While she’s mostly known for radical proposals such as confiscatory tax rates and the Green New Deal, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also made waves with recent comments about imposing “democracy” on the economy.
In a discussion last year at Ponoma College in California, I explained why majoritarianism is misguided.
For all intents and purposes, unchecked democracy gives 51 percent of the people a right to rape and pillage 49 percent of the people.
Thankfully, America’s Founders realized that approach was incompatible with individual liberty.
They drafted a Constitution that explicitly limited the power of politicians (and thus also limited the power of people who vote for politicians).
Why? Because they understood history.
Professor Victor Davis Hanson explains how they recognized the dangers of majoritarianism.
“The half-millennia success of the stable Roman republican system inspired later French and British Enlightenment thinkers. Their abstract tripartite system of constitutional government stirred the Founding Fathers to concrete action. Americans originally were terrified of what 51 percent of the people in an unchecked democracy might do on any given day—and knew that ancient democracies had always become more not less radical and thus more unstable. For all the squabbles between Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton, and Madison, they agreed that a republic, not a direct democracy, was a far safer and stable choice of governance. … We often think that a Bill of Rights was designed to protect Americans from monarchs and dictators. It certainly was. But the Founders were just as terrified of what that the majority of elected representatives without restraint might legally do on any given day to an individual citizen. … All consensual governments are prone to scary wild swings of mob-like emotion—and to demagogues who can almost rein in or goad the dêmos. But the Founders sought to make American government immune to Athenian-style craziness through a system of checks and balances that vented popular frenzies without a great deal of damage.”
In a column for the Foundation for Economic Education, Professor Gary Galles explains the difference between liberty and democracy.
“… far too little attention seems to be given to the differences between democracy—the process by which we select members of government—and liberty—the key to good government. … our Constitution and Bill of Rights … put some things beyond majority determination … Unfortunately, democracy … is entirely consistent with choices that destroy liberty … the growing reach of government makes our exercise of democracy an increasing threat to liberty, defending that liberty requires understanding the limits of democratic determination.”
George Will, citing the work of Professor Randy Barnett, explains that the fight is – or should be – between statist majoritarians and libertarian constitutionalists.
“Regarding jurisprudence, Democrats are merely results-oriented, interested in … expanding government’s power … Republicans … have grown lazily comfortable with rhetorical boilerplate in praise of ‘judicial restraint.’ … all progressives are Hobbesians in that they say America is dedicated to a process — majoritarian decision-making that legitimates the government power it endorses. Not all Lockeans are libertarians, but all libertarians are Lockeans in that they say America is dedicated to a condition — liberty. … Lockeans favor rigorous judicial protection of certain individual rights — especially private property and freedom of contract — that define and protect the zone of sovereignty within which people are free to act as they please. Hobbesians say the American principle is the right of the majority to have its way. … Lockeans say the Constitution, properly construed and enforced by the judiciary, circumscribes the majoritarian principle by protecting all rights that are crucial to individual sovereignty. … Barnett says, yes, the Constitution — ‘the law that governs those who govern us’ — is libertarian. And a Lockean president would nominate justices who would capaciously define and vigorously defend, against abuses by majoritarian government.”
You don’t have to be a Randian to heartily endorse and embrace this sentiment (h/t: Libertarian Reddit).
The most cogent warning about majoritarianism comes from the great Thomas Sowell.
"In the modern welfare state, a vote becomes a license to take what others create — and these others include generations yet unborn."— Thomas Sowell (@ThomasSowell) April 19, 2017
P.S. Though I must admit that the Swiss are an example of how majoritarianism can lead to good outcomes.
P.P.S. I strongly encourage you to read what Walter Williams wrote on this topic.
Daniel J. Mitchell is a top expert on tax reform and supply-side tax policy and is Chairman of the Center for Freedom and Prosperity. Mitchell is a strong advocate of a flat tax and international tax competition.