Monday, February 27, 2006

The 1st Problem with Democracy: Incoherent Public Policy

The chief problem of civilized government has always been to regulate, not so much the exercise of political power, as the succession to such power. Democracy, in effect, abandons that problem; it not only refuses to protect itself against usurpation but invites it and, ideed, relies upon it to solve all major issues of government.

--Lord Eustace Percy of Newcastle

The Christian libertarian, if he recognizes the legitimacy of human government at all, believes it was instituted because of the fall. Man in his primitive innocency had no need of it because he obeyed God's law perfectly, through his knowledge of general (natural) and special (verbal) divine revelation. I argue the first does not follow from the latter, but let's leave that aside for now. Needless to say, this view is extremely suspicious of the uses of human authority and regards it a necessary evil.

Lord Acton's dictum, "Power *tends to* corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely," is widely regarded the height of political wisdom. While it is true as far as it goes, much more is needed to make wise political judgments. Acton's witticism has been too often used as prima facie support for democracy, as if power were more dangerous in the hands of a tyrant than the mob. Both must be avoided, and it is hard to say which is worse.

The above quote from Lord Percy's classic essay The Heresy of Democracy (1955) probably raises the most difficult practical question to ask. How can we establish a government that will pursue its *proper* goals over the long run and maintain consistent policies to attain those goals? As Lord Percy remarks, the democratic regime ignores this problem and exacerbates it by changing the government every few years.

In the United States nothing really ever gets accomplished domestically except the proliferation of new agencies, programs, and laws. Every once in a while, the "people" get tired of perceived corruption and decide to "throw the bums out." It's hard to say who has the worst reputation, lawyers or politicians. However, in the state of California, the "people" threw out the Democrat Gray Davis for Arnold Schwarzenegger, a moderate Republican. But when the time came to support Schwarzenegger's programs in a special election, the "people" weren't interested.

The average citizen complains about corrupt politicians, but the average citizen doesn't take the time to investigate what's going on, for who really has the time to consider all the ins and outs of economic, educational, infrastructural, military, and scientific policy? Out of exasperation with it all, the voter decides to act decisively and "send a message to Washington" by voting someone out of office. Meanwhile, the world continues on unchanged.

I would submit a question to the reader: who is more corrupt, the politician who wheels and deals to further the interests of his party, financial backing, and voting bloc, or the voter who views the whole process with cynical contempt just waiting to withdraw his support as soon as the politician du jour fails to solve all of government's problems?

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