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ilrein
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What do you mean by "democracy"?

In a democracy, can a majority legitimately pass any law they want? For instance, if 75% of the population is Christian can they pass a law mandating Christianity as a religion? If not, why not?

You'll probably say they do not have the right to pass certain laws. In other words, there is a certain core of rights that each person has (freedom of/from religion in this particular example), and the majority may not violate that right.

If so, then that is the same as saying that democracy is not primary, rights are.

So, the primary political principle in Objectivism is that individual rights should be protected by the government, and that the only purpose of government is to protect those rights.

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In an ideal objectivist society, is democracy the form of government?

Are free markets synonymous with democracy?

I would be very cautious about democracy. One wit has characterized democracy as what you get when two wolves and a lamb vote on the evening's dinner menue.

Bob Kolker

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Considering it is a political question of to best protect rights, I'd say no it would not be a pure democracy. The best form I know of is a Constitutional Republic with a strong, immovable foundation of rights which could not be voted away. In the future another form of government could be created that is better, but until then I'd stick with the form we (should) have now.

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A government is only as good as its constitution, and its adherence to that constitution. In that respect, any government could suffice, so long as the constitution absolutely protected individual rights, and so long as the government actually abided by that constitution. No constitution can stop individuals/society from changing and deciding to render the constitution obsolete.

Edited by brian0918
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A constitutional republic is probably the form of government best suited to Objectivism, but until Objectivism predominates I think that some complimentary form of direct democracy is necessary.

Sometimes a popular referendum is the only way to check corrupt intellectual and political elites and preserve basic rights, as in Michigan where a ban on racial preferences used in university admissions was approved. The state legislature, the elected Board of Regents, the university faculties, and the U.S. Supreme Court had all failed in their respective roles to protect individual rights, a situation the voters were finally able to correct. This is the best argument in favor of democracy that I can think of. Of course, what works for good could also work for evil, but one should not lose sight of the capacity of democracy to defend individual rights in a society whose elites have gone completely awry.

How was it possible that the people had the right answer when the intellectuals were telling them otherwise? I'm not sure, but I suspect it had to do with the fact that there is more than a residue, not only of good sense among the people, but of belief in the broader abstractions concerning individual equality permeating the culture no matter what the intellectual elites said about affirmative action. The use of racial spoils in university admissions presented inequality of treatment in particularly acute and obvious terms, and people either sensed or could comprehend the contradiction. Of course, it was the majority's sons and daughters who had been adversely affected by the unequal treatment as well. The point is that democracy worked where the constitution and representative form had failed.

When things get bad enough that referenda are needed to protect rights, it's probably useful to step back and worry less about democracy and more about the philosophy that predominates among society's intellectuals. In that view, democracy is a temporary safeguard until such time as the intellectuals are set right and the political institutions of a republic can be better trusted to protect individual rights.

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Thanks for the replies!

The reason I ask is I do not know which form of government is ideal -- aside from it being limited. Is there a point to a democracy in a state where individual rights prioritize above all else? Is a prime minister/president necessary?

Yes, a leader is always necessary to make such decisions as when and how to go to war, and other such important things. However, the democratic capacity of a moral government would be restricted to only those such decisions as who should be President. Democracy is conformity without unanimity, in other words not everyone agreed on who should win the 08 election, but everyone got the same result. Democratic decision-making should be applied only where conformity is necessary and unanimity is impossible.

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Thanks for the replies!

The reason I ask is I do not know which form of government is ideal -- aside from it being limited. Is there a point to a democracy in a state where individual rights prioritize above all else? Is a prime minister/president necessary?

I recommend taking a look at these links and related topics in the Ayn Rand Lexicon:

http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/republic.html

http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/democracy.html

http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/represen...government.html

http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/constitution.html

In particular, Rand makes the connection between man's rational faculty and the derivative right to elect his representatives in government. At the same time, unlimited majority rule (democracy) is rejected as a Collectivist doctrine. A constitutionally limited representative republic is the form of government that is ideal for Objectivism.

As far as a prime minister/president, the salient point to be emphasized is that the chief executive, like the government, is limited: he must obey the constitution and laws. He is not a dictator who can exercise executive power according to whim (note that in the U.S., it is Congress, and not the president, that decides when to go to war, which subjects that important decision to reasoned debate). The need for a single chief executive to execute the laws is matched by the constitutional constraints by which he is bound.

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In an ideal objectivist society, is democracy the form of government?

Are free markets synonymous with democracy?

First you have to define democracy, which is not easy. John Adams struggled which defining both democracy and republic during his lifetime. And also, the definition has changed over time. For example, "liberal" used to mean some things that we would today consider to be "conservative", so we now have the term "classical liberal" to mean those things and liberal now is associated with left-wings ideas. So also, in the late 1700's democracy mostly meant 'all things decided by popular vote of all of the people", and Thomas Jefferson, among others, spoke out vehemently against it. Yet it wasn't much later that he founded the Democractic-Republican party.

