2011/03/27

Democracy and Liberty

We should try to make some of these broad concepts more precise.

There are two main rights associated with liberty:
1. The right to a presumption of non-authority. Our public agents may only do what we formally authorize them to do.
2. The right to effective means to supervise public agents. We have to be able to find out what they are doing and hold them accountable for their action or inaction. That includes the powers to remove and to penalize.

Self-determination does not just mean voting in referenda and elections of officials, nor does it mean majority rule. Support of a majority is necessary but not sufficient, and for some more important issues other decision rules, such as supermajorities or structuring decisions into deliberative assemblies, or random selection of deciders (sortition) rather than election or appointment of them, may be required to protect the rights of individuals and minorities, especially from undue influence by rent-seekers.

Citizenship is inseparable from civic virtue. That means not just the opportunity to vote or hold public office, but diligence in doing so knowledgeably and wisely, and willingness to help defend the community (militia) and enforce constitutional laws. It also means resisting the tendency to hire public servants to do things the public should be doing, or to trust public servants to do the right thing without actively supervising the details of their work. It means restricting the numbers and activities of public servants to a level that makes effective supervision manageable without it becoming a full-time job for everyone.

The U.S. Constitution and imitations thereof remains the exemplar for how to balance conflicting values for real people in a real world. Nations have now experimented with enough variants to find that there are certain principles of sound constitutional design that are not mere expressions of cultural relativity. Some designs work better than others, and it is important that we discover which work and support them.

As for what the peoples of other countries want, I find most aspire to the same ideals we do (or used to do). The problem is that most, even in our own country, don't always understand what that requires of us, or accept doing what it requires of us. It is indeed hard, for everyone. Part of what makes it hard is that the institutions of liberty are vulnerable to brutal determined men, whether from outside or from within. Every child begins life as a barbarian and if not inducted into civilization becomes a threat to it. We are "never more than one generation from barbarism" (Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History). A few brutes can dominate the meek majority if the meek do not organize and hold firm against them.

No comments:

Translate

Follow by Email

Search this and affiliated sites

Blog Archive