Democracy is Not Freedom

The Arab Spring is supposed to be a wonderful thing because it is eliminating dictators and installing democracy throughout the Middle East, right? The people get to choose their government! That’s freedom! Right?

Well, is it freedom when majorities vote to install Islamic law with totalitarian reach in the government, as they are doing in many of these “liberated” Middle Eastern nations? How free do you think women in Egypt feel, now that a secular dictatorship has been replaced with a misogynistic Islamic democracy?

With this in mind, I’m going to put forward a radical concept that few in the democratic world have managed to grasp: Democracy is not freedom. Replacing a tyrannical dictator with a tyrannical majority does not free a people. Too many people believe that whatever the majority wants is right. That it’s oppression to deny the majority their will. But when the majority seeks to infringe on the inherent rights of the minority, they cannot possibly be supporting freedom.

Democracy is not the essence of freedom- it is merely a tool that can be useful for protecting freedom. True freedom comes from the principles of liberty, which must be protected for all people from the will of any minority or majority. That means protecting individual sovereignty for all, not just ensuring popular sovereignty. The democratic socialist governmental structures of the European Union as well as the Bolivarian governments of South America suppress the individual sovereignty of the people in favor of expressing the collective will of the majority. The majorities in these countries may feel pretty free because they’re getting everything they want, but the members of the minority who they oppress are having their liberty infringed upon every day.

That is why the United States government was originally founded with a Constitution and Bill of Rights strictly limiting the power of the democratic government to infringe on the liberty of individuals. This government was not meant to be an expression of collective will, but a means of ensuring that no individual could come under monarchical or majoritarian oppression. Yet, in recent generations, we’ve strayed from these principles, allowing charismatic leaders to convince us that they can solve the problems of poverty, of unemployment, of poor education and health care, if only we would give them more power to express the collective will of the people. What they leave out of these platitudes is the clarification that their solutions would express the will of the majority at the expense of the basic liberty of the minority. Yet, we’ve supplanted nearly all of our constitutional principles in favor of the democratic socialist perspectives of Franklin Roosevelt and Barack Obama.

This envisioning of the government as a mechanism of expressing collective will is wrong. It is an anti-liberty view, as should be clear from the oppressive horrors that voting majorities have brought everywhere from 1930’s Europe to the modern Middle East. The collective will of majorities can be very oppressive, and it is no better when this collective will is used to provide financial security to one group at the expense of another group. These so-called “positive freedoms” come at the expense of the “negative freedoms” (the liberty) that all humans have an inherent right to. The government cannot buy one person a service without stealing property and labor from another person. So please, don’t try to equate democracy with freedom. Unrestrained democracy can be just as oppressive against the liberties of the people as unrestrained hereditary leadership.

For true freedom to come to all citizens of a nation, we must refocus the role of government back on the protection of liberty and individual sovereignty. No democratic form of government should ever be built without a constitutional guarantee to liberty. There just cannot be freedom without it. When individuals are free from forcible forms of organization, they are free to create their own voluntary forms of communal organization that can solve the nation’s problems without the suppression of human rights.


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