Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Smallest Minority

From the Washington Post:

The Mannassass, VA City Council passed a zoning ordinance that “restricts households to immediate relatives, plus one unrelated person, and excludes aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins and other members of the extended family. A family of seven that includes nieces and nephews is now illegal in Manassas, for instance, even if the occupancy limit is 10.

City officials admitted that the ordinance was aimed at Hispanics and might have been a
mistake. But what happens when legislators don't admit to their mistakes? Who
pays the price for their errors and arrogance whether they admit to them or

Some might say that only the target of the legislation suffers, such as Hispanics in the case of the Manassas ordinance. But the truth is, we all suffer and we all pay the cost.

Of course, legislation targeting specific people is frequently enacted, and in regard to many different issues. And usually the target is some “undesirable” segment of the population, such as sexually oriented businesses, or high rise developers, or smokers.

All that is required is a large enough group to pressure legislators. Acting on the democratic principle that the majority rules, those legislators happily trample on the rights of one group in an effort to appease the demands of another group. There are two things wrong with this.

The first is that the majority should rule—i.e., that the values of the majority can be imposed upon the minority. The Founding Fathers warned against democracy. Thomas Jefferson: “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.” James Madison: “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.” John Adams: “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.”

The Founders understood that democracy is incompatible with freedom. They established a constitutional republic in which the rights of the minority—and the individual is the smallest minority—were protected.

The second error is the belief that individuals are to be subservient to the group. Those who refuse are forced to do so, through the threat (or actual exercise) of fines or jail. This view holds that individuals are expendable, that only the welfare of the group matters. And this is precisely what occurs—individuals are sacrificed to the group. All of us are potential victims. All of us are always in the minority—all of us are individuals.

Most Houstonians would shudder in horror if our city officials suggested an altar be erected in downtown Houston for the purpose of human sacrifices. Yet they do not hesitate to run to those same officials to demand the same. They demand that developers be prohibited from pursuing their dreams. They demand that business owners be regulated, controlled, and prevented from using their own independent judgment to provide the goods and services consumers desire. They do not hesitate to sacrifice the money, time, dreams, and lives of those with whom they disagree.

That these sacrifices do not involve ripping the beating heart from their victims does not change the nature of their demands. They seek to place shackles on the ambitions of businessmen. They seek control over the lives of their fellow citizens. And when they can convince enough legislators to act according to their wishes, we all get laws like that passed in Manassas.

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