What Is Democracy? Part One: Democracy Is Slavery

This is part one in a three part series: democracy is slavery, democracy is impossible and democracy is liberty. 

Democracy Is Slavery

By the phrase "democracy is slavery", I refer to the tyranny that inevitably arises from the principles of majoritarianism and communalism. One standard definition of democracy is rule by the majority. Rule by the majority is fundamentally in opposition to the liberty of the minority, and the individual is of course the greatest minority of them all. The logical implication of the principle of majoritarianism, viewed as an ethic, is that superiority in numbers justifies decision-making over others. The group with the largest amount of people in it may control and subjugate all other groups, all other individuals not within it. To use a common phrase that accurately describes majoritarian democracy, it reduces to "might makes right". Majoritarian democracy creates a master-slave relationship in which the masters outnumber the slaves. The range necessary for a group to become a majoritarian ruling class could be anywhere between 51% and 99% of a given population.

Numerical majoritarianism, a subcategory or altered version of majoritarian democracy, is somewhat different in that no true majority is actually required. One does not have to exceed 50% in numerical superiority in order to rule over others. The numerical majority could theoretically be constituted by anywhere between 1% and 49% of a given population. In practise, it actually reduces to a minority ruling over a majority in terms of the overall population of those involved. Numerical majoritarianism creates a master-slave relationship in which the slaves outnumber the masters. The more groups that are involved, the smaller the numerical majorities may potentially get, and conversely the larger the dominated or subjected group may potentially get. Most examples of democracy in action are cases of numerical majoritarianism, although democracies could be said to vary between exercises of both pure and numerical majoritarianism interchangably depending in the particular situation in question.

Democracy is slavery because the minority, most importantly the individual, is forced into an association with and subjected to the decision-making power of the majority that they did not explicitly consent to. I define slavery quite simply as involuntary servitude and forced association, a state of affairs in which one or more individuals imposes decision-making from above upon one or more individuals against their explicit consent. Under democracy, whatever positive obligations that the majority wishes to impose on the minority must be lived up to regaurdless of the consent of the minority. The majority exercises decision-making power over social and economic life of others. Certainly a man is no less a slave if they have a multitude of masters rather then one master. While in monarchy the individual has one ruler or is the subject of a tiny familial or noble aristocracy, in democracy the individual has more of a plurality of rulers. The majority exercises shared or quotal rulership over the subjected individual. Democracy increases the amount of rulers. It could conversely be said that it reduces the amount of subjects as compared to monarchy, but this does not solve anything and the subjects are only reduced by the creation of more rulers.

It is important for one to realize that, as a principle seeking to justify authority and decision-making, majoritarian democracy, wether it be constituted by true majorities or numerical ones, is blind or neutral to the logical or ethical nature of the preferences of the majority in question. It justifies whatever decision is made by the majority, regaurdless of wether or not is right or wrong based on any independant ethical criterion and regaurdless of wether or not it makes any sense at all. In an exercise of majoritarian democracy, anything from murder to theft to rape to kidnapping could theoretically be given sanction, so long as the group approving of or engaging in such actions constitutes a majority. To reduce majoritarianism to the absurd, using the principle of majoritarianism on a small scale, if there are two men and a woman and the men want to have sexual intercourse with the woman and she does not, the two men are allegedly justified in raping her. Or, to use a large-scale example of the absurdities resulting from the principle, 51% of a population may allegedly legitimately murder the other 49%.

Majoritarian democracy fails the criterion of universality in ethics because the respective majorities and minorities are not held to the same basic standard of ethics. It functions as a defacto justification for the majority or group being able to get away with doing that which the individual or minority may not do. In short, the majority is exempted from being subject to the same ethical criterion and responsibility as everyone else. This is logically inconsistant if ethical principles and rights are supposed to apply to all individual human beings, if the individual is our standard of sovereignty. Using the law of universality as our criterion, even if it is one individual against everyone else in the world, it still is not just for even everyone else in the world to enslave, plunder or murder the individual. "The community", "the majority", and the deceptive phrases such as "the will of the people" and "the public good" cannot legitimately be invoked to justify tyranny. These terms function as obfuscations and illegitimate apologetics for the subjugation of people.

