Representative democracy may be compatible with the existence and maintenance of a free society, but it is neither necessary nor sufficient for it.
Representative democracy gone wrong can be a very dangerous thing. There are numerous examples from history, the most alarming being Nazi Germany – Hitler was elected and used the legislative process to get the laws he wanted. This example, while extreme, is only one of many. In fact it is probably more the rule than the exception, that representative democracies tend, gradually or rapidly, to erode the very freedoms that allowed them to be established in the first place. A dictatorship of a majority (or a plurality) is a dictatorship none-the-less, and it is not surprising that it often gives in to the temptations facing most dictatorships. In representative democracies this erosion comes from the tenacious pursuit by powerful interest coalitions of their economic and ideological self-interest (labor unions, environmentalists, steel producers, farmers of every kind, trial lawyers, you name it) – trying to obtain through the coercive political process what they cannot achieve through the competitive, but non-coercive, marketplace.
Barak Obama is the quintessential messiah of this erosion. It is his mission to use the democratic process to erode the respect shown to the competitive private property system on which our very civilization depends. How does this happen? Why do civilizations like ours flirt with suicide? Too big a question to answer fully in this space. The short answer consists of two elements – the free-riders and the economically-ignorant. Sometimes they overlap. The special interest groups, like the teachers unions who oppose the existence of free choice in education because they know it will threaten their incompetent existence, are free-riders; imposing the costs of their incompetence on the uneducated and mis-educated youth of America and the rest of us. The "liberal" ideologues who think that all the wrongs of the world are the result of the inequality in wealth and circumstance that accompany economic growth, and the evil intentions of those who benefit the most from it, are eco-ignoramuses. Sad to say, the majority of American Jews, who should know better, are part of this group.
Today's Wall Street Journal contains two pieces that address these issues. In a short editorial the editors bemoan the fact that, while the media's radar is fixedly tuned to the nationalization of health-care, the Obama administration has quietly killed a resoundingly successful education voucher program, benefitting 1700 low-income kids in Washington DC. This is a real scandal that deserves to be blasted from the rooftops. It is a sad and cynical example of both free-riding and ideological hubris backed up by economic ignorance.
The other piece is an article by Norman Podhoretz bearing the title of his just-published book, "Why are Jews Liberals?" It is truly astounding the extent to which America Jews evince a basic ignorance of the dangers of allowing government to accumulate too much power. It is astounding because if any group in history should understand that the power for good is also the power for abuse, it is they. It is they moreover who have been amongst the most prominent beneficiaries of the free-market system over the last 150 years. It is they who should understand that without freedom all of their other "progressive" social aims must fail. It is they who should understand that without freedom and secure property rights there can be no escape from poverty, that onerous taxation results in disinvestment and inefficiency and corruption – they should know this from their history if they would take the time to remember it.
As Podhoretz points out, however, the secularization of American Jews has resulted not only in the abandonment of their fundamentalist religious roots, but also in the passionate embrace of a new religion – the secular religion of the Democratic party that they call "liberalism" which should more accurately be called "statism." Having being given the freedom in America to choose to abandon their fundamentalist religious identities they are now leading the charge to have America abandon the essential ingredients of that very freedom itself. Could anything be more frustratingly ironic?
Secularization – the separation of religion and state, or, more importantly, the preventing of any religion from becoming law – is an absolute necessity in a free society. But if the benefits of freedom are to be sustained, the secularized must not be allowed to succeed in harnessing the power of the state for the achievement of their newly adopted secular "religion." This simply puts new, and deceitful clothes, on the same old pretender. The solution, however, is not a return to fundamentalism, as right-wing religious enthusiasts (Jews and Christians) think it is. It is rather an affirmation in concrete terms of the virtues of individual autonomy and the necessity of maintaining a break on the accumulation of power by any branch of government no matter how well-intentioned.
If this be seen as its own "religion," so be it. It is the only one that can save us from ourselves.