist Ninjahedge's Avatar
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    3rd's the best, and most pertinent.

  10. #10

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    "My opinion of the manner in which a newspaper should be conducted so as to be most useful [is]... 'by restraining it to true facts and sound principle only.' Yet I fear such a paper would find few subscribers. It is a melancholy truth, that a suppression of the press could not more completely deprive the nation of its benefits than is done by its abandoned prostitution to falsehood." --Thomas Jefferson to John Norvell, 1807.

    ****

    One night, probably in 1880, John Swinton, then the preeminent New York journalist, was the guest of honour at a banquet given him by the leaders of his craft. Someone who knew neither the press nor Swinton offered a toast to the independent press. Swinton outraged his colleagues by replying:

    "There is no such thing, at this date of the world's history, in America, as an independent press. You know it and I know it.

    "There is not one of you who dares to write your honest opinions, and if you did, you know beforehand that it would never appear in print. I am paid weekly for keeping my honest opinion out of the paper I am connected with. Others of you are paid similar salaries for similar things, and any of you who would be so foolish as to write honest opinions would be out on the streets looking for another job. If I allowed my honest opinions to appear in one issue of my paper, before twenty_four hours my occupation would be gone.

    "The business of the journalists is to destroy the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to vilify, to fawn at the feet of mammon, and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread. You know it and I know it, and what folly is this toasting an independent press?

    "We are the tools and vassals of rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks, they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes."


    (Source: Labor's Untold Story, by Richard O. Boyer and Herbert M. Morais, published by United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America, NY, 1955/1979.)

    *****

    Of course this was years before Operation Mockingbird

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  12. #12

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    I suppose the alternative is a situation where, say, one poercent may take away the rights of the other 99.

    Also, the whole point of principles-based (as oppsoed to emrely structural) cosntitutions i sto rphibit excesses on the part of the majority.

  13. #13

    Default Of neither "snob-rule" nor "mob-rule"

    Notwithstanding the sloganeering political adoption of the words democratic and republican, this excerpt illustrates the profound difference between the two - as modes of governance.

    *****

    An Important Distinction: Democracy versus Republic

    It is important to keep in mind the difference between a Democracy and a Republic, as dissimilar forms of government. Understanding the difference is essential to comprehension of the fundamentals involved. It should be noted, in passing, that use of the word Democracy as meaning merely the popular type of government--that is, featuring genuinely free elections by the people periodically--is not helpful in discussing, as here, the difference between alternative and dissimilar forms of a popular government: a Democracy versus a Republic. This double meaning of Democracy--a popular-type government in general, as well as a specific form of popular government--needs to be made clear in any discussion, or writing, regarding this subject, for the sake of sound understanding.

    These two forms of government: Democracy and Republic, are not only dissimilar but antithetical, reflecting the sharp contrast between (a) The Majority Unlimited, in a Democracy, lacking any legal safeguard of the rights of The Individual and The Minority, and (b) The Majority Limited, in a Republic under a written Constitution safeguarding the rights of The Individual and The Minority; as we shall now see.

    A Democracy

    The chief characteristic and distinguishing feature of a Democracy is: Rule by Omnipotent Majority. In a Democracy, The Individual, and any group of Individuals composing any Minority, have no protection against the unlimited power of The Majority. It is a case of Majority-over-Man.

    This is true whether it be a Direct Democracy, or a Representative Democracy. In the direct type, applicable only to a small number of people as in the little city-states of ancient Greece, or in a New England town-meeting, all of the electorate assemble to debate and decide all government questions, and all decisions are reached by a majority vote (of at least half-plus-one). Decisions of The Majority in a New England town-meeting are, of course, subject to the Constitutions of the State and of the United States which protect The Individual’s rights; so, in this case, The Majority is not omnipotent and such a town-meeting is, therefore, not an example of a true Direct Democracy. Under a Representative Democracy like Britain’s parliamentary form of government, the people elect representatives to the national legislature--the elective body there being the House of Commons--and it functions by a similar vote of at least half-plus-one in making all legislative decisions.

    In both the Direct type and the Representative type of Democracy, The Majority’s power is absolute and unlimited; its decisions are unappealable under the legal system established to give effect to this form of government. This opens the door to unlimited Tyranny-by-Majority. This was what The Framers of the United States Constitution meant in 1787, in debates in the Federal (framing) Convention, when they condemned the "excesses of democracy" and abuses under any Democracy of the unalienable rights of The Individual by The Majority. Examples were provided in the immediate post-1776 years by the legislatures of some of the States. In reaction against earlier royal tyranny, which had been exercised through oppressions by royal governors and judges of the new State governments, while the legislatures acted as if they were virtually omnipotent. There were no effective State Constitutions to limit the legislatures because most State governments were operating under mere Acts of their respective legislatures which were mislabelled "Constitutions." Neither the governors not the courts of the offending States were able to exercise any substantial and effective restraining influence upon the legislatures in defense of The Individual’s unalienable rights, when violated by legislative infringements. (Connecticut and Rhode Island continued under their old Charters for many years.) It was not until 1780 that the first genuine Republic through constitutionally limited government, was adopted by Massachusetts--next New Hampshire in 1784, other States later.