Utilitarianism could be seen as being linked to democracy in terms of the old and common maxim "the greatest good for the greatest number". Using this as a criteria for ethics could be used to justify majoritarianism because the precise definition of the term "good" is left up in the air so that whatever the majority happens to consider to be "good" is sanctioned. Afterall, the majority is "the greatest number". The majority may certainly benefit and gain utility, wether it be in a purely psychological and emotional sense or in terms of material and physical well-being, prosperity and survival. But the criterion for justifying it is arbitrary and inconsistant, especially when terms such as "happiness" are employed. The means toward obtaining the utility are not taken into proper consideration. The end of utility or happiness for the majority is used to justify the means. What is not addressed is that there is a burden of proof on the majority to justify their means. The burden of proof always lies with those who assert authority, and a mere numbers game does not constitute a sufficient justification for authority. If explicit consent is used as a criterion for the burden of proof, then democracy and utilitarianism cannot ethically legitimize anything at all. It functions as little more then majoritarian hedonism. In the absence of explicit consent, democracy as a general principle is nothing but an arbitrary apologetic for slavery.

The idea that one has a right to participate in and have decision-making power over other people's private relationships against their explicit consent is fundamentally contradictary to the concept of individual sovereignty and free association. A sovereign individual is one who is free from the imposition of 3rd parties of people, including majorities. Noone else has an abstract entitlement to decision-making over the individual and the private relationships that they enter into. Only the individual has legitimate authority in decision-making over their own person. The only alternative to individual sovereignty or self-ownership, as Murray Rothbard once pointed out, is either for another individual to exercise decision-making over their person, which would create a master-slave relationship in which one person rules over another, or for the collective or everyone to exercise quotal ownership or decision-making over eachother's person, which would create an absurd scenario in which everyone attempts to own a quotal share of everyone else. Since this is practically impossible to realistically enforce, the communalist alternative, in practise, reduces to the first alternative of individual rulership, only in the name of the community or collective. Democracy is somewhere in between the two extremes of individual rulership and the mutual and universal slavery of everyone to eachother. Democracy is as close to the communalist ideal that a society can get, reducing to some combination of pure and numerical majoritarianism in which there is a mixed and somewhat dynamic network of master-slave relationships.


# zsignal said on 18 March, 2008 07:04 AM

Someone once said that democracy is a system where 51% rob the other 49%.

# David Ipperciel said on 19 March, 2008 01:56 PM

As often the case in these "Austrian" take on a subjects, many real life consideration are conveniently omitted.  That the rule of a majority might become the dictatorship of the majority is known to every thinker.  That's why boundaries have been set to limit the leaway of the majority.  These boundaries are set in a constitution, a Charter of Rights, in the determination of fundamental rights, etc.  The question is addressed elswhere, but not here.  Can we talk of real dictatorship when the majority's actions are limited by a set of rules?  Minorities cannot be real slaves if they have the right to complain, to voice their disent, to appeal to the reason of the majority, or even to the Courts.  In the real world, a public sphere is shared, and arrangements are made to come to some understandind.  In this public sphere, only reason can lead to acceptable outcomes.  Austrian and libertarian thinking have many valuable inputs they could contribute to the public debate.  But ignoring real world considerations confines their potential contribution to a small group of like minded individuals.  It does not contribute to Knowledge, by building a strawman argument unrelated to any real situation.  A true challenge for thinkers of the Austrian School would be to integrate their insights to the real world.  In this case, to address a situation where the majoritie's right is restricted by a set of rationaly determined rules.

# dognillo said on 19 March, 2008 05:05 PM

Its already been tried, David. It hasn't worked out. Look around you.

# Brainpolice said on 19 March, 2008 06:23 PM

David: a slave that can complain and appeal to the mercy of their master is nonetheless still a slave. So long as the individual does not have an option to disassociate, to effectively secede as an individual, then they cannot be said to have full sovereignty. This holds true regaurdless of the amount of people in question, wether it be a democratic or monarchical type of slavery.

Of course, there is an inherent problem with any state court system: that in a conflict between the individual and the state, the individual can only turn to the state, which then functions as a judge in its own case. Hence, there truly is no 3rd party, independant arbiter. That's a bit off topic, however.

I don't see how my arguments don't apply to the "real world". I see them as reflecting precisely what democracy is in the "real world". In the real world, attempts at democracy reduce to some combination of (1) a dynamic or changing network of numerical majorities, I.E. minorities, that exercise decision-making over the rest of the population (2) an exclusive state with more rulers in it then a monarchy, yet nonetheless still out of the control of the masses at large and (3) sporadic exercises of power by true majorities over those with lesser numbers.

No constitution devised yet, to my knowledge, has been able to function as a sufficient check on either "the majority" or the state itself. So I don't see how the addition of an unsigned perpetual "social contract" that isn't based on explicit consent helps the situation at all. In practise, it functions more as an apologetic devise for the rule of the state. "See, the state is voluntary, you implicitly consent to our rule". Nonsense.

