Freedom Circle logo
Freedom Circle

Where Can You Find Freedom Today?

Form of government where the power is exercised directly or indirectly by a majority of the citizens

Democracy (Greek: δημοκρατία dēmokratía, literally "rule by people"), in modern usage, has three senses—all for a system of government where the citizens exercise power by voting. In a direct democracy, the citizens as a whole form a governing body and vote directly on each issue. In a representative democracy the citizens elect representatives from among themselves. These representatives meet to form a governing body, such as a legislature. In a constitutional democracy the powers of the majority are exercised within the framework of a representative democracy, but the constitution limits the majority and protects the minority, usually through the enjoyment by all of certain individual rights, e.g. freedom of speech or freedom of association. "Rule of the majority" is sometimes referred to as democracy. Democracy is a system of processing conflicts in which outcomes depend on what participants do, but no single force controls what occurs and its outcomes.


Ancient Greece's Legacy for Liberty: Personal Freedom in Athens, by Roderick T. Long, 24 Sep 2015
Discusses the political system of ancient Athens and the personal liberties it afforded its citizens, resident aliens and slaves
We call Athens a democracy; they called themselves one. But the Athenian system differed from that of present-day democracies in a number of ways. It's customary to describe [it] as a pure majoritarian system, with no checks on majority tyranny ... But Athens was never a pure majoritarian system. Of course its major deviation ... was to its discredit: women, slaves, and resident aliens were excluded from the franchise, leaving a self-interested minority in charge. But another of its deviations from majoritarianism was much more laudable: Athenian courts had the power of judicial review.
An Anti-Democracy Foreign Policy: Iran, by Jacob G. Hornberger, 31 Jan 2005
Discusses the history of Operation Ajax, the CIA-led 1953 coup d'état in Iran that removed the democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh, and which eventually led to the 1979 Iran hostage crisis
At the time of the CIA coup, Iran was in fact in crisis and chaos. But democracy is oftentimes messy and unpredictable, and it no more guarantees freedom and economic stability than authoritarianism or totalitarianism does. (Think about the crisis and economic instability during America's Great Depression along with Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal policies.) All democracy does is provide people with the means to bring about a peaceful transition of power. By violently injecting itself into Iran's democratic process through its removal of their ... prime minister, the U.S. government guaranteed the ... dictatorship of the ... shah ...
Bernie Is Not a Socialist and America Is Not Capitalist, by Marian Tupy, The Atlantic, 1 Mar 2016
Clarifies the meaning of various terms which young people tend to misunderstand, including socialism, communism, capitalism and corporatism, and then discusses the relative levels of economic freedom in the United States and other countries
[I]t is a bit of a puzzle why Sanders insists on using [the word "socialism"]. It would be ... more correct if he gave his worldview its proper name: not "democratic socialism," which implies socialism brought about through a vote, but social democracy. In a social democracy, individuals and corporations continue to own the capital and the means of production. Much of the wealth ... is produced privately. That said, taxation, government spending, and regulation of the private sector are much heavier under social democracy than would be the case under pure capitalism.
The Bill of Rights: Freedom of Speech, by Jacob G. Hornberger, Freedom Daily, Jul 2004
Part of a series examining the Bill of Rights, this covers the freedom of speech clause as a barrier to censorship by government (and not by private entities)
The second principle to notice in the First Amendment is that the restriction operates on Congress, the elected representatives of the people. The ... principle is important ... it recognizes that democratically elected officials are likely to use their powers to violate people's fundamental rights ... Thus, the ... Amendment (and the rest of the Bill of Rights) operates on the implicit acknowledgment that democracy is no guarantee of freedom and, in fact, is a tremendous threat to freedom. That's why our ancestors, unlike so many Americans today, talked in terms of establishing a republic ... rather than a democracy.
Bourgeois Virtues?, by Deirdre McCloskey, Cato Policy Report, May 2006
Offers an apologia (formal defense) of capitalism, in particular of the phrase "bourgeois virtues" as being neither a contradiction in terms nor a lie
Commerce is not some evil product of recent manufacture. Commercial behavior is one of the world's oldest professions ... Bad and good behavior in buying low and selling high can be found anywhere, any time. To put the matter positively, we have been and can be virtuous and commercial, liberal and capitalist, democratic and rich. As John Mueller said in Capitalism, Democracy, and Ralph's Pretty Good Grocery, "Democracy and capitalism, it seems, are similar in that they can often work pretty well even if people generally do not appreciate their workings very well."
Bush's Doublethink, by Sheldon Richman, 19 Jan 2007
Analyzes President Bush's most salient statement and possible implications, of a speech made on 10 Jan 2007 announcing a troop "surge" plan
And notice the lack of talk about democracy. It has fallen into the memory hole. When Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice went to Egypt the other day she didn't mention democracy or the rule of law. As the New York Times reported, "It was clear that the United States — facing chaos in Iraq, rising Iranian influence and the destabilizing Israeli-Palestinian conflict — had decided that stability, not democracy, was its priority, Egyptian political commentators, political aides and human rights advocates said." The Egyptian strongman, Hosni Mubarak, can do stability. Maybe he's available for service in Iraq.
Related Topics: George W. Bush, Iraq, Iraq War
Confronting the Empire, by Justin Raimondo, 5 Jan 2007
Comments on the 2007 Iraq War troop surge, prior to its official announcement on 10 Jan, and suggests the antiwar movement camp out and protest in Washington, DC, to make the city unlivable and thus get the politicians to notice the "will of the people"
We’re exporting "democracy" to the four corners of the globe, but what about right here in our own country, where the people not only have no voice, but exercise what amounts to negative control over U.S. foreign policy? After all, they just voted massively to curtail George W. Bush's Middle Eastern crusade, and, barely a month later, that effort is about to go into overdrive as the President gets ready to announce a "surge" of 40,000 more troops – with the full complicity of the "opposition" party. It's Bizarro World-style democracy, where the will of the people is studiously and pointedly ignored.
The Crazy Arithmetic of Voting, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 8 Feb 2008
In the wake of Super Tuesday 2008, reviews the "Voting Versus the Market" chapter of Bruno Leoni's Freedom and the Law (1961)
Leoni says, "... Voting appears to be not so much a reproduction of the market operation as a symbolization of a battle in the field." That takes some of the idealism out of democracy, whether representative or direct, doesn't it? ... Leoni points out that the motive of early democratic movements, such as Jeffersonianism, was to prevent the tyranny of an aristocracy. In that sense, advocates of liberty should sympathize with democracy and be wary of moves toward rule by the few. But this does not mean that majority rule respects individual liberty the way the free market does.
Related Topics: Political philosophy, Voting
The Criminality of the State, by Albert Jay Nock, The American Mercury, Mar 1939
Cautions Americans that rather than being worried or surprised by the doings of Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, the Munich agreement and other foreign states, they should devote their energies to reining the growth of the United States government
After 1789, John Adams said that, so far from being a democracy or a democratic republic, the political organization of the country was that of "a monarchical republic, or, if you will, a limited monarchy" ... [T]he idea that the procedure of the "democratic" State is any less criminal than that of the State under any other fancy name, is rubbish. The country is now being surfeited with journalistic garbage about our great sister-democracy, England, its fine democratic government, its vast beneficent gift for ruling subject peoples, and so on; but does anyone ever look up the criminal record of the British State?
Democracy and Government Schools, by Sheldon Richman, Freedom Daily, Jan 2007
Discusses the current state of government education, including "creative solutions" such as charter schools and vouchers, and the influence of the "religion of democracy" in achieving a free market in education
In the United States the variant of statism known as democracy isn't seen as simply one of a variety of ways to accomplish a goal. It is a secular religion. Its test is not how well it does things, but whether it, in some theoretical way, acts in the name of The People ... Professional intellectuals function as preachers in the "church," constantly reminding the flock of the virtues of democracy and insisting on the observance of its rituals ... Pulling your children out of public school can bring accusations of betrayal and elitism. This shows how strong the religious aspect of democracy can be.
Democracy: The God That Failed, by Justin Raimondo, 12 Oct 2005
Discusses the actual results from the so-called Bush Doctrine involving "democratizing" the Middle East as well as several other countries which have a "democracy deficit"
According to the democratists, it isn't just the Middle East that suffers from a "democracy deficit." Ukraine, Russia, the vast reaches of Central Asia, China, and a great deal of South America – all ... haven't quite reached the "end of history" ... Democracy is the god that failed to accomplish its ostensible goals everywhere the U.S. has intervened – but the real objective of our "liberationist" foreign policy is well on the way to being achieved ... the would-be exporters of "democracy" have merely succeeded in creating more and bigger trouble, wherever their democratist dogma has been applied.
Democracy Versus Freedom, by Jarret B. Wollstein, Freedom Daily, Jan 2006
Compares the definitions of democracy, collectivism and individualism, explaining why democracy and regular elections do not guarantee freedom, substantive rights nor peace, and that democracy is not a precondition for individual liberty
Consider the meanings ... Democracy: that form of government in which sovereign power resides in the people as a whole, and is exercised either directly by them or by officers elected by them ... [D]emocracy is much closer to collectivism than it is to individualism. Like collectivism, democracy places essential political power with the group, rather than with the individual ... Throughout the world, democracy is as often a cover for tyranny as it is a protection for liberty. Many countries call themselves democracies and have regular elections, yet systematically oppress their own people.
Related Topics: Law, Rights, Inalienable Rights, Voting, War
Democracy Versus Liberty, by James Bovard, The Freeman, Aug 2006
Discusses the dangers of equating liberty with "self-government" as majority rule
The scope of majority rule should be limited to those issues and areas in which common standards must prevail to preserve public peace. Democracy is a relatively good method for reaching agreement on a system of roads, but is a lousy method for dictating where each citizen must go. Democracy can be a good method for reaching agreement on standards of weights and measurements used in commerce, but is a poor method for dictating wages and prices. Democracy should be a system of government based on common agreement on issues that must be agreed upon, and tolerance—however grudging—on all other differences.
A Democratic Dictatorship, by Jacob G. Hornberger, Freedom Daily, May 2006
Posits that "ever since 9/11 Americans have been living under dictatorial rule", examining the justifications given by Bush for exercising dictatorial powers
[It] is entirely possible to have democracy and dictatorship at the same time. Democracy entails the use of elections to place people into positions of power. Dictatorship entails the extent of the powers that the ruler is able to exercise after he assumes office. Therefore, it is entirely possible to have a democratically elected dictator — a person who has been duly elected to office who exercises dictatorial powers. ... Vice President Cheney was making much the same point when he recently said that Venezuela's democratically elected president, Hugo Chavez, was comparable to Hitler.
Don't Get Out the Vote, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 14 Feb 2014
Examines the writings of Bryan Caplan and Michael Huemer to determine whether get-out-the-vote campaigns are beneficial in any way
Fans of democracy might respond that rational ignorance is no big problem, because the votes of the masses will cancel out, leaving it to the minority of informed voters to cast the margin of victory. Hence, good policies will ultimately prevail. Except they won't. Bryan Caplan, in The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies, shows that the informed minority would have such clout only if rational ignorance led to random error. But when it comes to economic policy, voter error is not random but systematic — that is, predominantly in one direction, namely, the antimarket direction.