    It was in this connection that Jefferson, in his "Notes On The State of Virginia" written in 1781-1782, protected against such excesses by the Virginia Legislature in the years following the Declaration of Independence, saying: "An elective despotism was not the government we fought for . . ." (Emphasis Jefferson’s.) He also denounced the despotic concentration of power in the Virginia Legislature, under the so-called "Constitution"--in reality a mere Act of that body:

    "All the powers of government, legislative, executive, judiciary, result to the legislative body. The concentrating these in the same hands is precisely the definition of despotic government. It will be no alleviation that these powers will be exercised by a plurality of hands, and not by a single one. 173 despots would surely be as oppressive as one. Let those who doubt it turn their eyes on the republic of Venice."

    This topic--the danger to the people’s liberties due to the turbulence of democracies and omnipotent, legislative majority--is discussed in The Federalist, for example in numbers 10 and 48 by Madison (in the latter noting Jefferson’s above-quoted comments).

    The Framing Convention’s records prove that by decrying the "excesses of democracy" The Framers were, of course, not opposing a popular type of government for the United States; their whole aim and effort was to create a sound system of this type. To contend to the contrary is to falsify history. Such a falsification not only maligns the high purpose and good character of The Framers but belittles the spirit of the truly Free Man in America--the people at large of that period--who happily accepted and lived with gratification under the Constitution as their own fundamental law and under the Republic which it created, especially because they felt confident for the first time of the security of their liberties thereby protected against abuse by all possible violators, including The Majority momentarily in control of government. The truth is that The Framers, by their protests against the "excesses of democracy," were merely making clear their sound reasons for preferring a Republic as the proper form of government. They well knew, in light of history, that nothing but a Republic can provide the best safeguards--in truth in the long run the only effective safeguards (if enforced in practice)--for the people’s liberties which are inescapably victimized by Democracy’s form and system of unlimited Government-over-Man featuring The Majority Omnipotent. They also knew that the American people would not consent to any form of government but that of a Republic. It is of special interest to note that Jefferson, who had been in Paris as the American Minister for several years, wrote Madison from there in March 1789 that:

    "The tyranny of the legislatures is the most formidable dread at present, and will be for long years. That of the executive will come it’s turn, but it will be at a remote period." (Text per original.)

    Somewhat earlier, Madison had written Jefferson about violation of the Bill of Rights by State legislatures, stating:

    "Repeated violations of those parchment barriers have been committed by overbearing majorities in every State. In Virginia I have seen the bill of rights violated in every instance where it has been opposed to a popular current."

    It is correct to say that in any Democracy--either a Direct or a Representative type--as a form of government, there can be no legal system which protects The Individual or The Minority (any or all minorities) against unlimited tyranny by The Majority. The undependable sense of self-restraint of the persons making up The Majority at any particular time offers, of course, no protection whatever. Such a form of government is characterized by The Majority Omnipotent and Unlimited. This is true, for example, of the Representative Democracy of Great Britain; because unlimited government power is possessed by the House of Lords, under an Act of Parliament of 1949--indeed, it has power to abolish anything and everything governmental in Great Britain.

    For a period of some centuries ago, some English judges did argue that their decisions could restrain Parliament; but this theory had to be abandoned because it was found to be untenable in the light of sound political theory and governmental realities in a Representative Democracy. Under this form of government, neither the courts not any other part of the government can effectively challenge, much less block, any action by The Majority in the legislative body, no matter how arbitrary, tyrannous, or totalitarian they might become in practice. The parliamentary system of Great Britain is a perfect example of Representative Democracy and of the potential tyranny inherent in its system of Unlimited Rule by Omnipotent Majority. This pertains only to the potential, to the theory, involved; governmental practices there are irrelevant to this discussion.

    Madison’s observations in The Federalist number 10 are noteworthy at this point because they highlight a grave error made through the centuries regarding Democracy as a form of government. He commented as follows:

    "Theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of government, have erroneously supposed, that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time, be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions."

    Democracy, as a form of government, is utterly repugnant to--is the very antithesis of--the traditional American system: that of a Republic, and its underlying philosophy, as expressed in essence in the Declaration of Independence with primary emphasis upon the people’s forming their government so as to permit them to possess only "just powers" (limited powers) in order to make and keep secure the God-given, unalienable rights of each and every Individual and therefore of all groups of Individuals.

