Sunday, May 18, 2008

Democracy and Rights

The newest survey by Rice University professor Dr. Stephen Klineberg shows that a majority of Houstonians’ favor additional land use restrictions. The results are being used to fuel a renewed debate over zoning and other land use controls. However, the debate is largely founded on a false premise. Those in favor of expanded government control over land use, and many of those opposed, imply that the desires of the majority should prevail. If the majority wants more restrictions, then it is right and proper. Some may argue that this is simply democracy in action. However, our Founding Fathers recognized that democracy is nothing more than a tyranny of the masses:

“There is no maxim, in my opinion, which is more liable to be misapplied, and which, therefore, more needs elucidation, than the current one, that the interest of the majority is the political standard of right and wrong.” James Madison

“Democracy... while it lasts is more bloody than either [aristocracy or monarchy]. Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.” John Adams

“A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.” Thomas Jefferson

Despite common perceptions, the Founders did not establish a democracy, but a constitutional republic. The Founders sought to protect the rights of individuals from the whims and passions of the majority. The individual, after all, is the smallest minority.

One of the most fundamental of rights is the right to property, that is, the right to own, use, and dispose of material values. The right to property means that the owner may use his property as he chooses, without interference from others. Of course, he must respect the mutual rights of others.

Those rights are not subject to a vote. The number of people espousing an idea, as James Madison wrote, does not determine the truth of that idea or the standard of right and wrong. The rights of the individual, including property rights, are sacrosanct.

Unlimited majority rule—i.e., democracy—allows the majority to do as it pleases because it is the majority. Principles such as individual rights get trampled in the process.

Our Founders understood the evils of democracy. It is time that we did so as well.

No comments: