Is democracy the least evil?

The old saying goes:

“Democracy is the worst system of government… except for all the others.”

Is that really true?

We haven’t really come up with all that many systems of government to choose from: tribalism, feudalism, despotism, and the twin brothers we hold dear: democracy and republicanism.  But are democracy and republicanism really that much better than the others?  I contend that they aren’t.  They are better in a way, because a plurality of people in a democracy will probably end up getting something close to what they want, but they can still act despotically towards a large minority.

I contend that what has protected our society and others that are generally free and prosperous are not the democratic tendencies but rather constitutional and institutional guarantees.  The bill of rights, separation of powers, checks and balances and a culture of freedom have been the bulwark against despotism in America, and our republican system has very little to do with it.

This is what makes me worried.  All of these good institutional measures are deteriorating.  Of the all the amendments in the bill of rights, the first is the only one which has maintained its health.  The 9th and 10th amendments, which are supposed to guarantee all the rights that didn’t end up enshrined in the constitution, are no longer even considered by courts.  Our due process rights, guaranteed in anendments 4, 5, and 6, are being eroded by the goings-on in Guantanamo and the shady tactics of the drug war.

But it isn’t only the bill of rights that is coughing and sputtering, the executive branch over the years has continually claimed more and more power.  Checks and balances are falling by the wayside and the powers aren’t all that separated.  The culture of the people in this country is becoming polarized into big-government Republicans and big-government Democrats.  We may yet discover a despotic democracy.

So, is there something better than democracy?  I would say yes: voluntarism.  Each person selects their rulers, and is able to change their mind on a fairly regular basis.  If you and I select different rulers, we have to follow different rules.  I’ve expanded on this in some old posts and might do so some more, but there is no chance of being ruled by a despot under this system, as there is in all the others.

That wasn’t the point I was necessarily trying to make here, though. The important point is that it takes strong institutions and a fair set of ground rules to guarantee freedom, and the system of government is secondary.  We need to make sure we maintain and nourish our institutions of freedom so that our society will remain healthy.  I’d rather live under a dictatorship that guarantees my rights than a democracy that guarantees none.

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Libertarian Nomination

A REAL convention!

The Democrats might also have a real convention this year (though I doubt it), but I found David Weigel’s liveblogging of the Libertarian convention voting very excellent, even if I’m unsure how I feel about the result.

The result I’m unsure about: Bob Barr is the nominee this year.

A Lion in Late Winter

Many people who know me know that I am a member of Lions Club International and also my local Lions Club in Sandy Spring.   The Lions are a good organization, I just went to a meeting tonight, but I have been missing some of my commitments there recently due to my separation and me just generally blowing anything off until Melissa is gone (either to spend more time with her or because I am too sad to really commit myself).

I hope to redouble my efforts in the near future and be sure to be a useful and contributing member of the club.

My grandfather, who asked me to join, asked me a few years ago why I had done it.  I told him I joined so that I could help people and be an upstanding member of my community.  These are both totally true statements.  But I also had a bit of an ulterior, selfish motive.  The libertarian / agorist political stances I take require me to take responsibility.  If I don’t want the government helping people, building and maintaining institutions, or structuring society, then voluntary organizations need to arise to do all those things in a voluntary manner.  The club just happened to be one such organization that was doing so, and one that I was invited to join by my grandfather.

And we do good work!  We genuinely help people and help organizations that help people, and we do it all with voluntary action.  I am proud of all the good things that lions do, but it’s not exactly a radical organization (and I do consider myself a radical).  I’m too timid to try to push it in that direction, mainly because I don’t think it’s my place to do so, and because putting a political slant on something that is generally a-political feels like I would be cheapening it.  I would like to expand my horizons, though, and possibly join or form another organization that does take radical agorist stances but also helps people and supports the community in which it arises.

The one thing I can’t abide at the Lions Club meetings is the pledge of allegiance.  I basically just mumble through it, considering each of the phrases and whether I could support them or not, deciding not and continuing to mumble, until we get to “with liberty and justice for all” which I put some force into.  I hope that doesn’t make me a bad person or a bad lion!  The invocation is also a little sketchy, since I don’t believe in God, but generally I can get past that.

I recommend that everyone join an organization whose sole purpose is to help those who need help.   The Lions are a good one.  I’m sure there are others.  If you know of any that are also trying to “build the structure of a new society within the shell of the old,” will you let me know?

Kids Rights: voting

There are far too many freedoms that are denied to children in our society.

I’ve always thought that children and young adults, while definitely in need of guidance, would also be better off learning how to govern themselves and make intelligent choices at a younger age. In order to learn these things, they need to be given the opportunity and the freedom to decide some things for themselves.

