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Freedom vs. Unlimited Majority Rule

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The concept of freedom rests on a government limited to the protection of individual rights, while the concept of democracy rests on a government run by unlimited majority rule; we need to stop confusing these two opposite ideas.

By Peter Schwartz

America's foreign policy has led to a bizarre contradiction. President Bush claims to be pursuing freedom in the world, so that Americans will be safer. Yet this campaign's results--a more zealous proponent of terrorism in the Palestinian Authority, and the prospect of theocracy in Iraq--are posing even greater threats to us.

The cause of this failure is Mr. Bush's hopeless view that tyranny is reversed by the holding of elections--a view stemming from the widespread confusion between freedom and democracy.

Ask a typical American if there should be limits on what government may do, and he would answer: yes. He understands that each of us has rights which no law--regardless of how much public support it happens to attract--is entitled to breach. An advocate of democracy, however, would answer: no.

The essence of democracy is unlimited majority rule. It is the notion that the government should not be constrained, as long as its behavior is sanctioned by majority vote. It is the notion that the function of government is to implement the "will of the people." It is the notion we are espousing when we tell the Iraqis, the Palestinians and the Afghanis that the legitimacy of their new governments rests essentially on their being democratically approved.

And it is the notion that was repudiated by the founding of the United States.

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