Iraq needs liberty, not democracy

Much has been made of the goal of democracy in Iraq. The blogosphere is full of "Support Democracy in Iraq" side-banners. Many bloggers have talked about the challenges of instituting democracy in Iraq, as if democracy is an end in and of itself, going as far as trying to find ways for "securing the maximum of liberty and democracy for Iraq." And finally, some have concluded that democracy is The End of History, the categorically ultimate form of government.

I hold a different view and want to sound a cautionary bell. Democracy has as much potential for tyranny as any other form of government. What Iraqis need more than anything, is liberty.

The words democracy and liberty are often used in concert, and sometimes even synonymously. However, the two hold very different meanings in terms of human interaction.

The admirable characteristic of democracy is the ability to vote out the people in power without having to resort to violence. However, surpassing this limited realm, voting has dangerous potential.

Extending beyond this confined sphere, democracy means your fellow citizens having the power to tell you how to use your money. It means others being able to tell you what to do with your body. It means your neighbors being able to dictate how you use your property, what medicines you can take, what size your roof gutters must be, what you can charge to sell your stuff, what kind of voluntary relationships you make with other individuals, how much water you can use in flushing your toilet, how your children learn, what ideas you are exposed to, what kind of doctor you may visit, what technologies you may use in your TV, and what information you have access to.

Liberty, on the other hand, is the securing of rights - barriers to encroachment that arise from the nature of man. Liberty means that a person, having his own individual ends and the ability to reason and choose among various means, is owed freedom from violence. Liberty means that others cannot vote to decide what you do with your body, what chemicals you ingest, how you use your property, and what kind of voluntary relationships you make with others.

The Founders recognized this crucial distinction and attempted to place checks and balances against democracy into the US system of government. The word democracy is not found in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. Many of the Founders tried to warn against democracy. James Madison said:

Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives
as they have been violent in their death.

And John Adams:

Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.

The sanctification of democracy is a dangerous meme that has spread through modern culture. I think there is a part of the human psyche that is naturally turned off by unequal distributions of power. It is this egalitarian longing that places democracy ahead of monarchy and dictatorship among the ranks of various systems of government. After all, one vote for one person is designed to spread power evenly among the citizens.

However, a tension between democracy and liberty arises when the power of voting is extended well beyond the purpose of non-violent change of rulers, and into the dominion of individual rights. Taken to logical conclusions, democracy is wholly incompatible with natural rights.

The tyranny of democracy may not be as despotic as the tyranny of dictators, but it is tyranny nonetheless. Any system in which individuals are not granted freedom from violence is tyrannous. Either individuals have rights to life, liberty, and property or they do not. There is no middle ground. My rights are not up for vote. Maximizing democracy means minimizing liberty.

The Iraqis have been living in a system of government in which freedom from violence is a distant echo of times long passed. Their natural rights have been systematically trampled for decades. Democracy will not give them freedom from violence. Only liberty will. With Saddam overthrown, what Iraqis need much more than democracy is liberty.

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And my cohort once again

And my cohort once again proves who's carrying the most water here on the blog. ^_^