Related Topics: Political philosophy, Voting
Election 2014: The Good News and Bad, by Sheldon Richman, 6 Nov 2014
Sobering comments on elections, governments, democracy and why voting is of so little consequence to the individual voter
The election season is when we most often hear hosannas to democracy. Every public figure, including supposedly hardboiled news people, urges us to vote ... your vote has virtually no personal material consequences and no influence on the outcome. So remaining ignorant and voting your biases and feelings turns out to be the rational thing to do. In other words, voting rewards irresponsibility. That's just one problem with democracy. In the end, democratic representation—the opiate of the masses—is just a way to stop us from complaining. The people in Washington aren't our representatives. They are our rulers.
Related Topics: Corporatism, Ethics, Government, Voting
Finding the Flaws, by Joseph Sobran, 25 Mar 1997
Discusses how governments naturally attempt to influence each other, the democratic flaw of voting for benefits at others' expense, in particular children, and how the U.S. Constitution has failed to avoid this outcome
The flaw in democracy is that people learn to vote themselves benefits at other people's expense. And those benefits may become politically untouchable, as we know too well. The worst twist in American democracy is that the voters have learned to pass the stupendous costs of the welfare state on to the next generation. It's bad enough when some voters force other voters to support them. But the American voter has learned to force nonvoters to bear his expenses, by deferring payment to the next generation. The next time you pass a playground, look at all those little nonvoters, oblivious of what awaits them ...
The Fraudulent Meaning of Elections, by James Bovard, Freedom Daily, Apr 2006
Examines the arguments raised in the debate between Democrats and Republicans in Congress over the certification of the 2005 Ohio Electoral College voters
Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the House majority whip, declared, "We also need to understand that every time we attack the process, we cast that doubt on that fabric of democracy that is so important." Blunt did not specify if the "fabric" was a cover sheet. He sought to put the entire government above questioning:
It is the greatest democracy in the history of the world and it is run by people who step forward and make a system work in ways that nobody would believe until they see it produce the result of what people want to have happen on Election Day.
And anyone who doubted the result was an enemy of democracy.
Goethe on National Greatness, by Hans-Hermann Hoppe, The Free Market, Oct 1999
Discusses Goethe's thoughts on political centralization, as told to Johann Peter Eckermann, contrasting the German Confederation (Bund) to centralized France
At the time these remarks were made, on October 23, 1828, Germany had become increasingly affected by democratic and nationalistic sentiments ... Most of the German liberals had become democrats and advocates of a unified German nation state. As a liberal, Goethe, wisely and with remarkable prescience, stood largely alone in firm opposition to this transformation of the liberal creed. In his view, democracy was incompatible with liberty. 'Legislators and revolutionaries who promise equality and liberty at the same time,' he wrote in his Maximen und Reflexionen, 'are either psychopaths or mountebanks.'
Related Topics: France, Germany
Government, by James Mill, Encyclopædia Britannica, 1820
Discusses the purpose of government, the means for attaining that end and various related questions and objections; rationalises that representative democracy, as exhibited in early 19th century Britain, is most conducive to "good Government"
The Democratical.—It is obviously impossible that the community in a body can be present to afford protection to each of its members ... It may be taken, therefore ..., that a community in mass is ill adapted for the business of Government ... The management of the joint affairs of any considerable body of the people they never undertake for themselves. What they uniformly do is, to choose a certain number of themselves to be the actors in their stead. Even in the case of a common Benefit Club, the members choose a Committee of Management, and content themselves with a general controul.
Government Is the Problem, by Sheldon Richman, Future of Freedom, Aug 2013
Discusses a spring 2013 speech by Barack Obama, the facts that contradict his statements and delves into "our experiment in self-government" and the problems of representation dating even to the Founding Fathers
But what about our democracy and our experiment in self-government? ... Those are incantations, not references to real things. They are designed to misdirect the public, to sanitize ugly facts that the people are "better off" not knowing ... But don't we have self-government? Don't we elect representatives to look after our interests? Not even a child should be told that fairy tale. One vote is insignificant ... Maybe this incantation about representation is intended to keep us from an unpleasant truth: that we are ruled, not self-governed, and that self-government is a façade hiding a form of autocracy.
Gustave de Molinari on States and Defense, by Joseph R. Stromberg, 25 Jul 2000
Examines Molinari's conception of states, including democracies, and their role in defense, as well as his proposal for agencies to provide defense against external aggressors
Molinari notes that so-called popular sovereignty had not altered matters in principle. Constitutions and separation of powers had merely unleashed political parties–"actual armies which have been trained to pursue power" (p. 26)–raising up a fierce competition for temporary "ownership" (so to speak) of the power to exploit society in the name of protecting it. This is a good time to recall Molinari's role as mentor to the great Italian economist and sociologist Vilfredo Pareto, whose critiques of parliamentary systems and "pluto-democracy" are well known.
Harry Elmer Barnes as Revisionist of the Cold War, by Murray N. Rothbard, Harry Elmer Barnes: Learned Crusader, 1968
Contrasts Court Intellectuals with revisionists and the narrow with the broad revisionists, and then discusses Harry Elmer Barnes' contributions as a broad revisionist of the Cold War
The broad Revisionist knows that the Enemy is not a science-fictional Thing ..., but a human being capable of reason, and therefore of concluding mutually satisfactory arrangements ... He knows also the fallacy of the pernicious Wilsonian myth that dictatorships are automatically war-bent and democracies automatically peace-loving. He knows only too well that democracies can be just as or more aggressive and imperialistic–the chief difference being that democratic governments must engage in more hypocritical and intense propaganda to drug and deceive the voters into joining the war drive.
