Contra-Democracy

by Ali Massoud

There are two principal memes regarding democracy in American political culture. They can be summed up nicely with a pithy quotation and cynical bon mot. They are in turn:

“Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried” which is attributed to Sir Winston Churchill the noted 20th century Conservative Party Prime Minister of England.

The Churchill meme’s contra is:

“Democracy: Two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner” which is attributed by my source to writer James Bovard, but whose first use is unknown. Be that as it may, the point of the remark is as sharp as a needle’s tip.

I first began to question the basis for democracy way back in my sophomore high school government class at Edsel Ford high school in Dearborn, Michigan. My teacher, a sweet, kindly, and patient man was going on and on at great length about why some bill was being blocked in the US Senate principally at the instigation and behest of a senator from Oregon. This struck me as manifestly unjust on a metaphysical level.

“How can that be possible Mr. Rogers?” I blurted out, interrupting his lecture and not raising my hand for permission to speak. I do not remember verbatim what his answer was, but it struck me at the time as very lame and weak. Not wanting to insult the man further with my withering teenaged appraisal of his dispensed wisdom, I pondered his explanation in my mind. It went something like this:

Oregon wants something from the US government. So does Michigan. The Democratic Party wants things for Oregon and for Michigan. So does the Republican Party. However, some Republicans and some Democrats don’t want Michigan or Oregon to have anything unless they get what they want for their state or district too. Michigan has more people than Oregon, but not in the US Senate where every state gets two votes, population numbers being irrelevant. So how does the decision of “who gets what” get made? “Very carefully and with much compromise and horsetrading”, Mr. Rogers said. That answer sure didn’t satisfy me though. It didn’t then and doesn’t today.

Why should some pol from Oregon, who lives and works in Washington, DC, have the power and authority to poke his nose into the lives, affairs, and checkbooks of people in Michigan? Or vice versa? A political system that permitted that situation to arise and endure seemed to me manifestly unfair and irrational as well. This epiphany dawned on me all those years ago and it seems to me that it is still a valid objection to representative democracy as practiced in the United States to this very day.

The only valid use of democratic decision making processes and social organization that can be used consistent with my anarcho-libertarian principles must contain two features.

First, only “stakeholders” get to vote. Everyone can and should have their say and be able to express their opinions and views, but only those who are directly influenced by it should be able to make the actual determination.

If I don’t own any real estate, why the hell should I get to vote on an issue regarding property or housing? [1] What is my stake? That is exclusionary some would say, but I think that it is properly so. To make the point still clearer let me cite a bumper sticker I saw one day in Ann Arbor: “If you oppose abortion then don’t have one”. Simplistic but true. Why should any man, who after all can’t get pregnant, have a vote on women’s reproductive or family planning choices? To apply that example again you could say “If you don’t like guns, don’t own one.”

If you aren’t a stakeholder, you shouldn’t get a vote. Any exception to this principle renders any election, plebiscite, or referendum invalid and null from a moral perspective. By allowing non-stakeholders to insert themselves into any process of collective decision making, the process then stops being about a group decision and becomes an expression of force. I can see no exceptions where that would ever not be the case. [2]

The second condition would be an opt-out exclusion to any collective decision. If I am not willing to be bound by the outcome of a decision, then make all the decisions, hold all the elections and referendums you wish. They won’t bind me, so I don’t care about them unless they infringe on or harm me in a material way. Not simply offend, annoy, or dismay me mind you, but actual harm. Failure to accept this second condition also renders any decision made this way invalid, morally unsound, and rationally unenforceable.

So, why vote at all? Human beings are not herd animals, for the most part anyway, but social ones. Except for the extreme misfits, the deranged, and the pathologically anti-social, nearly all of us prefer to live in communities, families, and other social groupings.

This then requires, like it or not, the casting, and counting of votes in order to make decisions on matters that affect the whole assemblage and not just the individual. Radical individualists and other extremists oppose this view, but never offer a serious alternative, which to my mind seriously reduces if not eliminates the validity of their objections, because as stated above, they can opt out if they wish to. By granting the ability to opt out, so too vanishes in one poof their objection that micro voting is an imposition of force.

So to conclude where I began.

Churchill’s meme about the paucity of rational collective decision making options appears true in a practical sense. No one has yet devised a decent alternative to it, so we must continue its use, albeit with a rigorous scrutiny of the mechanics and processes as well as for moral and ethical soundness.

Additionally, for any vote to be morally valid and non-coercive, the lamb must be entirely able to opt out of the wolves’ decision on dining choices. If not, then any such decision is invalid from a moral standpoint, and truly is an imposition and an initiation of force.

1 This essay refers to voting in the micro community sense of collective decision making amongst small groups of stakeholders, and not to the exclusionary, elitist, and flagrantly corrupt partisan political processes that passes for democratic representative governance in these times. That sort of thing, as I’ve said before, is pointless and futile.

2 If you have read this essay and think you can cite a morally valid exception to this objection please contact me and tell me what it is.

 published at Endervidualism on  March 22, 2005

Ali Massoud is a father, political theorist, apostate Muslim, small business owner, college graduate, crack rifle marksman, a blogger, cat lover, shrewd investor, US Army veteran, and currently single. He lives in Michigan.