The Enchantment of the Democratic Process
By Arnold Kling
the real question is why so many people have stopped believing that the state has the authority to be the arbiter of last resort in a pluralistic society.
Read the whole thing, which starts out as an extended excerpt from Daniel Little. Much of the riff reflects what I call an enchanted view of something called “the democratic process.” This is a magical process that would allow us to live in peace with one another, if we only we would accept it.
To me, this concept of a democratic process is vague and undefined. That leaves open the possibility that two sides can disagree over what the democratic process dictates. For example, on gay marriage, does the democratic process dictate against gay marriage, because voters consistently vote against it? Or does it dictate in favor of gay marriage, because courts have ruled in favor of gay marriage, and courts are the true embodiment of the democratic process?
Adolf Hitler held a number of plebiscites. Were those the democratic process?
The teachers’ union controls elections in Montgomery County, Maryland, and they are looting the county. Is that the democratic process?
At times in history, pollsters have found that a majority of Americans oppose each article in the Bill of Rights in the Constitution. Can the enforcement of those rights be reconciled with the democratic process?
Does the democratic process mean the same thing in Denmark (population less than 5.5 million) as the United States (population over 300 million)?
One may think of a contrast between the morality of an outcome or the morality of a procedure. The concept of democratic fairness suggests that we privilege the morality of some procedure, regardless of the outcome. If we are going to do that, I would suggest that we privilege the outcome of voluntary decisions. Even if the use of coercion is governed by a democratic process, then coercion is wrong.
Libertarians would agree with Thoma-Little-Rawls that disputes must be settled peacefully. However, we would not agree that every issue must be settled democratically. In fact, we would suggest that the fewer issues that are settled by any political process, the better.
I like the democratic process only insofar as it can be used to limit political power. To the extent that the democratic process fails to limit the power of too few to decide for too many, it loses its enchantment.