Patterico's Pontifications


Democratic Results Are Often Stupid but Nevertheless Important

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 8:05 am

Here’s another passage from Mises’s Human Action that caught my eye:

The modern revival of the idea of collectivism, the main cause of all the agonies and disasters of our day, has succeeded so thoroughly that it has brought into oblivion the essential ideas of liberal [a term which Mises always uses to mean classical liberal] social philosophy. Today even many of those favoring democratic institutions ignore these ideas. The arguments they bring forward for the justification of freedom and democracy are tainted with collectivist errors; their doctrines are rather a distortion than an endorsement of true liberalism. In their eyes majorities are always right simply because they have the power to crush any opposition; majority rule is the dictatorial rule of the most numerous party, and the ruling majority is not bound to restrain itself in the exercise of its power and in the conduct of political affairs. As soon as a faction has succeeded in winning the support of the majority of citizens and thereby attained control of the government machine, it is free to deny to the minority all those democratic rights by means of which it itself has previously carried on its own struggle for supremacy.

This pseudo-liberalism is, of course, the very antithesis of the liberal doctrine. The liberals do not maintain that majorities are godlike and infallible; they do not contend that the mere fact that a policy is advocated by the many is a proof of its merits for the common weal. They do not recommend the dictatorship of the majority and the violent oppression of dissenting minorities. Liberalism aims at a political constitution which safeguards the smooth working of social cooperation and the progressive intensification of mutual social relations. Its main objective is the avoidance of violent conflicts, of wars and revolutions that must disintegrate the social collaboration of men and throw people back into the primitive conditions of barbarism where all tribes and political bodies endlessly fought one another. Because the division of labor requires undisturbed peace, liberalism aims at the establishment of a system of government that is likely to preserve peace, viz., democracy.

People do not win elections because they are right. They win because a majority has voted them into office. Everyone must accept this because it keeps the peace.

Every so often we hear about a poll, often dubious, illustrating the stupidity and ignorance of much of the public. The most recent one I have heard suggests that a majority of Americans oppose teaching Arabic numerals in American schools. We don’t have to accept the legitimacy of such trolling polls to recognize that many Americans probably would answer a poll question that way — perhaps a majority. And they vote.

We accept the results of the vote because that is what is required to keep the peace. And keeping the peace is important. But those who parade around screaming “We’re Number 1” because of election results, while telling pollsters that children should not be allowed to learn about the number 1 in school, are not people whose opinions I am bound to respect. And such people exist. All I agree to do is accept the results of their vote. I do not agree to respect them.

[Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.]

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