In Defense of Democracy
In perusing the Seasteading Institute’s website, I came across a blog ecosystem challenging democracy (including democratic republicanism). Interesting stuff, but I find the suggested alternatives – monarchy, dictatorship, colonialism – to be rather unsettling. At times these systems do work better than democracy, but their failure modes can be most catastrophic. Indeed, even in equilibrium such governments can be very unpleasant. I’ll take W. Bush or Barack Obama over a shogun or pharaoh any time.
Democracy is not great, but it is not horrible. Democracy is mediocrity – by definition. At least, democracy represents the median when it works. Actual implementations can diverge from the median, sometimes catastrophically. But these are not failures of democracy per se; these are failures of particular implementations. Many implementations of democracy could use some serious reengineering. Even the U.S. system could use significant fixes, though it is more stable than most parliamentary forms.
In a deeply divided society, however, the median has little support. In such cases tribal anarchy, empire, or a redrawing of boundaries might be preferable to countrywide democracy. Such are not the conditions in the United States nor in most other First World countries. To suggest a “reboot” or “reaction” is typical libertarian wishful thinking, in the tradition of Atlas Shrugging or the unmasking of the Rockefeller/Rothschild axis. (Seasteading and Free State migration are considerably more realistic options.)
Given that at least one writer on this website has taken part in this attack on democracy, I decided to join this community in order to enter the discussion. For this is a very interesting discussion, much more so than the eternal quibbles among LP partisans. Mencius Moldbug, in particular, is a most entertaining writer.
So, let us consider some of the failure modes of democracy:
- The masses vote themselves a free lunch.
- Special interests vote for special privileges.
- The civil service becomes independent of its democratically elected bosses.
- The elected chief executive uses his executive powers to become tyrant. (Huey Long, innumerable El Presidentes.)
- Warring tribes use the democratic central government to smash rivals.
- The dominant religious faction uses the government to persecute rival religions.
- A radical faction (Nazi, communist) seizes control using the democratic process to get a foothold.
- Losing factions give up on the process and start a civil war. (U.S. Confederacy, and the near breakdown after the Florida recount.)
- Rotation in office results in a churning, contradictory legal system. (U.S. tax code.)
- Vote buying results in perpetual deficits, eventually bankrupting the government. (Our current looming crisis.)
- Two-party systems lead to one-dimensional thinking. (Particularly bad in the U.S.)
Most of these problems can be fixed – incrementally. We can get there from here; no reboot necessary.
Of course, “there” is not libertarian paradise. Democracy is mediocrity. But mediocre government is good enough to live a good life. And if the laws are relatively stable, the people can adapt to the laws, even bad laws.
And for those willing to work for something better, there is always separation. If the median is libertarian, then even democracy will result in a libertarian government. But to achieve such separation, it still behooves freedom lovers to make the U.S. government less bad. Currently, it is broke and aggressive, unlikely to tolerate seasteads or free states.
To this end, I will address possible fixes in future posts.