Henry David Thoreau and "Civil Disobedience," Part 2, by Wendy McElroy, Freedom Daily, Apr 2005
Examines several of the initial themes in Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience", including government injustice, the individual as the source of power and authority, war and the military and the reasons why people obey the state
But if government is "the voice of the people," as it is often called, shouldn't that voice be heeded? Thoreau admits that government may express the will of the majority but it may also express nothing more than the will of elite politicians. Even a good form of government is "liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through it." Moreover, even if a government did express the voice of the people, this fact would not compel the obedience of individuals who disagree with what is being said. The majority may be powerful but it is not necessarily right.
History Lesson Lost, by Sheldon Richman, 6 Oct 2006
Discusses the Articles of Confederation, based mostly on The Articles of Confederation: An Interpretation of the Social-Constitutional History of the American Revolution, 1774-1781 (1940) by Merrill Jensen
Whether democratization is good or bad depends on the context. When it is an assault on individual sovereignty, it is bad. But when it is a move against aristocracy and mercantilism, it is good. According to Jensen the proponents of democracy and local self-government were disfranchised, overtaxed small farmers trying to resist the entrenched mercantilist elite. They may not have been consistent libertarians, but they were more libertarian than their adversaries. Thus the attack on democracy can be seen as a defense of aristocracy. It doesn't look so good in that light.
The History of Freedom in Antiquity, by John Dalberg-Acton, 26 Feb 1877
Surveys the ancient history of liberty, both from the side of rulers (despots, Solon, Pericles, Roman Republic and Empire) and philosophers (Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics), and the later influence of Christianity
The poorest classes were exempt from direct taxes, but were excluded from office. Solon gave them a voice in electing magistrates from the classes above them, and the right of calling them to account. This concession, apparently so slender, was the beginning of a mighty change ... Government by consent superseded government by compulsion, and the pyramid which had stood on a point was made to stand upon its base. By making every citizen the guardian of his own interest, Solon admitted the element of Democracy into the State. The greatest glory of a ruler, he said, is to create a popular government.
Related Topics: Government, Liberty, The State
H. L. Mencken: The Joyous Libertarian, by Murray N. Rothbard, New Individualist Review, 1962
Examines the themes and style in Mencken's writings, mainly from selected pieces in A Mencken Chrestomathy
H. L. Mencken's contempt for democracy is well-known. It stemmed largely from his primary devotion to individual liberty, and his insight that the bulk of men—the democratic majority—is generally inclined to suppress rather than defend the liberty of the individual. Mencken once summed up his view of the nature of democracy, the common man, and the State in this eight-word definition of "democracy": "Democracy is the worship of jackals by jackasses." Other Menckenian definitions: "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard."
Hong Kong's Legacy, by James A. Dorn, The Journal of Commerce, 1 Jul 1999
Discusses the potential results of Hong Kong moving away from "its policy of laissez-faire capitalism" such as intervening in support of stock prices versus the effects of Hong Kong influencing mainland China towards a freer and more prosperous economy
Those who rightly advocate democracy for the SAR must also remember that true democracy is inseparable from the so‐​called voluntary principle ... In moving toward a democratic system, the people of Hong Kong should recall the words of John O'Sullivan, who in 1837 wrote in the U.S. Magazine and Democratic Review: "This is the fundamental principle of the philosophy of democracy, to furnish a system of the administration of justice, and then to leave all the business and interests of society to themselves, to free competition and association—in a word, to the voluntary principle."
Related Topics: China, Hong Kong, Rule of Law
How Empires Bamboozle the Bourgeoisie, by Lew Rockwell, Mises Daily, 28 Oct 2006
Speech at the Mises Institute Supporter's Summit; comments on two issues related to the U.S. population reaching 300 million: what kind of economy is needed to support that population and do all these people need to live under the same central government
Mises was very shrewd in turning the idea of democracy, which was then heralded by all as the great leap forward out of monarchical states, toward a literal rendering of the idea. To Mises, democracy meant that people consent to a government of their choosing. If people want to leave that government and form a new one, they are following the democratic impulse. Such is usually the case in territories. To prevent people from leaving would be to assert the rights of empire over democracy. "Democracy," he wrote "is self-determination, self-government, self-rule."
In Defense of Bank Deposits: An Open Letter to Professor Omarova, by George Selgin, 12 Oct 2021
Criticizes The People's Ledger: How to Democratize Money and Finance the Economy (2020) by Saule T. Omarova
I'm among the critics of the plan for "democratizing money" ... Instead, allowing people to choose among thousands of bankers in disposing of ... that part of their (real) savings they wish to keep in the form of deposit balances, appears more "democratic" than compelling them to place them all at a single, central bank ... such a plan, far from really acknowledging "the people's" sovereignty, would be a reversion to the medieval treatment of money issuance as a government "prerogative," meaning something governments alone are entitled to do, even if their citizens would rather have private enterprises do it.
Introductory, by John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859
Chapter I; explains the subject of the essay, namely, "the nature and limits of the power which can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual"
The notion, that the people have no need to limit their power over themselves, might seem axiomatic, when popular government was a thing only dreamed about, or read of as having existed at some distant period of the past ... The will of the people, moreover, practically means the will of the most numerous or the most active part of the people; the majority, or those who succeed in making themselves accepted as the majority; the people, consequently, may desire to oppress a part of their number; and precautions are as much needed against this as against any other abuse of power.
John Stuart Mill and the Three Dangers to Liberty, by Richard Ebeling, Freedom Daily, Jun 2001
Evaluates John Stuart Mills arguments in his essay "On Liberty", in particular the three forms of tyranny posited by Mill and an element (private property) not emphasized by his analysis
The newer form of tyranny, Mill said, was the rule of the many over the one. The revolt against the tyranny of the one or the few resulted in the growing idea that the people should rule themselves. And ..., the unrestrained will of the people became the ideal of those who advocated unlimited democracy. But in practice this inevitably became the rule of the majority over the minority. Individual freedom was denied purely on the basis of numbers, that is, on the basis of which group or coalition of groups formed that larger number of people dominating the political process.