# Brainpolice said on 19 March, 2008 06:33 PM

Oh, and some clarification for David: I don't consider this writting of mine to be an "Austrian" take. It does not deal with economics at all. It is more of a philosophical, ethical take on democracy. One need not have even heard of Austrian economics to understand the points.

# Spideynw said on 19 March, 2008 06:35 PM

This post is in response to David.

Just because someone can voice their opinion does not mean they are not a slave.

The Constitution hardly restrains the government of the United States.

When the government can force minorities to give up their property without their consent, they are being made slaves to the majority.

# Attackdonkey said on 19 March, 2008 11:38 PM

hey very nice,  I dont know if I am ready to come out against government as far as in practice. But I see more and mroe every day that it is evil.

In the meantime, can you tell me how to write a blog?

either I am an idiot and cant remeber/Something has changed and I cant find it/Or they have revoked my blogging capabilities due to inactivity.

# Attackdonkey said on 24 March, 2008 01:49 AM

okay I got to read it now...

to david, to say we are not slaves because we can vote, debate etc., is just ridiculous, complain all you want but the IRS is going to take up to 40% of your money every year. the state will take some, and the city will take close to 10 cents for every dollar you spend.

(and to brain) and it will continue to be this way so long as the people who see it for what it is stay bottled up in missian blogs and their noses in Rothbard. This is what david is talking about brain,

you're arguements apply very much to the real world, but they aren't in the real world. they are on here. and you have painted yourself in the eyes of the outside world as a nut. Ron Paul is called a nut and he believes govt can be legitimate! you have to soften your tone! let your message be that government is evil, but necessary.

this was the success of our constitution. that our men were educated. and our constitution held for a generation or two. but today the masses are ignorant.

we must educate them.

# David Ipperciel said on 24 March, 2008 06:36 PM

Attackdonkey is getting at the heart of the problem: any idea must be confronted to point of views held by people outside a like minded group.  If not, they are doomed to linger in oblivion.  You believe democracy is slavery and we should get rid of it?  Then why is it that anarchic systems are nowhere to be found?  Is everybody out there an idiot?  I have long figured out that when I assume someone to have an IQ of a third grader, I usually am making a mistake.  The world is complex, and any easy solution usually misses important factors.  In the logic presented, since sovereignty is not absolute, it is slavery.  This important statement needs to be worked out, since non-A is not necessarily B.  It also assumes that absolutes are possible.  However, wherever I look, I can never find absolutes. Everything I look at has to be contextualized.  Everywhere but here?  Why does democracy need such a strong criteria as absolute sovereignty? Why couldn't partial sovereignty be sufficient?  I am not supporting the view that the governed gives consent to the state.  What I am supporting is that a government can govern because of the perceived legitimacy of the ruling body.  Time and time again, illegitimate government have eventually been thrown out.  In our time, this legitimacy exists because players see rules of fairness.  If your right to property is being trampled, are there rules to compensate you?  When the majority passes a law, will it take into consideration what the minority thinks about it?  To use the slave analogy, do you compensate a slave when the will of his master is imposed upon him?  Can a slave by called a slave if he can change his master when he perceives him to be illegitimate (as the US did with the British, or the Ukrainians to Russia)?  When someone complains about his taxes being to high, is he complaining about the principle of taxes (no taxes are justifiable) or just their level (they're too high)?  If its the latter, there are no solutions, it becomes a matter of opinion, and the level will fall wherever the political process will push it.  If its the former, then one has to clearly explain how a society can minimally exist without at least some form of police protection.  If your answer is a private police, you'll have to explain how it will not fall into the same problem faced by the Romans who hired Germans that eventually turned against them, or the Samourais against their emperors.  If a minimal public police becomes acceptable, then taxes are not to be excluded in principles.  If a police is necessary, then the state becomes a construction, something build.  That construction is what allows one to have property (without a police, nothing stops my neighbor from stealing my belongings, and property ceases to exists, replaced by temporary holdings).  If property exists because of the State, and the States does not run on goodwill but on resources, than taxes becomes legitimate and becomes the  prerequisite to property (let's not complain here on the level but principle of taxes).  The questions then shifts from having a gvt to having a good gvt.  Many of these questions must be addressed for your ideas to become acceptable to most.

# TomG said on 25 March, 2008 06:54 PM

Why must it be "all or nothing" when we know that we live in an imperfect universe - where even human actions and motivations are flawed and often quite irrational (which is why, by the way, I contend that there will *always* be some form of government system - if only as an insurance policy to protect the weaker from the stronger, in a social contract that ensures everyone at least gets a booby prize (ie. safety net), but that will also require an informed populace that keeps abuses of the law in check and in a continuous struggle to maintain each nation’s rendered freedoms.

