Monday, January 18, 2010

Pol. Ideology 14: Liberalism, Democratism and Coercion

I just got a long comment from a reader, Terry Daly, in Part 1 of this discussion, posted last January 4, 2009.

Below are Terry’s comments, and further below, my additional discussion:
You confuse 'democratism' with 'democracy'. Fatal error.

As you say in your essay, 'democracy' is always prefaced by the words 'liberal', 'social', 'Christian', 'Moslem' et al. There is one major consequence to this. These ideologies and theologies always take precedence over 'democracy'. The 'democracy' element consists merely in individual citizens having one vote every five years - to elect a dictatorship (liberalist, socialist, Islamist, Christian et al), which is then at 'liberty' to act in blatant defiance of the will and wishes of the democratic majority in each and every piece of legislation it enacts and in each and every action it undertakes. Impressed? I'm not.

Take the present Obama health care legislation being rushed through the US Senate. All the polls show that the majority of the American people are against it. It's still being forced through. Take fundamental UN 'climate change' legislation. All the polls show the democratic majority of the people in America, Europe and many other places don't think such legislation is necessary. It's still being forced through. I could go on.

Now let me define 'democratism' for you. It's the will and rule of the democratic majority in all things at all times in every institution in every country. That's democratism. It hasn't happened yet. We're in the pre-democratism age.

Democratism as defined here, I'm sure you'll agree, bears no meaningful relationship to 'liberal democracy' or 'social democracy' or 'Islamic democracy' or 'Christian democracy'. These latter are all liberal, social, Islamic or Christian dictatorships, nothing more, nothing less.

I'm a democratist. I suggest you embrace democratism in place of your present classical liberalism. Classical liberalism has long ago lost the battle to social liberalism. Even if it hadn't lost the battle, classical liberalism in its heyday was never anything more than elective dictatorship - the antithesis of democratism - and therefore no different to contemporary social liberalism diktat and dictatorship.

Democratism as I have defined it here is a living, dynamic organism that gives each individual citizen a vote and a debate on everything, continuously, not merely once every five years to choose a dictatorship. Modern technology and the internet make all this possible. Everywhere.

Get ready. 2010 is about to witness the birth of democratism in Britain, America, Canada, Australia, Europe and elsewhere. From the bottom up.

Happy days.

There is one very important concept in my earlier essay that Terry failed to notice or failed to discuss: coercion. The use or non-use of coercion separates the philosophies among liberalism, democratism, authoritarianism, and other ideologies.

Take this quote, for instance: “Everyone should eat and be entitled to quality education, quality healthcare.” The related or consequential quotes or policies will be, “No one should die early of certain diseases because he or his parents is/are poor.”

In a society of no coercion to materialize such vision, each able-bodied and able-minded person should have a job and/or sufficient savings. Other people will have extra resources to take care of people with special needs, like people with physical and mental problems (the blind, authestic, paralyzed, etc.) and with special health needs.

In a society of institutionalized coercion, even the lazy and irresponsible who are very articulate and influential in political lobbying, will eat and be entitled to certain social and economic subsidies, courtesy of governments (democratic, authoritarian, etc.). Governments do this via high and multiple taxation, then redistribute the tax revenues from the industrious to the less-industrious and the various bureaucracies in government agencies that will implement the multiple tax collection and monitoring, agencies that will implement the distribution of subsidies and perks.

Barun Mitra of Liberty Institute in Delhi, India has a good but different definition of democracy. Barun wrote,
Democracy is Not majority rule. Democracy is the recognition and respect of dissent; democracy is appreciation of the rule of law; democracy is protection of minority opinion as the individual is the smallest minority; democracy is recognition of individual rights and property rights.
See his presentation here,

Compare Barun’s definition of democracy with Terry’s. Terry wrote above,

“Democratism… is… the will and rule of the democratic majority in all things at all times in every institution in every country.”

This “rule of the majority” is what can be dangerous. As Barun argued, the smallest minority is the individual. If the majority is affiliated with a particular religion and one or two person/s believe in another religion, then religious persecution is possible to implement the will and rule of the majority.

Is a society of zero or little coercion possible?

Definitely. We are actually seeing and experiencing it everyday. When we go out to buy food outside, thousands of food vendors, food shops, food manufacturers and distributors, are competing with each other to get our attention, to get our patronage and support. There is zero external coercion involve when we choose milk C over milk A, B, D, E, F, etc.

This society is the free market out there. Those who fail to get enough consumer attention and support will later be forced to close shop, and/or be forced to move to another industry or sub-industry and try their luck in attracting customers and clients there.

So a vote for classical liberalism and individual liberty is a vote for a society of less government intervention, less government regulation and taxation, and a society of more personal and parental responsibility.

Authoritarianism need not be practiced by a political minority, say a dictatorship with a big army and big police. Authoritarianism can also be practiced by the majority, by enacting into laws certain public policy measures that subsidize and favor certain sectors in society, while over-taxing and over-regulating other sectors of society.