I don’t have kids of my own, yet, so my opinion may change when I do, but I hope not.

I intend to be doing many posts on this theme on various topics. The first I’d like to address is voting.

Why does the right to vote accrue to us in this country at the age of 18? Like many age restrictions, it is entirely arbitrary. Some young people at the age of 14 are more informed and smarter than the average adult, and there is no reason to keep them out of the ballot box. Other young people are less informed, but it is likely that they will simply not want to vote. Children in this way are just like the general population.

I am interested in hearing arguments as to why the voting age shouldn’t be lowered or done away with altogether. If you are old enough to know how to work the machinery of voting (and most kids use far more advanced computer systems every day), you are old enough to make a decision for yourself how you wish to be governed.

I’m not a big fan of voting in general, because I don’t think it is of any use given the system we are living under now. Perhaps in a different system, things might be better. But I think that whether to vote and who to vote for is a decision that each person should be able to make for themselves. Children are people too, and deserve to be counted.

So, I am proposing that the voting age be lowered to 0. I don’t know if this requires a constitutional amendment, as lowering it to 18 did, but if it does, then I am proposing that we make such an amendment.

Please, won’t someone think of the children?

Citizen McCain

Knowing my take on choosing leaders, you should be aware that I reject any reasoning that someone is unfit to lead; people should all be able to make that decision for themselves.

Saying that, I found it interesting that there are questions about John McCain’s eligibility to become President. He was born in the Panama Canal Zone on a military base, which means he may not be a “natural born” citizen, the constitutional requirement.

What I’ve heard is that military families in such situations get citizenship for their families, but have to fill out special forms to guarantee that. I’m all for getting rid of extraneous government forms, and I’m all for letting as many people as possible become citizens of the nation of their choosing, so I hope someone takes this to court. I would hope that it would be declared that these babies are automatically citizens by nature of their birth.

Election Obsession?

electoral-vote.com is up and running for the primaries this year.  I know a lot of you like to obsessively follow these things, and their coverage was unsurpassed four years ago in the general election.

Also, the maps are very pretty.

For the record, I am not a fan of the electoral college.  I’ll post later on the way I think a well-designed republican democracy should be run.

Intellectual Development

We all have a story that helps us explain who we are today.

I was recently challenged to specifically identify the parts of my personal history that turned me into the person I am today with the values I hold today. If that’s a little too weighty for you, consider this a getting-to-know-you post.

Here’s a brief overview:

  • I went to a montessori school for 15 years. It was essentially generically liberal, with emphasis on learning by experience, freedom to choose what to work on, having discussions by sitting on the floor in circles, etc.
  • My parents are both Republican-types. So far as I know, they voted for Reagan twice and Bush twice. They approved of the war and are only now (like much of the rest of the country) souring on Bush.
  • I grew up on science and science fiction books. Star Trek, Heinlein, Neal Stephenson, Feynman. Generally a libertarian outlook comes from these books. Note that I have never read Ayn Rand!
  • I spent most of my high school years on IRC. The people there taught me that freedom is a good, especially in relationships. That is, people should be free to associate with each other emotionally, socially, and sexually as long as it’s not causing anyone physical harm. This is when I started thinking of myself as a polyamorist (though I have never put those beliefs into practice).
  • I went to Grinnell College. I was still essentially a generic liberal, albeit with these weird ideas about sexual and emotional freedom. Some of my best friends were anarchists of various stripes. One was a tribalist, and one was a Marxist. I described myself as a “futurist.” We had frequent and vociferous arguments about tactics and results, but tended to agree that people should be able to choose to live freely and simply in societies made up of the people they wanted to associate with.
  • In my final year I met a nihilist who had turned into a staunch Catholic with aspirations of being a monk. We talked about religion and metaphysics almost every day. He showed me that deep convictions cannot prevent one from being rational.
  • In my last few years at Grinnell, I started reading blogs, mainly liberal ones like Atrios, Matthew Yglesias, The Poor Man, etc. Yglesias would often link to some of the more libertarian blogs, and I started reading some of those as well, like Reason Hit and Run, Will Wilkinson, Julian Sanchez, Unqualified Offerings.
  • I still read most of those libertarian blogs, and some of the liberal ones, but I mainly find myself in agreement with the people who believe in both the principle of Non-Initiation of Force and that big corporations are not the end-all and be-all of civilization. Jesse Walker, Kevin Carson, and Jim Henley loom large on this list.

If you have a blog, please share your own personal history.  If you don’t, e-mail it to me or start a BLOG!