# Kate said on 27 March, 2008 08:23 PM

The problem is not with democracy...its with people. Humans *** up whatever they are in-charge of. I have some complaints but overall I would take democracy over say, communist Russia.

# TomG said on 28 March, 2008 04:13 AM

Yes, collectivism is built on lies - while democracy at least allows for the individual's theoretical 2-cent's worth in a participatory process (the fact that the latter in its aggregate outcome becomes the "will of the majority" seems to be an issue with many self-affirmed anarchists - even though it's the only way any large societal projects and threats get dealt with successfully (the alternative being an arrested state of hunters and gatherers living in caves)).  

# Brainpolice said on 30 March, 2008 07:43 AM


If you want to, see my other earlier post "Democracy Is Impossible" for an explaination as to how it is impossible for a state to truly be participatory and representative. Because democratic states are neither genuinely participatory or representative in the real world. I won't get into it here because the theme of this post is "Democracy Is Slavery".

Furthermore, it hardly is that case that only anarchists have a problem with majoritarianism (and actually some self-proclaimed anarchists who I question actually seem to advocate it). Classical liberals have had a long history of being critical of majoritarian democracy, from Jefferson onwards. Democracy has often been critisized from a minarchist perspective.

Hunter Gatherers? Cavemen? Surely you have read up and debated enough about the philosophy of market anarchism, and anarchism in general, to know that that is a silly straw man. It makes no sense whatsoever to proclaim that primitivism is the only alternative to contemporary democracy, let alone any kind of statism. This claim isn't even worth addressing.

# TomG said on 31 March, 2008 05:25 AM

If you bring 'participitory' process down to how it affects the individual participating, it of course means there's the risk that some of his/her votes and preferences will not go his/her way ... that's the cost of being part of any group where one has given up some personal autonomy to the will of a consensus in that group's decisions.  If everyone pulled out of a group whenever they didn't get their own way on everything, then that group's viability would be zero.  Which is why it was so easy for me to deem such as relegating man back to the level of hunters and yes, even 'silly straw' gatherers if you wish to be that specific ;)  Cheers, Tom

# Brainpolice said on 31 March, 2008 07:19 AM

Since I'm not going to regurgitate my entire post on why "Democracy Is Impossible", let me summarize why a true case of "participatory democracy", as in a state that is actually in the control of the people as a whole and has genuine participation is impossible: because in order for this to be realized every single person must literally be a member of the state appratus themselves and directly control everything. This is not how any state in history has ever worked because they are always oligarchal institutions directly controlled by an exclusive group. In the absence of every single person literally being inside of the state apparatus themselves and directly voting and deciding on all matters, a utopian impossibility if I've ever heard one, it cannot be said that the state can truly be representative of "the people" or that "the people" truly have a directly participatory say within the institution.



# TomG said on 31 March, 2008 05:28 PM

Ok, your points accepted - perhaps it's as good as it gets then!  If we all maintained our full self-autonomy then wouldn't it merely result in survival of the brutest (go ahead and try to claim property rights amongst in the midst of barbarians).  While at least a state - even one based on your dismal assessment of oligarchic control - allows for some semblance of order and safety (and last I checked, taxes beat a club over the head any day ;)

# Brainpolice said on 02 April, 2008 08:06 PM

The assumption that individual autonomy is "might makes right" makes no sense at all. The very point of the article here is that democracy reduces to "might makes right" in terms of numerical superiority. Individual autonomy is something that would be universally applied, since everyone is an individual. An autonamous individual is free FROM being clubbed over the head. That's the entire point of individual autonomy. And taxation is enforced under the threat of a club over the head (or being kidnapped and shot, to be more precise), so I don't buy into your argument there at all.

You have not proven that the state is an efficient or moral means to creating order and safety. You've merely asserted that and assumed, without proof, that in its absence there can be none. This is a very illogical view, as it assumes that society must be planned from above in order for there to be order. But, on the contrary, all genuine order is rather spontaneous. Social cooperation results from free interaction among people. People cannot be forced to be moral, they must choose to be moral. People cannot be forced to cooperate, they must choose to cooperate. Otherwise, the entire ballgame is self-contradictary, as you are using force in the name of peace.  

The state, of course, is made up of human beings no better then anyone else. So all of your negative acessments of human beings in the absence of rulers would apply to the rulers themselves. Accept the rulers don't have rulers! Strickly speaking, within the state, they live in an anarchic state of existance, with no 3rd party arbiter above them, no institution above them to impose laws, and so on. It is for this reason that the Hobbesian notion of human nature should logically lead to an endorsement of anarchism, not statism. Hobbe's proposed solution contradicts his own premises and falls prey to the very problems that he accuses anarchism of having.

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