Killing in the Name of Democracy, by James Bovard, Attention Deficit Democracy, 27 Jan 2006
Excerpt from the chapter 4 "Messianic Democracy" of Bovard's Attention Deficit Democracy (2006), details various U.S. presidents' policies and actions from McKinley to Eisenhower
The U.S. government's first experience with forcibly spreading democracy came in the wake of the Spanish-American War ... Despite the brutal U.S. suppression of the Filipino independence movement, President George W. Bush, in a 2003 speech in Manila, claimed credit for the United States bringing democracy to the Philippines ... After Wilson took the nation into World War I "to make the world safe for democracy," he acted as if fanning intolerance was the key to spreading [it] ... During the 1920s and 1930s, U.S. military interventions in Latin America were routinely portrayed as "missions to establish democracy."
Killing in the Name of Democracy, by James Bovard, Freedom Daily, Jun 2006
Revised text of the "Messianic Democracy" chapter of Attention Deficit Democracy (2006) with additional parallels to George W. Bush
Since the Eisenhower era, U.S. government bogus efforts to spread democracy have sprouted like mushrooms. Especially with the creation of the National Endowment for Democracy in 1983, all limits were lifted on how many democratic cons that the U.S. government could bankroll abroad. The U.S. government is currently spending more than a billion dollars a year for democracy efforts abroad. But Thomas Carothers, the director of the Carnegie Endowment's Democracy and Rule of Law Project, warns that Bush policies are creating a "democracy backlash" around the globe.
Related Topic: George W. Bush
Liberalism, by F. A. Hayek, New Studies in Philosophy, Politics, Economics and the History of Ideas, 1978
Chapter 9; originally written in 1973 for the Enciclopedia del Novicento; covers both the history of both strands of liberalism as well as a systematic description of the "classical" or "evolutionary" type
While to the older British tradition the freedom of the individual in the sense of a protection by law against all arbitrary coercion was the chief value, in the Continental tradition the demand for the self‑determination of each group concerning its form of government occupied the highest place. This led to an early association and almost identification of the Continental movement with the movement for democracy, which is concerned with a different problem from that which was the chief concern of the liberal tradition of the British type.
The life and times of F.A. Hayek, who explained why political liberty is impossible without economic liberty, by Jim Powell, 2000
Lengthy biographical essay, with extensive quotes; alternate version of "The Worst on Top" chapter of The Triumph of Liberty (2000)
Hayek embraced democracy as a mechanism for peaceful political change, but he cautioned: "The conception that government should be guided by majority opinion makes sense only if that opinion is independent of government. The ideal of democracy rests on the belief that the view which will direct government emerges from an independent and spontaneous process. It requires, therefore, the existence of a large sphere independent of majority control in which the opinions of the individuals are formed."
Lord Acton on Liberty and Government, by Gary M. Galles, Mises Daily, 11 Nov 2002
Lamenting that most people only know Lord Acton's most famous quote, lists many of his other memorable writings on liberty, government and related subjects
... Popular power may be tainted with the same poison as personal power.
The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or rather if that party, not always the majority, that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections.
It is bad to be oppressed by a minority, but it is worse to be oppressed by a majority.
The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities ...
Ludwig von Mises and the Justification of the Liberal Order, by William Baumgarth, The Economics of Ludwig von Mises, 15 Nov 1974
Critically examines various Mises' writings on liberalism, democracy, the wisdom of the masses, special-interest politics, equal treatment under the law, anarchism, self-determination and of course economics
The vocabulary of the common man is thoroughly democratic because it refers to the ideals and aspirations of democracy ... [H]owever, ... this democratic flavoring of the vocabulary of politics has itself undergone modification ... Thus, contemporary liberal democracy is classical democracy transformed, or, as some scholars might say, ... classical democracy tailored to the necessities of an expanded commercial society. Classical democracy, as described by Aristotle and other Greek thinkers, is the unmediated rule of the many, which means in fact the rule of the poor.
Manning Show Trial Exposes the Fraud of Representative Democracy, by Kevin Carson, 30 Jul 2013
Analyzes the court martial of Bradley Manning and explains what the trial shows about the state
What we've called "representative democracy," since the rise of universal suffrage in the West a century or so ago, has been an elaborate exercise in securing the outcome desired by ruling elites—preserving an intersecting alliance of corporate and state oligarchies—while maintaining the fiction of popular rule. This ruling class has maintained its power mainly through what Edward Bernays called "manufacturing consent"—carefully restricting the range of alternatives on the table and shaping public consciousness to see that restricted range as exhaustive.
Related Topic: Anarchism
Misguided Democracy, by George Leef, Freedom Daily, Mar 2006
Review of Attention Deficit Democracy (2006) by James Bovard
What if, however, the state becomes so omnipotent that the elections under democracy are virtually meaningless? ... Under those conditions, it might be the case that democracy is just a delusion—a fancy, elaborate ritual in which the results of elections scarcely matter ... [T}he picture that emerges is not at all the pretty, civics-book notion that democracy "works" because "the people govern themselves" ... It is as if, merely by saying the word "democracy," politicians can induce a sort of posthypnotic trance in people, who have been conditioned to think, "It's democratic, therefore it must be good."
Morals and the Welfare State, by F. A. Harper, 1951
Examines five moral principles by which the idea of the Welfare State (described in more detail in an appendix) can be judged; extension of talk given 13 June 1951; later published as "Morals and Liberty" (see The Freeman, Sep 1971)
The reason is, I believe, that the Welfare State—a confusing collective device which is believed by many to be moral and righteous—has been falsely labeled. This false label has caused the belief that the Welfare State can do no wrong, that it cannot commit immoral acts, especially if those acts are approved or tolerated by more than half of the people, "democratically." ... The majority can do no wrong. It is as though one were to assert that a sheep which has been killed by a pack of wolves is not really dead, provided that more than half of the wolves have participated in the killing.