A related note that I wrote more than two weeks ago, also discussing Barun's presentation:

Democracy and Coercion

January 02, 2010

A good friend of mine from India, Barun Mitra, heads the Liberty Institute in Delhi. He has written and talked a number of times on liberty and democracy. During the (3rd) Pacific Rim Conference in Singapore last october 14-15, Barun was the 1st speaker of the 1st panel of the conference. Barun spoke about democracy and why it's not equivalent to mob rule and the majority oppressing the minority (the smallest minority is the individual). During the open forum, more than half of the questions were directed to Barun :-)

I agree with Barun that democracy should be taken wholistically. Both economic and politicial democracy. But as I argued earlier, democracy per se, is not the problem or the solution. It's the coercion, state coercion using the laws, law enforcement agencies (police, armed forces, prison system), the legal system (courts and appeal courts), that makes whatever economic and political system potentially dangerous to the individual.

Most or all people will agree to the statement, "everyone should eat properly and have decent life."

If there was no state coercion involved, then it is assumed that everyone, the able-bodied and able-minded people, should work, so they will have money and resources to eat and live a decent life for their family and community. But ever since coercion was invented as a necessary part of government, certain sectors of society have mastered the art of political lobbying, not real working, as a way to feed themselves, their family, and other sectors.

First there is a big group of people who produce not a single kilo of food or transport a single person to do a service for a fee; these are the people who have become full time regulators and government administrators all their lives.

Second, there is another big group of people who rely on welfare and transfers. They may have zero work or work very little, but the entitlement system in society allows them to eat and have regular form of allowance and health insurance.

The US is the biggest democracy (or 2nd biggest, next to India?) in the world. Yet we hear many voices complaining that too much entitlement, expensive welfare system, all enabled by coercion in a democracy, is dragging the US economy and leaving a huge dent on the democractic process.

In a free market outside of government regulations and restrictions, there is full democracy without coercion. People patronize a particular food shop or barber shop or clothes and shoes shop, while ignoring the other shops. This forces the ignored ones to further improve their services or bring down their prices to attract more buyers.

So full democracy without or minimal coercion is possible. In government system, there may be full democracy (still subject to debate) but there is always coercion involved. And this makes the essence of government democracy questionable in the first place.

Anyway, just pondering on that nagging issue why I think it is coercion, not democracy or other forms of government structures and policies, that should concern us.

Of course I am not saying that it is possible to banish coercion from the face of the earth. There WILL always be coercion, happening in our daily lives, mostly done at the micro and household level. For instance, if our kids will not stop watching tv and they don't do their school assignment or will not go to bed early, we use our authority as parents or guardians to coerce those kids to stop watching tv all night. That's micro level of coercion. So as Hayek said, coercion is a matter of degree. Some coercion are at the household level, some at the societal level.

Some government coercion are useful and necessary, like the law against killing and murder, law against stealing and kidnapping, law against counterfeit and substandard medicines, law against adulterated and expired food and drinks, law against air and water pollution, and so on. They are deemed useful because they are meant to protect the citizens' right to life, right to private property, right to liberty and dignity.

It is those new set of coercion and social entitlement that has become problematic for social thinkers.

See also:
Pol. Ideology 8: Ideas on Liberty, September 15, 2007
Pol. Ideology 9: Liberty and Choice, Atlanta and HK Conferences, June 09, 2008
Pol. Ideology 10: Joe Stiglitz and the Market, December 16, 2008
Pol. Ideology 11: Liberalism, Democratism & Authoritarianism, January 04, 2009
Pol. Ideology 12: Lao Tzu, Cooperative Individualism, February 07, 2009
Pol. Ideology 13: Liberty and Liberty Forum, the LP, March 19, 2009


clay barham said...

As a nation, we have allowed ourselves to drift too far from our roots, those established when the Pilgrims arrived and when our system was codified by the 19th century Democrats from Jefferson, Madison on to Cleveland, as cited in The Changing Face of Democrats on and We’ve allowed the Old World ideas of Rousseau and Marx to infect our politics through the 20th century Democrats, and now we are paying the price for it. Whether we will regain our proven way again remains to be seen. Whether enough of the electorate will choose the New World way or stay the course being laid down by Obama and become just another nation ruled by the few elite over the wishes of the many with individual freedom a thing of the past is yet to be decided. America proved prosperity comes from freedom, not dictatorship.

Anonymous said...

Lets say our American democratic society is crumbling. Our American governmental structure is corrupt. Our American elected representatives are being paid by companies and large corporations. Our individual freedoms and civil liberties are just distant memories. Our private properties are being confiscated without due process. What is there left? If America is no longer democratic but a controlled nation, what choice does an individual citizen have? If there is just one path, then it is total anarchy. Total anarchy against the American government means an outright revolution. Think of it. From the time Columbus made the discovery to the turn of the 20th century, the Wild West was filled with anarchism. There were gunslingers almost everywhere. It was chaotic (anarchism). Get the point.