by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Critiques of democracy are as old as the excesses of the Athenian variety. Here’s a classic: The unmediated masses are as capable of doing an injustice as any aristocracy or tyrant. In America, it’s acceptable to say, as shorthand, that we’re living in a Western liberal democracy. But the fact is that we live in a federal, constitutional republic, because the Framers mistrusted democracy, and the vast majority of Americans retain a great part of that mistrust. We’ve extended the franchise, amended the Constitution to permit the direct election of senators, and we’re likely to eventually abandon the electoral college and elect presidents by the popular vote. But there is broad, deep support for anti-democratic features of our system, like the Bill of Rights.
All of this is totally uncontroversial — unless it is uttered by Senator Rand Paul, the national politician most likely to evoke irrational paranoia from the political press. …
… For 2,000 years, critics of unmediated democracy have warned about the masses abusing individuals and minorities. The American system was built from the very beginning to check democratic excesses.
But if Rand Paul distrusts democracy he must’ve gotten it from Ayn Rand.
It’s also interesting that [“serial anti-libertarian” Jonathan] Chait regards Rand’s formulation as “militant.” Let’s look at it again. “I do not believe that a majority can vote a man’s life, or property, or freedom away from him.” Does Chait believe that a democratic majority should be able to vote a man’s life or freedom away? I know that Chait (like Rand Paul) believes that the government can tax a portion of a citizen’s wealth. Should a democratic majority be able to single out an individual man and vote away his property? Believing otherwise is certainly not unique to Objectivists, libertarians, or Republicans.