Murray Rothbard's Philosophy of Freedom, by David Gordon, The Freeman, Nov 2007
Examines the arguments made by Rothbard that, given the premise that slavery is wrong, self-ownership, private property rights and a free market without government interventions follow
Measures such as the income tax and conscription, however much they interfere with individual liberty, have been enacted by democratically chosen legislatures. How can we compare a democracy with a system in which a master compels others to labor, regardless of what they want? In a democracy, an individual may not be able to do what he wants, but the majority of the people ... acts as the slave master ... The fact that he, along with his fellow slaves, has a share in determining what he will do still leaves him unfree. Democracy ... is a system in which each person owns a share of everyone else.
The Myth of "Limited Government", by Joseph Sobran, 20 Dec 2001
Discusses some of the concepts in Hans-Hermann Hoppe's Democracy: The God That Failed (2001)
Whence arises the right of a ruler to compel? ... [M]odern rulers have discovered that a plausible answer can be found in the idea of majority rule. If the people rule themselves by collective decision, they can't complain ... This notion is summed up in the magic word democracy. It's nonsense. "We" are not doing it to "ourselves." Some people are still ruling other people. Democracy is merely the pretext for authorizing this process and legitimizing it ... Since outright slavery has been discredited, democracy is the only remaining rationale for state compulsion that most people will accept.
Related Topics: Limited Government, Taxation
The Myth of the Rational Voter, by Bryan Caplan, Cato Unbound, 6 Nov 2006
Posits that voters mistaken beliefs, in particular about economics, do not "cancel each other out" but instead they compound; lead essay of forum on "Majority Fools: Irrationality and the Limits of Democracy"
I do not expect any prominent politicians to read this and publicly change their position on immigration. Democracy is a popularity contest. If the average voter believes that less immigration is best for society, democracy rewards politicians who oppose immigration ... Regardless of what is going on in politicians' hearts and minds, ... we can expect democracy to listen to the average voter, even when he is wrong. The empirical evidence indicates that he often is ... When individual choices in democracy have harmful social side effects, however, many people really do just shrug their shoulders ...
Nonsense on the Inevitability of Democracy, by James Bovard, Freedom Daily, May 2006
Examines Francis Fukuyama's assertion about the "universalization of Western liberal democracy" and related pronouncements by George W. Bush
The current cult of "democratic inevitability" was jump-started by Francis Fukuyama, whose 1989 article (later expanded into a book) "The End of History" made him an instant intellectual cult figure ... The democratic-inevitability theory is also akin to the Marxist theory of the withering away of the state ... Democratic inevitability implies that, once democracy is achieved, politicians will no longer seek power to violate the rights and liberties of citizens. For some unexplained reason, after democracy becomes universal, voting will turn politicians into choir boys.
The Only Thing Dumber Than Libertarianism's Critics are its Right-Wing Defenders, by Kevin Carson, 22 Jun 2013
Responds to question posed by "liberal" commentator Michael Lind regarding the lack of actual libertarian countries and an attempted rebuttal by Objectivist writer Robert Tracinski
The model of political economy in a country isn't something "we" decide, even in formally representative democracies like the United States. "Democracy" functions only within parameters set by the larger system for ensuring its self-propagation. And the system is defined by economic exploitation. That's true of the "Nordic social democracy" model beloved of Lind and the "center-left" he represents, as much as any other. European social democracy and the American New Deal were implemented, not by "society," but through the primary agency of a state dominated by corporate capitalist interests.
Related Topics: Libertarianism, The State
The Production of Security, by Gustave de Molinari, Journal des économistes, Feb 1849
Questions whether the provision of security to citizens should be an exception to the economic principle of free competition, delving into arguments favoring monopolistic and communistic government and concluding with a hypothetical free market example
According to ... Rousseau ... authority does not descend from on high, but rather comes up from below ... the communists, the partisans of popular sovereignty ... assume that human reason has the power to discover the best laws and the organization which most perfectly suits society; and that, in practice, these laws reveal themselves at the conclusion of a free debate between conflicting opinions. If there is no unanimity, ... they insist that the decisions of the majority must become law, and that the minority is obliged to submit to it, even if it is contrary to its most deeply rooted convictions ...
Related Topics: Communism, Government, Monopoly, Society
Public Enemy Number One: The Public, by Kevin Carson, 15 Jun 2013
Considers the establishment's reaction to revelations by Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning, and the attempts to manipulate public opinion
Alex Carey, historian of propaganda, argues that the central pillar of elite rule in mass democracies is the engineering of consent ... The 1960s was the first time since WWII when it seemed to dawn on a significant portion of the public that "another world is possible." Since then, management of public opinion to engineer consent has been doubly important to them. That's why the "national security" community engages in psychological operations to manage public perceptions, the same way they'd manage the perceptions of a wartime enemy—in both cases, the goal being to manipulate the desired reaction out of us.
Related Topics: George Orwell, The State
Schumpeter, Joseph (1883-1950), by Thomas M. Humphrey, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 15 Aug 2008
Biographical and bibliographical essay
Schumpeter viewed democracy as a political market in which politicians compete for the votes of the electorate just as producers compete for consumers' dollars in markets for goods and services. But Schumpeter, always skeptical of consumer rationality, believed that market power resides more with vote seekers than with the electorate, whose apathy, ignorance, and lack of foresight enable politicians to set the policy agenda and to manipulate voter preferences. Even so, he felt that capitalism, provided it operated within a proper legal framework, is largely self-regulating.
