quarta-feira, 26 de janeiro de 2005


"Consent has to do with the acceptance of the authority of a government by those subject to it: democracy refers to a type of rule, i.e., control by the majority or its agents. Consent neither implies nor is implied by democracy.

Dictatorial regimes have enjoyed widespread recognition of their authority: one need only mention Napoleon during the years of his political success. A democratic system, moreover, can be forcibly imposed on a country without the consent of its citizens. In this case, the citizens are able democratically to govern themselves but cannot change the system, even if they overwhelmingly wish to do so.

The United States has often acted in just this fashion in Latin America, since the days when Woodrow Wilson decided that the Mexican government was insufficiently democratic for his taste. Wilson also declined to grant Germany an armistice in World War I until the country replaced its monarchy with a republic.

Although consent and democracy need not in fact be connected, it might be argued that they ought to be. Only a democratic system ought to receive popular consent, even if people are benighted enough to think otherwise. But this contention presupposes that there exists an acceptable account of consent.

(...) Perhaps the most substantial argument in support of democracy is that of the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises. A democratic regime, since it by hypothesis enjoys majority support, will best insure that political change avoids violence. A government that people dislike but cannot alter democratically will, in contrast, be susceptible to revolution, with its attendant destruction.

Mises’ argument seems to me vulnerable at several points. It does not address the contention raised earlier that a democratic system can itself be unpopular: unless the majority has the power to abolish democracy, Mises’ own argument would suggest the likelihood of revolution. He might, however, reply that, though he cannot show that democracy always leads to stability, it remains the system most likely to do so.

More directly to the essence, Mises fails to address the problem of revolutions brought about by minorities. Why should a dissatisfied minority confine itself to attempting to secure majority support for its proposals? Mises might reply that it has little choice – since the majority opposes it, it will lose should it attempt to seize power by force.

But this flies in the face of history; are not revolutions often, indeed usually, the result of efforts by a determined minority? Little purpose would be served by a long list of historical examples, though the French and Russian Revolutions will do for a start; but the list is unnecessary. All that is required to challenge Mises’ claim is to note that it is an empirical issue, not one to be settled a priori, whether revolutions stem in a significant number of cases from dissatisfied majorities. Unless they do, Mises has not shown that a system with majority support is in practice needed to avert revolution." What’s the Argument for Democracy? by David Gordon

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