domingo, 20 de fevereiro de 2005

A democracia como um meio

Em dia de peregrinação eleitoral, vale a pena reflectir um pouco sobre a natureza da democracia. Um bom ponto de partida é texto Democracy is a Means, Not an End, de Michael Munger.

It is fine to celebrate the great achievements of democracies, once they are firmly established. But such celebrations confuse cause and effect. The reason democratic nations have personal liberties, property rights, and rule of law is not that they are democracies. Rather, nations that have those things embody the entire package of the Western tradition of good government. Requiring that government actions hinge on the consent of the governed is the ribbon that holds that bundle together, but it is not the bundle itself.


This essay may make me sound like an enemy of democracy, some kind of elitist nut. Well, that's not entirely wrong. But describing democracy's flaws is not the same as arguing the virtues of elitism or dictatorship. I just want to foster an humble skepticism about what democracy really is and what it can actually accomplish. Many policy conflicts hinge on whether the public can tell individuals what to do. There is a subtlety that is often missed in policy debate: there is a difference between public decisions and collective decisions. Public decisions affect everyone by the nature of the choice itself: we can only have one defense budget; polluting rivers befouls not just my water, but yours.

Collective decisions, on the other hand, affect us all only because the majority is empowered to force its will on everyone. There need be no true public aspects to the decision as a policy outcome; we have just chosen to take the decision out of individuals' hands and put the power in the hands of the mob.

Now, it may very well be the case that lots of collective decisions are also public. But we need to see the line dividing private and collective choices, and to defend it fiercely. As P. J. O'Rourke notes, the fact that a majority likes something doesn't mean that the majority should get to choose that something for everyone.


The real key to freedom is to secure people from tyranny by the majority, or freedom from democracy.

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