The Servile State Revisited, by Joseph Sobran, The Wanderer, 5 Jun 2003
Ponders David Hume's observation as to the ease with which "the many are governed by the few" and positing that in modern society, "the habit of obedience" has been taken too far
The citizen is told that he enjoys "democracy" and "self-government," so that the will he obeys is really his own will. The State is really nothing more than an extension of ourselves, so that when it seems to be harassing us "we" are really harassing "ourselves." This is nonsense, of course. Some men are forcing others to obey, under the abstractions of an ideology few bother to question. As usual, a minority rules the majority, even if that minority is hard to identify with any precision. Most of us are heavily taxed, while many others are getting checks from the State ...
Related Topics: Law, Militarism, The State
Somebody Might Get Hurt, by Kevin Carson, 31 May 2013
Comments on two unrelated third-party blog posts to highlight a commonly offered "liberal" argument about state programs
Naive, well-meaning liberals ... fail to understand that coercive power in its essence is ... a weapon by which some people do things to other people. And the idea that this mechanism, this weapon, is amenable to democratic control is utterly ludicrous. As Robert Michels noted a century ago, centralized, hierarchical institutions cannot be instruments of direct rule by the many. Whatever formally democratic rules of representation they are subject to in legal theory, in practice the delegates will gain power at the expense of the delegators; the agent will exercise de facto power over the principal.
Related Topics: War on Drugs, The State
Spencer, Herbert (1820-1903), by George H. Smith, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 15 Aug 2008
Biographical essay
Whereas the Tories ... had vested unconditional authority in the monarch, ... modern liberalism, riding the wave of democratic sentiments, vested unconditional authority in "the people." Spencer viewed this disagreement as a distinction without an essential difference: "the real issue is whether the lives of citizens are more interfered with than they were; not the nature of the agency which interferes with them." A person is no less coerced and his rights are no less violated merely because unjust restrictions on his liberties are imposed by a majority, rather than by a single ruler.
Subjugating Ourselves, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 7 May 2010
Examines key passages from La Boetie's Discourse on Voluntary Servitude and criticizes newspaper editorial writers (with a recent example) for preaching to the people to acquiesce and submit to government
Alexis de Tocqueville thought democracies were prone to despotism, albeit a milder kind, but despotism nevertheless ... Romanticizers of representative government put much weight on the claim that the people rule themselves, but that doesn’t withstand close examination. This is not the place to elaborate, but anyone can ask himself how casting one vote out of hundreds of thousands or millions every two, four, and six years could possibly count as self-rule. Which self are we talking about here?
The Threat of Militarism, by Karen Kwiatkowski, 9 Jul 2006
Presentation to Global Scholar seminar, Washington and Lee University, Lexington, Virginia; discusses "the nature of modern United States foreign policy" while reflecting on what Eisenhower, Smedley Butler and Mark Twain said and wrote
Eisenhower's speech ... was based on what he understood to be true about the nature of American democracy ... [he] reminded us to remain alert to our government actions and directions ... But this democracy in early 1961 ... was typical of all democracies. There is always a lot to do, and once we send a representative to Washington, we generally forget about what he or she is doing, and we certainly aren't interested in how they do it. In fact, it may be impossible for us to even understand exactly how it is done. Even congressmen and women are amazed and surprised at the legislative process, and how it really works.
Treating Us like Children, by Sheldon Richman, Freedom Daily, Nov 1998
Comments on an amendment to an appropriations bill that would outlaw Internet gambling, overwhelmingly approved by the Republican-controlled Senate, and discusses the "democratic paternalism" evinced by this action
Moreover, the advocates of democracy have a big problem in asserting that the state should take responsibility for the well-being of adults. The very premise of democracy is that adults are capable of making wise choices at the ballot box. But if they can't run their own individual lives, how can they vote intelligently? ... The only answer I can imagine they would come up with is something like this: When people act privately, they ... act short-term and childishly. But when they act as part of the democratic polity ... some wiser force takes hold; the general will and public interest emerge in some miraculous way.
Trump’s Support and Praise of Despots Is Central to the U.S. Tradition, Not a Deviation From It, by Glenn Greenwald, 2 May 2017
Discusses recent criticism of Donald Trump that claims that his foreign policy towards known dictators and tyrants constitutes a major shift, when in fact that has been standard U.S. policy since at least the end of World War II
Being able to claim that the U.S. is devoted to spreading freedom and democracy in the world is central to their internal monologue. From the Washington Post newsroom to the corridors of the State Department, this is the fairy tale that they tell themselves every day in order to justify their position as global arbiters of the behavior of other countries ... They aren't angry that Trump is hugging dictators, obviously. All the other presidents whom they revere did the same ... The reality is that even the fiction, the pretense, of the U.S. as some sort of defender of human rights and democracy is being wildly overstated.
We the Sheep, by Joseph Sobran, The Reactionary Utopian, 7 Mar 2006
Comments on the U.S. (mostly) two-party system with a made-up example featuring the Prohibition and the Vegetarian parties, and then mixes in comments about the film Brokeback Mountain
In a democracy, the creditors are called 'citizens' and the really gullible ones are called 'voters.' Look in the mirror and ask yourself ... which category you fall into. ... So when the wolf pounces on your lamb, just ignore the pitiful bleating and remind yourself that this is a democracy, where every sheep can freely express its preference for which kind of wolf it wants to be eaten by. Many sheep, perhaps understandably, prefer a wolf in sheep's clothing, which is after all the basic idea of democracy. So far it has worked pretty well. The wolves all agree on that, and they want to spread democracy everywhere.