    A Republic

    A Republic, on the other hand, has a very different purpose and an entirely different form, or system, of government. Its purpose is to control The Majority strictly, as well as all others among the people, primarily to protect The Individual’s God-given, unalienable rights and therefore for the protection of the rights of The Minority, of all minorities, and the liberties of people in general. The definition of a Republic is: a constitutionally limited government of the representative type, created by a written Constitution--adopted by the people and changeable (from its original meaning) by them only by its amendment--with its powers divided between three separate Branches: Executive, Legislative and Judicial. Here the term "the people" means, of course, the electorate.

    The people adopt the Constitution as their fundamental law by utilizing a Constitutional Convention--especially chosen by them for this express and sole purpose--to frame it for consideration and approval by them either directly or by their representatives in a Ratifying Convention, similarly chosen. Such a Constitutional Convention, for either framing or ratification, is one of America’s greatest contributions, if not her greatest contribution, to the mechanics of government--of self-government through constitutionally limited government, comparable in importance to America’s greatest contribution to the science of government: the formation and adoption by the sovereign people of a written Constitution as the basis for self-government. One of the earliest, if not the first, specific discussions of this new American development (a Constitutional Convention) in the historical records is an entry in June 1775 in John Adams’ "Autobiography" commenting on the framing by a convention and ratification by the people as follows:

    "By conventions of representatives, freely, fairly, and proportionately chosen . . . the convention may send out their project of a constitution, to the people in their several towns, counties, or districts, and the people may make the acceptance of it their own act."

    Yet the first proposal in 1778 of a Constitution for Massachusetts was rejected for the reason, in part, as stated in the "Essex Result" (the result, or report, of the Convention of towns of Essex County), that it had been framed and proposed not by a specially chosen convention but by members of the legislature who were involved in general legislative duties, including those pertaining to the conduct of the war.

    The first genuine and soundly founded Republic in all history was the one created by the first genuine Constitution, which was adopted by the people of Massachusetts in 1780 after being framed for their consideration by a specially chosen Constitutional Convention. (As previously noted, the so-called "Constitutions" adopted by some States in 1776 were mere Acts of Legislatures, not genuine Constitutions.) That Constitutional Convention of Massachusetts was the first successful one ever held in the world; although New Hampshire had earlier held one unsuccessfully - it took several years and several successive conventions to produce the New Hampshire Constitution of 1784. Next, in 1787-1788, the United States Constitution was framed by the Federal Convention for the people’s consideration and then ratified by the people of the several States through a Ratifying Convention in each State specially chosen by them for this sole purpose. Thereafter the other States gradually followed in general the Massachusetts pattern of Constitution-making in adoption of genuine Constitutions; but there was a delay of a number of years in this regard as to some of them, several decades as to a few.

    This system of Constitution-making, for the purpose of establishing constitutionally limited government, is designed to put into practice the principle of the Declaration of Independence: that the people form their governments and grant to them only "just powers," limited powers, in order primarily to secure (to make and keep secure) their God-given, unalienable rights. The American philosophy and system of government thus bar equally the "snob-rule" of a governing Elite and the "mob-rule" of an Omnipotent Majority. This is designed, above all else, to preclude the existence in America of any governmental power capable of being misused so as to violate The Individual’s rights--to endanger the people’s liberties.

    With regard to the republican form of government (that of a republic), Madison made an observation in The Federalist (no. 55) which merits quoting here--as follows:

    "As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust: So there are other qualities in human nature, which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence. [i]Republican government[/i[ (that of a Republic) presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form. Were the pictures which have been drawn by the political jealousy of some among us, faithful likenesses of the human character, the inference would be that there is not sufficient virtue among men for self government; and that nothing less than the chains of despotism can restrain them from destroying and devouring one another." (Emphasis added.)

    It is noteworthy here that the above discussion, though brief, is sufficient to indicate the reasons why the label "Republic" has been misapplied in other countries to other and different forms of government throughout history. It has been greatly misunderstood and widely misused--for example as long ago as the time of Plato, when he wrote his celebrated volume, The Republic; in which he did not discuss anything governmental even remotely resembling--having essential characteristics of--a genuine Republic. Frequent reference is to be found, in the writings of the period of the framing of the Constitution for instance, to "the ancient republics," but in any such connection the term was used loosely--by way of contrast to a monarchy or to a Direct Democracy--often using the term in the sense merely of a system of Rule-by-Law featuring Representative government; as indicated, for example, by John Adams in his "Thoughts on Government" and by Madison in The Federalist numbers 10 and 39. But this is an incomplete definition because it can include a Representative Democracy, lacking a written Constitution limiting The Majority.

    From The American Ideal of 1776: The Twelve Basic American Principles.

  14. #14
    Architectural Padawan
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    Mar 2004
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    Default

    "Democracy is two wolves and a lamb debating what to eat for dinner. Liberty is a well armed lamb disputing the vote."

    -Benjamin Franklin

  15. #15

    Default

    It is not possible for voting in a government election to result in a fair result. Predatory force is what you are dealing with, or as H. L. Mencken put it so well, "Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods."
    More.

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