I've had a history professor try to convince me that the word democracy has evolved over the last two centuries to mean the good things that I was espousing about a republic. So I replied, if it means the same thing and the definition of republic hasn't changed, why don't we just use republic. He didn't have an answer.

IMO, today the general definition that most people use for the word democracy has mostly to do with freedom and a nebulous idea of rights like the right to free speech. I suspect you may be residing in this camp. But, as others have pointed out, when you start to realize that the primary purpose of the government set up by the founders is to protect the rights of the people, and not to make everyone equal or to GRANT rights (we possess them before government), then you start to understand how the U.S. is (supposed to be) a republic.

So I think you'd find most Objectivist leaning towards a republic, which we have not had in a pure form in this country for quite some time.

Bob

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I see democracy as harmful (where it is yet another form of "cracy") or meaningless. A government that has to uphold individual rights doesn't need democracy, since all rights are set in stone and any laws that are added must conform to those.

When it comes to electing representatives, I don't see why the number of people who agree on something has any bearing on its legitimacy. A "lineage" of Objectivist scholars who specialize in various political fields would probably be a better idea.

Edited by L-C
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I see democracy as harmful (where it is yet another form of "cracy") or meaningless.

Which definition are you talking about?

A government that has to uphold individual rights doesn't need democracy, since all rights are set in stone and any laws that are added must conform to those.

A government needs a method of appointing its leadership. If elections are the best method, then a government needs democracy. If elections aren't the best method, then the government needs that method which is better. So you're basically stating that elections aren't the best method of electing a government's leadership. So what is?

To me, elections make sense, because a popular government can do its job more easily than an unpopular one.

When it comes to electing representatives, I don't see why the number of people who agree on something has any bearing on its legitimacy.

That depends on your definition of legitimacy. In Objectivism, a government is a means to an end (the means to upholding individual rights). I would think it makes sense to define a legitimate government as one which does its job. By that definition, a government no one agrees with will do its job far more poorly than one a majority of people agree with, so a wildly unpopular government is going to be an illegitimate one, that fails to protect people's rights effectively.

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Which definition are you talking about?

A system where people can make the government initiate force. A variant of the "cracy" general model where you can put X in front of it to determine who makes the government initiate force.

A government needs a method of appointing its leadership. If elections are the best method, then a government needs democracy. If elections aren't the best method, then the government needs that method which is better. So you're basically stating that elections aren't the best method of electing a government's leadership. So what is?

Appointment by a committee of Objectivist scholars stemming from a lineage (not genetic) of such with its origins from the country's founding. But in an Objectivist country it probably wouldn't matter much.

...so a wildly unpopular government is going to be an illegitimate one, that fails to protect people's rights effectively.

Only if the populace is Objectivist, which isn't something that should be depended upon.

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A system where people can make the government initiate force. A variant of the "cracy" general model where you can put X in front of it to determine who makes the government initiate force.

Everyone here is against that. Some of us just support the idea of elections, without the right of the elected government to initiate force.

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Everyone here is against that. Some of us just support the idea of elections, without the right of the elected government to initiate force.

I have no major objections to that, given the limited nature of what the elected would be able to actually do.

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Appointment by a committee of Objectivist scholars stemming from a lineage (not genetic) of such with its origins from the country's founding. But in an Objectivist country it probably wouldn't matter much.

I am sympathetic to the view that there ought to be an institutional place for intellectuals in the government, say in the composition of the upper house of the legislature (viz, the Senate). This would be somewhat akin to what the framers were shooting for with the expectation that senators would be elevated members of society, corrected for the Objectivist view that it is the intellectuals who occupy so exalted a position (in fact, we already have an example of this in academia, where the faculties are at least nominally in charge of the affairs of the institution, and extending that principle to the society at large doesn't sound altogether bad -- once their philosophical views are informed by Objectivism, of course).

However, such a design would have to be melded with the republican principle given that man's rational faculty entitles him to choose his agents in government. Even if the senatorial qualifications were modified to require some kind of intellectual cred, the choice of senators would ultimately have to devolve upon the people, even if indirectly. Food for thought.

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Democracy is inevitable. It is impossible to have a free society over time without majority support. As such, there is no alternative to democracy, and any political system will have to, to a large degree, work within the boundaries of the democracy, i.e. have the people's support. There is no help in a strong constitution if no-one is there to protect it.

However, I like to separate the concept into what I call macro-democracy and micro-democracy. Democracy means that the people rule, so on a macro level this means that the people rule society, while it on a micro level means that the individual rules his own life. A truly free society, and a true democracy, is where the macro-democracy is combined with the micro-democracy, with the latter defining the former. By that, I mean that every individual must be aware of how powerful government intervention is, and according to the principle of micro-democracy, vote to limit the use of it to necessity.