Related Topic: Voting
What It Means to Be a Libertarian [PDF], by Randolph J. May, Cato Journal, 1997
Review of Charles Murray's book What It Means to Be a Libertarian (1997), contrasting it with Tocqueville's writings in Democracy in America (1835-1840)
[Tocqueville] feared for the future because he saw in democracy the potential seeds of its own destruction. He argued that a democratic regime, by the sheer force of majoritarian canon it embodied, would ceaselessly move in the direction of striving for ever greater degrees of what he referred to as "equality of condition." That continual natural striving for "equality of condition" ... inexorably would lead to an ever-increasing encroachment of central government authority at the expense of individual freedom ... Tocqueville genuinely despaired for individual freedom in the popular democratic societies he envisioned evolving ...
'What Kind of Democracy Is This?', by Justin Raimondo, 23 May 2007
Examines questions about American democracy and militarism posed by professor (and retired Army colonel) Andrew J. Bacevich after the death of his son in combat in Iraq
This is the kind of democracy it is: the kind that can have both parties calling for an increase in the size of the U.S. military at a moment when the people are sick and tired of war and groaning under the weight of confiscatory taxation. The kind that has all "major" candidates for the White House vowing that nothing is "off the table" when it comes to Iran–and pledging to prosecute the war in Iraq more efficiently and successfully than Bush ... [W]e are the kind of "democracy" in which the major parties are merely the "right" and "left" wings of a single party–the War Party.
Related Topics: Democratic Party, Militarism, War
What's Wrong with Public Schools?, by Sheldon Richman, Separating School & State, 1994
Excerpt from chapter 2 of Separating School & State (1994), published online on 25 March 2005
[The incentive to exert the effort needed to cast an informed vote] is lacking because people other than [the average voter] would get the bulk of any benefits ... whether or not they exert any effort ... That is known as the free-rider problem. It plagues all aspects of democracy ... Democratic organization of schools presents other problems ... What if a citizen shares some but not all of the positions taken by a school board candidate? ... The inherent insulation of school boards (and other democratic bodies) from real accountability aggravates a phenomenon known as the Iron Law of Oligarchy.
W(h)ither Public Schools?, by Sheldon Richman, Separating School & State, 1994
Chapter 1, made available online on 19 May 2004 to celebrate the tenth publication anniversary; discusses how even mild "public school" reforms are treated as "deadly threats", why a new vision is needed and the role of the family in educating children
Dorothy Gilliam ... wrote ... "... American leaders have long-recognized the importance public education plays in creating a learned citizenry capable of maintaining a democracy." She quoted the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching: "The nation's public schools collectively remain one of America's most vital institutions, with the mission of sustaining a democratic nation as well as serving the individual." ... Where is the evidence that the public schools are serving communities and "maintaining democracy"? In whose dreams are they accountable through the democratic process?
Why Those Who Value Liberty Should Rejoice: Elinor Ostrom's Nobel Prize, by Peter Boettke, The Freeman, Dec 2009
Discusses Elinor Ostrom's work and viewpoints, shortly after her being awarded the Nobel Prize in economics
There is an ideological importance to the work of Elinor Ostrom ... My favorite book of [her husband Vincent] is The Meaning of Democracy and the Vulnerabilities of Democracies (1997). In that work Vincent inquires into the preconditions for a self-governing citizenry. A self-governing society, he says, must be composed of citizens fully capable of embracing the "cares of thinking and the troubles of living." Unfortunately, the machinations of democratic politics—with interest-group manipula-tion, logrolling, rent-seeking, and the vote motive—tend to undermine the capacity for self-governance among a people.


Interview with James Buchanan, by James M. Buchanan, The Region, Sep 1995
Topics include The Calculus of Consent, public choice theory, monetary policy and the Federal Reserve
Buchanan: ... Kenneth Arrow published his book Social Choice and Individual Values (1951) ... My general reaction was that the people who criticized Arrow, and Arrow himself, really didn't quite get the message in the sense that the concentration was on the fact that majority rule would not give you a political equilibrium, that you get this political cycle and so forth. My criticism basically was, if that's the way the preferences are, that's what you want to have. A democracy should not mean one majority simply ruling. It ought to be a rotation, if that's the way the preferences are.

Cartoons and Comic Strips

The Adventures of Democracy Man, by Stephan Pastis, Pearls Before Swine, 23 Jul 2023
Related Topic: Voting
I see a future with a political system called democracy, by Parker and Hart, The Wizard of Id, 12 Apr 2012


Attention Deficit Democracy, by James Bovard, 10 Jan 2006
Partial contents: Ignorance and the Mirage of Informed Consent - Fearmongering and the Battered Citizen Syndrome - Messianic Democracy - Lying and Legitimacy - Elections as Reverse Slave Auctions - Trusting Government at Any Cost - Democracy vs. Liberty
The rising gullibility of the American people may be the most important trend in U.S. democracy. With each passing decade, with each new presidency, it takes less and less to snooker Americans. And a candidate only has to fool enough people on one day to snare power over everyone for four years.
Related Topics: George W. Bush, Voting
The Calculus of Consent: Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy, by James M. Buchanan, Gordon Tullock, 1962
Partial contents: The Individualistic Postulate - Politics and the Economic Nexus - Individual Rationality in Social Choice - A Generalized Economic Theory of Constitutions - The Rule of Unanimity - Majority Rule, Game Theory, and Pareto Optimality
Related Topic: Voting


What's So Bad About The Galactic Empire?, by Sean Malone, 4 May 2017
Analyzes the various Star Wars movies and attempts to answer the title question and conversely what is good about the Rebel Alliance
Everyone familiar with Star Wars knows that the Empire is bad, and the Rebellion is good. But, why? ... Unfortunately, Star Wars ... seems to assume that the major difference between a "good" world and a "bad" world is the presence of Democracy, but that's hardly a guarantee. Many Democratic leaders have created misery for their citizens and even used Democracy to amass power and become dictators themselves–just like Emperor Palpatine did.

The introductory paragraph uses material from the Wikipedia article "Democracy" as of 25 Oct 2018, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.