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Hana Fischer: “Democracy as We Know It Is a Tyranny of the Majority”

By: Belén Marty - @belenmarty - Oct 10, 2014, 1:17 pm
Hana Fisher suggests democracy could be well improved if politicians did not have the power to intervene in the economy.
Hana Fischer suggests democracy could be well improved if politicians did not have the power to intervene in the economy. (Hana Fischer)

EspañolHana Fischer is passionate about philosophy, politics, and economics. She is lucky enough to live in Montevideo, Uruguay. She is a researcher, a PanAm Post columnist, and author of Democracy, or Dictatorship of the Majority? (also available on Kindle), edited by Grito Sagrado, the publisher that brought Ayn Rand’s works to Argentina.

Fischer believes in social spontaneity, and in small-scale experimentation outside of the state, such as the “startup cities” projects, because “the state tends to centralize everything.”

The writer does not hesitate when she says that the public doesn’t know the real Pepe Mujica. “Outside of Uruguay, people aren’t aware of what José Mujica is really like. We can assure you that he is like Chávez, in the sense that he has 50 different ideas every day. He is in our media all day, saying any such nonsense.”

Controversially, Fischer does not support Uruguay’s approach to the legalization of marijuana. For her, laws should only have one aim: to “liberalize.” She does not believe the state should be involved in any way in regulating the consumption of the plant. After all, we are all adults, right?

Why bother with democracy when it seems to inevitably lead to a tyranny of the majority, as Bastiat explained in the 19th century?

Democracy — like all human constructs — is an imperfect system that can be perfected. The way in which it is conceived and functions today, it tends to lead to a tyranny of the majority. This is what Frédéric Bastiat recognized. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. That’s why efforts to gradually improve it are worthwhile.

The crucial point is what does it mean to improve it? I don’t doubt that the “welfare state” and the idea of “affirmative action” came out of good intentions. We can’t forget that “equality under the law” was one of the most important results to come out of the Enlightenment.

Improving the quality of democracy means completely abolishing privi-leges (“private laws”). This includes the fact that some groups or businesses are exempt from taxation, and that different rules apply according to whether someone belongs to the private or public sphere.

Furthermore, common law should apply to everyone equally, including government representatives. This means that the same rules apply to the actions of individuals or the authorities. For example, if someone charges me for a service I did not receive, that’s considered a “scam” or a “fraud.” So, why then can the government charge taxes for services that we do not receive, like maintaining infrastructure or public safety? Shouldn’t the same rules apply to the government?

Another important thing would be to avoid professional politicians. Elected officials should not be able to serve for more than two terms. The knowledge that they will have to follow the same laws they pass would be a good antidote to avoid bad and abusive laws.

In addition, closed candidate lists that force people to vote for a group of candidates rather than a single candidate must be abolished, because it means that people are voting for people they’ve never even heard of. This system is an insult to its citizens. This method ensures that power does not reside with the people, but with party leaders, as they are ones who can determine how candidates are placed on the list in terms of political favors, rather than the voters making the decision.

In my opinion, smaller constituencies could help address this problem, so people can meet the candidates face to face for various elected positions.

If democracy renders monarchy redundant, what system would render democracy redundant?

It is possible for monarchies to exist harmoniously alongside democracy in certain parts of the world. In the case of constitutional monarchies like Great Britain, Holland, Norway, etc., these are places where quality of life is very high.

I don’t agree that democracy has made monarchy redundant. The crux of the issue is not just the fundamental ideology behind government institutions, but how they function in practice. There are democratic tyrannies (like Venezuela or Argentina), and monarchical tyrannies. Democracy and monarchy are not antithetical.

Why is there so much faith put into democracy when it is has failed so many times, and when its “representatives” defy the will of their constituents?

I think that the best response to this question comes from Winston Churchill: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

That said, it doesn’t mean that as citizens we should not always try to preserve it and make it better. We cannot be complacent or assume that democratic institutions or republics will simply take care of themselves.

What are the channels through which democracy leads to demagoguery?

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Democracy, or Dictatorship of the Majority? reviewed by Ana Lía Turi. (Hana Fischer)

The reasons why democracy leads to demagoguery were explored deeply by Aristotle in Politics. When analyzing this form of government, he notes that there are five kinds of democracy. He explains that in four of them, citizens do not always have all the same political rights. However, whatever form it takes, “the law reigns supreme” in those four types.

Aristotle says that in democracies in which the law rules, there are no demagogues. Society’s most respected citizens lead the state. He claims demagogues only appear where the law has lost supremacy. The people then become a monarch, comprised of a majority who rule as a collective. He then says, “At all events this sort of democracy, which is now a monarch, and no longer under the control of law, seeks to exercise monarchical sway, and grows into a despot.” From that moment, the people’s “flatterers,” the demagogues, then have their way in.

What do you make of the way Jorge Luis Borges defines democracy, as a “widespread superstition, an abuse of statistics?”

What Jorge Luis Borges says is not to be taken lightly. He is someone who always goes beyond the surface and often says many “inconvenient truths.” I’ve always wondered if this Argentinean author is a writer who philosophizes, or a philosopher who expresses his ideas through literature. Either way, he is someone who always makes me think.

With regard to his definition of democracy, it is in line with that of an individualist. It’s worth noting that, in my view, an individualist is someone who defends the individual. In other words, someone who defends human beings and their dignity against overwhelming collectivism and corporatism.

The way I interpret Borges’s use of the word “superstition” is as an attempt to highlight the obvious: democracy is supposedly a “government of the people,” and the “government serves its constituents,” but that is a fantasy. Those in government and authority work in their own self interest, and rely on the support of certain groups. There is an exchange of favors between them: political support for perks and privileges.

As far as an “abuse of statistics,” I take this to mean that Borges is suggesting that just because the majority thinks a certain way, it doesn’t make it right. Furthermore, quite often we see that this is the mechanism through which many authoritarian rulers enact anti-republican policies. The problem is that the meaning of democracy has been distorted. Originally, it was just a way to elect leaders and decide on certain matters that concern everyone. But now this mechanism is used in inappropriate ways, often used to diminish individual rights and liberties.

Is it possible to avoid the influence of special interests and rent-seekers in a democratic system?

In my opinion the formula is simple. I would remove the government’s power to intervene in the economy at any level. State-owned companies or industries would be absolutely prohibited. And as the saying goes, “once the dog dies, the rabies are gone.”

Belén Marty Belén Marty

Belén Marty is the Libertarian Latina, a journalist based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She has lived in Guatemala, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States and is a former candidate for local office with Argentina's Libertarian Party. Follow @BelenMarty.