This separation implies that we as liberals* support the most extensive democracy, not only in society, but also on an individual level.

*) I call myself a liberal because I am in the true meaning of the word, as opposed to what you call liberals in English.

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I think it's important to recognize that, contrary to a popular notion, democracy does not cause freedom. As others have pointed out, whatever the intellectual and political climate, that is what will influence the amount of liberty in a country. This idiotic notion that all we have to do is "spread democracy" somehow still exists. (instead of spreading rationality) I'd rather live under a monarchy of Frederick the Great than a democracy under Hitler. The original question is interesting and important, yet it is secondary to philosophical change.

(for an interesting read, I suggest "Democracy in America" by Tocqueville for an enlightenment view)

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Democracy means that the people rule, so on a macro level this means that the people rule society....

:) Sorry, but IMO, that is a wholly inadequate, nebulous, wishy-washy definition of democracy.

You also seem to reside in the 'freedom and power-to-the-people' camp. The "people" also rule in a republic. But just how is it that they rule? Through representatives? Hmmm, a republic meets that definition also. What else? How MUCH power do the elected representatives have and why? Your post said nothing at all about "rights", which is the cornerstone of the (U.S.) Constitution. You might start there.

Bob Keller

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Your post said nothing at all about "rights", which is the cornerstone of the (U.S.) Constitution. You might start there.

I mentioned the constitution, and said that it doesn't help with a strong constitution if there is no support for it. This should implicate that I am not talking about the underlying principles, but the practical sides of a free society. In other words: Men have rights, but that doesn't matter if a majority of the people doesn't accept this fact.

A republic, or a representative democracy, is the primary form of democracy in the modern world, so the same applies to republics. It is only in the U.S. the word "republic" is used in the meaning a representative democracy; in Europe a republic merely means that the head of state, usually a president, is elected.

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I mentioned the constitution, and said that it doesn't help with a strong constitution if there is no support for it. This should implicate that I am not talking about the underlying principles, but the practical sides of a free society. In other words: Men have rights, but that doesn't matter if a majority of the people doesn't accept this fact.

A republic, or a representative democracy, is the primary form of democracy in the modern world, so the same applies to republics. It is only in the U.S. the word "republic" is used in the meaning a representative democracy; in Europe a republic merely means that the head of state, usually a president, is elected.

The definition and history of both words is MUCH more complicated than that. I will try to find my notes and post something more meaningful soon.

In the meantime think about this: every definition you've mentioned in this thread could apply to both a democracy and a republic by today's general understanding of the words (either here or in Europe). So since the word democracy is not used one single time in any of the founding documents (of the U.S.) and the word republic is not only in the founding documents, many of the founding fathers said and wrote about the government they created specifically as a republic (even our pledge allegiance says "and to the republic for which it stands", and they spoke and wrote about why the U.S. is NOT a democracy, why does anyone use the word democracy when referring to the U.S. today?

Bob Keller

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In the meantime think about this: every definition you've mentioned in this thread could apply to both a democracy and a republic by today's general understanding of the words (either here or in Europe). So since the word democracy is not used one single time in any of the founding documents (of the U.S.) and the word republic is not only in the founding documents, many of the founding fathers said and wrote about the government they created specifically as a republic (even our pledge allegiance says "and to the republic for which it stands", and they spoke and wrote about why the U.S. is NOT a democracy, why does anyone use the word democracy when referring to the U.S. today?

Bob Keller

That sort of political and philosophical corruption goes back the Woodrow Wilson administration. Even Lincoln, who was a heavy handed statist referred to government of the people, by the people and for the people which is the English language version of res publica (public thing) aka republic.

Just a side note: most people think this crap started with FDR and the New Deal. Not so. It started at least as far back as Wilson and was implicit in the way the United States was reconstructed following the Civil War. The Federal Republic envisioned by the Founders, was replaced with unitary National Government. Everything else follows from that perversion. In very short order National Government becomes Natzional Government.

I weep for the Republic.

Bob Kolker

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I don't see how elections of political representatives in an individual rights-respecting country (where the initiation of force is banned) constitutes democracy anyway. The term democracy is meaningless if it doesn't enable people to (make the state) violate rights. That's what it's all about.

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Personally, I kind of like some of Heinlein's proposals from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress for replacing the "pick from this list" representative selection method. My personal favorite is the idea that to become a representative, you have to accrue a certain large number of signatures from supporters. You then represent those people positively, instead of having a large portion of people in your constituency who voted for the other guy.

It would be interesting to see the result. On one hand, the legislature might be so large that it couldn't get anything passed (not necessarily bad), or it might be so small that only the very best people could get into it.

Personally, I'd like to see FEWER positions elected. Why am I voting for District Attorney again?

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