Ludwig von Mises Institute

Essay:Majoritarianism

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Majoritarianism is the philosophy that the majority should rule; and that disregarding the edicts of the majority is an evil act and one rightfully punished. Majoritarianism is thus strongly related to democratic socialism and is a form of legal positivism. In film and other forms of popular culture, the police who enforce the will of the majority against an intransigent minority are depicted as the "good guys." Those who refuse to conform are the "bad guys," regardless of the merits of whatever kind of activity it might have been that majority sought to suppress. Any elected official is assumed to have legitimacy not only as a representative but as a worthy human being[1] until removed from office in accordance with laws and constitutions passed by majority (or supermajority, as the case may be). Thus, there is a multi-tiered majoritarian system, in which a politician elected by the majority of his constituents can be turned out of office by a vote of his peers.[2]

There are many excuses for why democratic governments have been so destructive of life, liberty and property. One is that in the bad old days, large segments of the population were disenfranchised. This is said to now be a problem that has been fixed, or nearly fixed (there is still some controversy over voting rights for children[3] and felons[4]). This does not explain why the voters often reject opportunities to implement libertarian policies. Even in California, which has a huge underground cannabis cultivation industry[5] and an electorate regarded as the most willing to experiment with new ideas,[6] ballot initiatives to legalize cannabis have always been defeated.[7]

Like other forms of statolatry, majoritarianism defines the principles of good and bad as follows:[8]

The good is embodied in the great god State, the materialization of the eternal idea of morality, and the bad in the “rugged individualism” of selfish men. In this antagonism the State is always right and the individual always wrong. The State is the representative of the commonweal, of justice, civilization, and superior wisdom. The individual is a poor wretch, a vicious fool.

The belief in the wisdom of the majority ignores the fact that the majority seldom is particularly innovative. Rather, according to most theories of the diffusion of ideas, the spread of new ideas and technology typically depends first on independently acting innovators (about 2.5 percent) and early adopters (about 13.5 percent); only then does the majority catch on to an idea. Mises points out, "Changes in human conditions are brought about by the pioneering of the cleverest and most en­ergetic men. They take the lead and the rest of man­kind follows them little by little."[9] Centers of innovation such as Silicon Valley are usually self-organizing, rather than the result of central planning. A democracy that assumes the responsibility of regulating minute economic affairs will tend to crush innovation, whether at the level of the legislature or the bureaucracy:[10]

Only a few men, endowed with exceptional and rare abilities, have the gift of planning new things and of recognizing their blessings. Under capitalism the innovator is free to embark upon an attempt to realize his plans in spite of the unwillingness of the majority to acknowledge their merits. It is enough if he succeeds in persuading some reasonable men to lend him funds to start with. Under a bureaucratic system it is necessary to convince those at the top, as a rule old men accustomed to do things in prescribed ways, and no longer open to new ideas.

Majoritarianism holds that the right to acquire and to own property is a privilege, legitimately subject to revocation at any time by one's fellow voters and their representatives. Consumer sovereignty and, therefore, consumer democracy, are undermined, as the wishes and plans of a person to spend his money as he sees fit become subject to the veto of others. Investor democracy, too, is impinged upon, as the majoritarian government (often influenced by demagogues) meddles with corporate affairs and takes money out of the pockets of shareholders. The higher the tax rate is, the greater the scope of control of the means of production falls under the power of the electorate (at least until democratic socialism self-destructs, as it always must).[11]

Socialists generally believe that a major flaw in the democracies that currently exist is that the voters and politicians are influenced by plutocrats and their campaign donations. They hold the exact opposite view as the Austrian school, believing that true liberty and democracy depend on equality achieved through forcible redistribution of wealth. Yet, when socialists get the totalitarian society they asked for, they object that it too is not "true socialism."[12]

References[edit]

  1. Rockwell, Llewellyn H., Jr. (27 January 2005). "Shills, Paid and Unpaid". http://www.lewrockwell.com/rockwell/shills.html. 
  2. "U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 5". http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_transcript.html. "Each House [of Congress] may determine the Rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member." 
  3. "Lower the voting age.". National Youth Rights Assocation. http://www.youthrights.org/issues/voting-age/. 
  4. "Felony Disenfranchisement". The Sentencing Project. http://www.sentencingproject.org/template/page.cfm?id=133. 
  5. Gettman, Jon (2006). "Marijuana Production in the United States". DrugScience. http://www.drugscience.org/Archive/bcr2/cashcrops.html. 
  6. Brownstein, Ronald. "The California Experiment". The Atlantic. 
  7. Cooper, Charles (3 November 2010). "Pot Law Hopes Dashed as California Votes Down Prop. 19". CBS News. 
  8. Mises, Ludwig von. "The Philosophy of Bureaucratism". Bureaucracy. http://mises.org/etexts/mises/bureaucracy/section5.asp. 
  9. von Mises, Ludwig. "The Noneconomic Objections to Capitalism". The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality. http://mises.org/etexts/mises/anticap/section4.asp. 
  10. von Mises, Ludwig. "Interference with the Height of Profit". Bureaucracy. http://mises.org/etexts/mises/bureaucracy/section4.asp. 
  11. von Mises, Ludwig. "The Individual in Society". Economic Freedom and Interventionism. http://mises.org/efandi/ch2.asp. "As soon as the economic freedom which the market economy grants to its members is removed, all political liberties and bills of rights become humbug. Habeas corpus and trial by jury are a sham if, under the pretext of economic expediency, the authority has full power to relegate every citizen it dislikes to the arctic or to a desert and to assign him "hard labor" for life. Freedom of the press is a mere blind if the authority controls all printing offices and paper plants. And so are all the other rights of men." 
  12. von Mises, Ludwig. "The Historical Origin of the Socialist Idea". Human Action. http://mises.org/humanaction/chap25sec1.asp. "A socialist advocates socialism because he is fully convinced that the supreme dictator of the socialist commonwealth will be reasonable from his — the individual socialist's — point of view, that he will aim at those ends of which he — the individual socialist — fully approves, and that he will try to attain these ends by choosing means which he — the individual socialist — would also choose. Every socialist calls only that system a genuinely socialist system in which these conditions are completely fulfilled; all other brands claiming the name of socialism are counterfeit systems entirely different from true socialism." 

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