There are only TWO ultimate values (as I've elaborated in DOF): life and liberty. Every social action or design must show how it advances these two values, else we will be setting up society for failure.
F.A. Hayek demolished all arguments that consider democracy to be of value in itself. He showed that democracy has NOTHING to do with justice, and little to do with liberty. These goals must be secured by democracy if it has to serve any purpose. I can do no better than to extract from his greatest book: The Constitution of Liberty.
1. Equality before the law leads to the demand that all men should also have the same share in making the law. This is the point where traditional liberalism and the democratic movement meet. Their main concerns are nevertheless different. Liberalism (in the European nineteenth-century meaning of the word, to which we shall adhere throughout this chapter) is concerned mainly with limiting the coercive powers of all government, whether democratic or not, whereas the dogmatic democrat knows only one limit to government—current majority opinion.
2. The current undiscriminating use of the word "democratic" as a general term of praise is not without danger. It suggests that, because democracy is a good thing, it is always a gain for mankind if it is extended. This may sound self-evident, but it is nothing of the kind.
There are at least two respects in which it is a most any particular issue the case for democracy is commonly presented as if the desirability of extending it as far as possible were indisputable.That this is not so is implicitly admitted by practically everybody so far as the right to vote is concerned. It would be difficult on any democratic theory to regard every possible extension of the franchise as an improvement. We speak of universal adult suffrage, but the limits of suffrage are in fact largely determined by considerations of expediency. The usual age limit of twenty-one and the exclusion of criminals, resident foreigners, non-resident citizens, and the inhabitants of special regions or territories are generally accepted as reasonable. It is also by no means obvious that proportional representation is better because it seems more democratic.' It can scarcely be said that equality before the law necessarily requires that all adults should have the vote; the principle would operate if the same impersonal rule applied to -all. If only persons over forty, or only income-earners, or only heads of households, or only literate persons were given the vote, this would scarcely be more of an infringment of the principle than the restrictions which are generally accepted. It is also possible for reasonable people to argue that the ideals of democracy would be better served if, say, all the servants of government or all recipients of public charity were excluded from the vote. If in the Western world universal adult suffrage seems the best arrangement, this does not prove that it is required by some basic principle.
These remarks are meant only to show that even the most dogmatic democrat can hardly claim that every extension of democracy is a good thing. However strong the general case for democracy, it is not an ultimate or absolute value and must be judged by what it will achieve. It is probably the best method of achieving certain ends, but not an end in itself. Though there is a strong presumption in favor of the democratic method of deciding where it is obvious that some collective action is required, the problem of whether or not it is desirable to extend collective control must be decided on other grounds than the principle of democracy as such.3. The democratic and the liberal traditions thus agree that whenever state action is required, and particularly whenever coercive rules have to be laid down, the decision ought to be made by the majority. They differ, however, on the scope of the state action that is to be guided by democratic decision. While the dogmatic democrat regards it as desirable that as many issues as possible be decided by majority vote, the liberal believes that there are definite limits to the range of questions which should be thus decided.The crucial conception of the doctrinaire democrat is that of popular sovereignty. This means to him that majority rule is unlimited and unlimitable. The ideal of democracy, originally intended to prevent all arbitrary power, thus becomes the justification for a new arbitrary power.
4. If democracy is a means rather than an end, its limits must be determined in the light of the purpose we want it to serve. There are three chief arguments by which democracy can be justified, each of which may be regarded as conclusive.
The first is that, whenever it is necessary that one of several conflicting opinions should prevail and when one would have to be made to prevail by force if need be, it is less wasteful to determine which has the stronger support by counting numbers than by fighting. Deocracy is the only method of peaceful change that man has yet discovered.The second argument, which historically has been the most important and which is still very important, though we can no longer be sure that it is always valid, is that democracy is an important safeguard of individual liberty. It was once said by a seventeenth-century writer that "the good of democracy is liberty, and the courage and industry which liberty begets.' This view recognizes, of course, that democracy is not yet liberty; it contends only that it is more likely than other forms of government to produce liberty.
The third argument rests on the effect which the existence of democratic institutions will have on the general level of understanding of public affairs. This seems to me the most powerful. It is the burden of the argument of Tocqueville's great work, Democracy in America, that democracy is the only effective method of educating the majority. This is as true today as it was in his time. Democracy is, above all, a process of forming opinion.
The old liberal is in a much better friend of democracy than the dogmatic democrat, for he is concerned with preserving the conditions that make democracy workable. If it is to survive, democracy must recognize that it is not the fountainhead of justice and that it needs to acknowledge a conception of justice which does not necessarily manifest itself in the popular view on every particular issue. The danger is that we mistake a means of securing justice for justice itself.
There is little reason to expect that any people will succeed in successfully operating or preserving a democratic machinery of government unless they have first become familiar with the traditions of a government of law.
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