Sunday, April 01, 2007


Oddly, I had a post brewing on this subject before I noticed the arguments put forward by Tom Paine (the blogger), Jackart and DK. I was going to use some of the debate about the movie 300 on Iranian websites to illustrate the problems posed by a democracy that behaves badly - keeping slaves, oppressing its citizens and so on. Now I won't bother.

Basically, Tom Paine above argues that the powers of the state need to be limited, and Jackart feels that only taxpayers should have the vote. DK tackles voter apathy.

We have been here before, gents. Everyone should have the vote - even prisoners - because the only legitimacy any government can ever have if it seeks to exercise jurisdiction over an individual derives from the vote of that individual. Or, as someone once put it:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their powers from the consent of the governed.
This isn't an American sentiment. It's a British Enlightenment sentiment that was respected better by the British in America than by those subject to a monarchy in Britain.

In his post, Tom Paine reminded his readers that:
Alexander Tytler (1747–1813) famously observed that:
A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits ... with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy followed by a dictatorship.
This institutionalised theft is what prompted Jackart, and others, to suggest the franchise be limited to those supplying money, not those seeking to usurp it. But if that happens the government loses its legitimacy and becomes a tyranny, however benevolent.

The answer is much more straighforward. Modern governments, almost all of them but most obviously constitutional monarchies like our own, have seen elected assemblies assume the powers of absolute monarchs. Those powers are inappropriate.

We need a limitation of the powers of the state - far more than has been seen in any state so far constituted in the world. The separation of powers is important. Explicitly reserving for the individual all powers not explicitly delegated to the government is also important.

But the most effective way to limit government power would be to require far greater majorities than simple ones for all decisions. If an 80% majority were needed in Parliament before a tax could be levied, then only those taxes that enjoyed very widespread support would be in place.

Nothing would stop people who wished to see greater funding for, say, the unemployed than that level of taxation permitted making voluntary charitable donations. But people would no longer be able to vote themselves other people's money.

The principles that the only legitimacy a government can have derives exclusively from the votes of the governed, and that elected dictatorships must be avoided by requiring a high degree of consensus before a government can act on behalf of the people, are becoming increasingly necessary.

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