Saturday, July 30, 2011

Democracy, libertarianism and petitions

Chris has a slightly odd point to make about Guido's petition to re-introduce capital punishment.

That ... "...libertarianism and democracy conflict, simply because public opinion is on many issues very illiberal"

This is the latest in a long line of positions in which we have to pretend that something that isn't democracy provides the standard by which democracy has to be judged by. It's also demonstrably wrong at the moment.

Sure, Guido wouldn't get many of his libertarian views through a referendum. This is not the same thing as saying that they won't get democratic support.

Democracy isn't supposed to be a simple reflection of the reflexive opinions of the majority of people whose views are strong enough to get them to a ballot box. And referendums are not very democratic by most of the standards that we apply to modern democracy.

Update: 31/7. Just seen a very good article on the state of polling around capital punishment - well worth a look.

At the moment, we've got a majority of MPs implementing all kinds of economically liberal idiocy - policies which have little vocal support outside of right-wing think tanks and the people who own newspapers.

Now that's democracy.

OK - it'd be better if newspapers were more pluralistic, but representative democracy is quite good at delivering for libertarians. It probably wouldn't be if we could remove most of the obvious logical flaws in the practice of representative government, and that would - IMHO - be a good thing.

But I don't think I've ever met anyone that is generally in favour of libertarian measures outside of the circle of political obsessives that haunt politics and it's blogosphere. I'd never met one until I started blogging.

Take public political discourse for example. This is governed by a set of rules that define the word 'balance' (in media terms) as a situation where someone who knows what they're talking about is balanced by some fuckwit (trans: columnist) who can pronounce the words 'nanny state'. The mid-point of compromise is, therefore, around halfway between this one fixed pole and the spread of actual views held by actual people who know what they're on about.

Parliament is snided out with libertarians. Most Lib-Dem activists have recently been surprised to find that their own party is run by them (coincidentally at the point that they enter government for the first time in living memory - funny that, eh?)

Every second newspaper columnist is one. Those that aren't have to spend half of their columns throat-clearing, covering the most commonly-anticipated libertarian objections to the line that they will push - before they start to make their own arguments.

Covering climate change? Call someone who imagines that it's all a statist fantasy. Covering government expenditure? Call the Taxpayers Alliance (representative only of rich tax-dodgers) for a quote.

Even Peter Risdon's argument (in Chris' comments) that you can advocate libertarianism by democratic means, therefore it's compatible with democracy doesn't really hold up. You're not a democrat if you stand for election saying 'vote for me and I'll hand the power wielded by democratic institutions to other social forces'. Democrats have to sumbit to recall at the end of their term.

The flaws in representative democracy, and the various informal regulations that we have to ensure that it works serve libertarians very well indeed.

(Update: Apologies - I put the wrong link on the first word of this post that rendered it all a bit useless - fixed now)

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