Monday, March 14, 2011
Law and Freedom and the Emergent Demos
Somewhere successful government is the balanced combination of the rule of law and democratic choices. This essay discusses this at length and is worth the read.
Present volatility in the Arab world has begun the process of cutting the autocracies free, just as happened a generation ago in both the communist world and the Latin World in particular.
If we have learned anything, it is that the process is naturally jerky. Few modern democracies are yet in place, but they are all clearly evolving toward just that. Yet most began with their people hitting the bricks and that possibility informs all leaders today in those post revolution countries. Everyone senses a real limit to their authority. Even the Chinese sense it.
There are still autocracies out there and they are all now rethinking their options. Most will continue to coast only because their people will let them.
There Is No Viable "
James A. Dorn
August 2001 • Volume: 51 • Issue: 8 •
James Dorn is vice president for academic affairs at the Cato Institute.
The collapse of communism in 1989 in Eastern and Central Europe, and the fall of the Soviet Union two years later, have increased the number of democracies in the world to a total of 120. Of those, however, only 85 are classified as “free” by Freedom House—a stark reminder that creating a free society requires limiting government. That in turn requires limiting majority rule and protecting property rights.
Emerging democracies can learn from James Madison’s constitutional vision: The danger is that without limited constitutional government, electoral democracies (with universal suffrage) will undermine what F. A. Hayek called the “constitution of liberty.”
Individual rights will then lose ground to special interests, and civil society will be weakened as all aspects of life become politicized. Instead of becoming less visible, the state will become more powerful.
“The essence of government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human
hands, will ever be liable to abuse.” The fundamental question that concerned
Madison, and the other framers of the Madison Constitution, was how to
prevent the abuse of governmental power while protecting individual rights to
life, liberty, and property. U.S.
Madison’s view, justice, liberty, and
property are inseparable: “That alone is a just government,” wrote , “which
impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own.” Like Hayek, Madison viewed justice as
“rules of just conduct,” not as some officially sanctioned distribution of
income that satisfies some subjective criterion of “social justice.” Madison
Madison accepted Adam Smith’s distinction between perfect and imperfect rights, where “perfect rights” are associated with consent and commutative justice, while “imperfect rights” are associated with force and distributive justice. Imperfect rights, such as the “right to welfare,” are rights only in a “metaphorical sense”: they cannot be exercised without violating someone’s property rights.
True justice requires the protection of property rights, not the promotion of the welfare state. No one has the right to be compassionate with other people’s money.
That view of democracy clashes with the welfare state and its open-ended vision of democratic government. Today, in both emerging and mature democracies, the rule of law and freedom have been sacrificed to majoritarian politics—a danger
warned against. Madison
Just Government and Spontaneous Order
Madison supported limited government not only because he thought it was just but because he recognized, as did Adam Smith, that limiting government to the defense of persons and property prevents corruption and lays the basis for the emergence of a spontaneous market order and wealth creation.
Madison wrote, “ and order will never be perfectly
safe, until a trespass on the constitutional provisions for either, shall be
felt with the same keenness that resents an invasion of the dearest rights;
until every citizen shall be an Argus to espy.” Liberty
Argus, of course, refers to a giant with 100 eyes who acts as a guardian—in
case, a guardian of our liberties. In a free society, citizens must be vigilant
and be able “to espy”—that is, to see at a distance—and use reason to discern
the long-run implications of alternative policies. Madison
Unless people learn to judge policy from a constitutional or long-run viewpoint, and not just consider it in the postconstitutional setting of majority rule, they will lose their freedom. By taking a long-run view and exercising “right reason,” individuals are more likely to agree to constitutional limits that insulate economic life from politics and prevent “rent”-seeking behavior that redistributes, rather than creates, wealth. That is a point James M. Buchanan, founder of the Public Choice school of economics, has so eloquently stated.
Lessons for Emerging Democracies
There are several important lessons that emerging democracies can learn from
constitutional vision: Madison
For true democracy to prevail, government must be limited and must be just; the security of persons and property must take precedence over electoral politics.
To prevent rent-seeking and corruption, economic freedom must prevail; people must accept a rule of law that treats people equally under the law and safeguards private property rights and freedom of contract.
A spontaneous market-liberal order will arise to coordinate economic activity and create wealth, provided the government minimizes its role in the economy and lets people be free to choose.
A free society cannot coexist with a redistributive state—there is no “
Third Way”; people
must be ever vigilant to ensure that majorities are prevented from violating
the rights of minorities in the name of distributive justice.
How quickly those lessons are learned in countries making the transition to democracy will depend crucially on the size and scope of government in the old regime and the duration of the old regime. For countries that had all-powerful governments and central planning for long periods of time, the transition to a liberal democratic state with the rule of law and free markets cannot be expected to occur as quickly as in countries with smaller governments, some experience with markets, and a memory of freedom.
The Freedom House rankings for democratization and economic liberalization for ex-communist countries, as of June 1999, show that nearly all of the post-Soviet states, or Newly Independent States, lag significantly behind Eastern and Central European countries that had previous experience with a liberal political and economic order.
Similar results hold for the Freedom House’s rankings for adherence to the rule of law and for the extent of corruption. Ex-communist countries that experienced the rule of law prior to World War II and respected property rights—such as
Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia—have
made faster progress on moving toward the rule of law and reducing corruption
during the transition to democratic capitalism than countries such as Russia and . Ukraine
is making such slow progress should not be surprising; it takes time to change
one’s thinking after so many years under totalitarian rule. As Alexander
Tsypko, a professor of philosophy at Moscow State University, wrote in the Cato
Journal in 1991, just prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union: “It is
hard—very hard—to admit that your life and your work are being senselessly
wasted and that you are living in an unnatural, false society, headed with your
country for the dead end of history.” Russia
The future of limited government in emerging democracies will depend on adherence to the rule of law and justice in the Madisonian sense. Citizens and leaders need to think about the proper scope of government and recognize the dangers of universal suffrage when there is no effective limit to the scope of government.
fundamental question is still relevant today, namely: How can we protect
individual rights against majoritarian interests that violate private property
In conclusion, emerging democracies need to consider the long-run implications of alternative rules, not just look at short-term policy options for redistributing income and wealth. They need to foster an ethos of law and liberty. Moreover, they need to recognize that change will take time and that there is no viable “
Ultimately, political freedom requires economic freedom, and vice versa. To
protect both requires limited government.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for the future of limited government is to move
toward the rule of law and freedom. China’s leaders should heed the advice of
Jixuan Hu, who recently wrote: China
··By setting up a minimum group of constraints and letting human creativity work freely, we can create a better society without having to design it in detail. That is not a new idea, it is the idea of law, the idea of a constitution. Real constitutional government is a possible alternative to the dream of a perfectly designed society. . . . The idea is to apply the principle of self-organization.
History has proven that
was right and Marx was wrong. The future of freedom and democracy rests with
the Madisonian vision of limited government. Let us salute the “great little Madison .” One person can
make a big difference! Madison