Democracy is Over-Rated

Ever since Woodrow Wilson, who embroiled American troops in the mud of Flanders and contributed to the deaths of millions of soldiers in a global “war to end all wars”, U.S. presidents have, to greater or lesser extents, pursued the goal of making the world safe for democracy.

That objective is a fool’s errand. Except for Germany and Japan, whose constitutions were imposed by the victorious Allies at the end of the Second World War, there are precious few historical examples of democratization successfully being created at gunpoint by western military powers.

The reason underlying that conclusion is that voting is at best the window-dressing of democratic governance. As a matter of fact, because one person’s vote has no chance of being decisive, voters rationally are ignorant about the instrumental consequences of the choices before them and they therefore show up at the polls on Election Day only to express their preferences as to candidates and policies on the ballot, fully aware that their individual choices will not affect the outcome.

It has taken centuries for the institutions of western democracy to evolve and it always has always striven not always successfully, to balance the threat of the tyranny of the majority against the interests of political minorities. In order to curb the influence of factions, James Madison and his fellow Founding Fathers tried to create a system of checks and balances that would counter the influence of one faction at the expense of others.

More than 200 years since, one can debate the extent to which the Founding Fathers were successful in achieving their political goals. There can be no debate, however, over their overarching premise that democratic voting on candidates for political office or on important public policies cannot be conducted until a constitution is in place.

Nations of the Middle East and of Central Asia cannot be allowed to vote until a constitution is in place, whether imposed by the western powers or agreed to in a plebiscite subject to supra-majority rule. Democratic voting otherwise will reinforce the grievances of unrepresented minorities and lead to the continuation if ethnic/tribal conflict for the foreseeable future.

William F. Shughart II is Research Fellow and Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute, the J. Fish Smith Professor in Public Choice at Utah State University, past President of the Southern Economic Association, and editor of the Independent book, Taxing Choice: The Predatory Politics of Fiscal Discrimination.
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