book reviews

Democracy books

Reviewed by:
name and address

Democracy: The God That Failed
The economics and politics of monarchy, democracy, and natural order
Hans-Hermann Hoppe

T he choice between monarchy and democracy is a choice between two defective social orders, says Hans-Hermann Hoppe in this important book. If a State were necessary, a monarchy might even be better than a democracy. But to Hoppe, both types of government are coercive and monopolistic. Any monopoly, even a democratic one, that has the power to force people to subsidize it through taxation automatically becomes an instrument of injustice and aggression. Democracy is a form of mob rule, and produces bad policies and bad leaders. He writes:

"[D]emocracy virtually assures that only bad and dangerous men will ever rise to the top of government; indeed, ... those who rise will become increasingly bad and dangerous individuals." [p.88]

In its place, Hoppe proposes a system he calls a “natural order”, which could also be called “private property anarchism” or “pure capitalism,” in which all public services are funded by customers or private donors. Essentially this is a Rothbardian libertarian state.

By now, I hear many of you saying, “Aw, Jeez, not this shit again!” If Murray Rothbard put Ludwig von Mises's libertarianism in the ground, Hoppe seems determined to bury it deeper by throwing democracy, which is still quite popular in many circles, in the grave with it. But Hoppe goes far beyond Rothbard. First, his major ideas:

If freedom is to have any meaning, says Hoppe, voters should be free to vote for secession at all levels. If people could create and dissolve countries at will, it would create a free market for citizenship. Just as a free market for trade creates prosperity, a free market for citizenship would create better government.

These small states would not have to print their own currency, but would use an international commodity money system like the gold standard. I don't know how practical that particular idea would be, but letting countries compete for citizens might just solve a great many other problems. Hoppe certainly thinks so. Says Hoppe: “It would create a world of unheard of prosperity, economic growth, and cultural advancement.”

Rothbard argued in The Ethics of Liberty (1982) that the right to secession logically leads to individual secession, which is the same as anarchy. Both Hoppe and Rothbard see this as a desirable outcome. Thus, Hoppe advocates not so much the abolition of democracy, but of government altogether. Once instituted, he argues, government invariably leads to socialism. Therefore, he proposes, for instance, to use private insurance companies to replace the criminal justice system and for property owners to purchase judicial services [p.247]. This is probably too close to Rothbardian anarchism for many libertarians to swallow. But what Hoppe really wants to abolish is welfare socialism, an economic model that is clearly doomed. In this he makes common cause with today's conservatives, though he criticizes both neocons and paleocons like Patrick Buchanan, calling both “statist.”

Hoppe makes a good point: the richest countries today on a per capita basis are not the big Western countries, but small autonomous states like Qatar, Luxembourg, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Hoppe's ideas might have a few little kinks to work out, but you have to admit, it's breathtakingly radical thinking.

dec 09, 2012

The People Have Spoken and They Are Wrong: The Case Against Democracy
David Harsanyi

J onah Goldberg once said that David Harsanyi is such a happy warrior he's like Genghis Khan on Prozac. In this book Harsanyi goes off Prozac altogether and reminds us that democracy has many problems: it promotes the tyranny of the mob. It leads to populism and bad economic policies. It has never really succeeded except in countries with a Western tradition.

The residents of Japan and South Korea might disagree with that last part, but even granting the premise, what's the alternative? The average person loves democracy because it gives him or her a voice, however small, in how the country is governed. This in turn gives democracies a legitimacy and stability that other systems will never have.

It's undeniable that democracy has real flaws, which Harsanyi describes eloquently. A democratic system that elects a government as corrupt as ours is clearly broken. But democracy is a tough thing to argue against. To make a convincing case Harsanyi would either need to refute this point about democracy's legitimacy or recommend specific reforms.

Traditionally authors of political books, after they're done ranting about all the things that are wrong with the country, make some kind of suggestions on what to do about it. Harsanyi declines, saying only that we should keep our republican style of government. “Don't vote!” he says, somewhat flippantly, in the last few pages. As a result his argument, and his book, feel unfinished. As that Klingon who followed Jean-Luc Picard halfway across the galaxy only to hear a dull speech said: That's all!?

nov 14, 2015; updated dec 05, 2015

Beyond Democracy
Frank Karsten and Karel Beckman

H as democracy failed? These two European libertarians think so. In what is more like a pamphlet than a book, they present thirteen common myths about democracy, like “democracy leads to prosperity” and “democracy leads to freedom and tolerance” and explain why the myth is not quite true. While this book mainly discusses America, democracy's failings are even more apparent in Europe, where bureaucrats and democratically elected governments severely restrict freedom of speech and regulate everyday life right down to the amount of curvature permissible on their bananas.

I happen to like my banana straight, TYVM. The government should keep its hands off my banana. But even here in America, what we really have is more like a “tyranny of the majority,” which gets to dictate what we teach our children, how we run our businesses, and what we are allowed to eat and drink. Like prisoners, we have no freedom to secede. So just how credible is it when we say we love democracy, when we have no alternative short of moving to a foreign country? In return for the privilege of being told how to live, we get to give half our income to the government, which uses it on things at least half of us do not want. In France and Italy, things are even worse: nearly 40% of government spending is on welfare.

Democracy is not the same as freedom. Instead, the authors say, democracy is closer to being a form of socialism. It gives the majority power to rule over the minority. It is collectivist in nature and leads to more government intervention and less individual freedom, because people make demands on the government but expect others to pay the costs. End result: bureaucracy and economic stagnation. In the Netherlands, for example, in response to complaints about crime, 7000 new police were added. But only 127 were actually put on the streets to fight crime. The rest spent their days filling out forms.

What's the solution? Following Hans-Hermann Hoppe (see review at left), they say: make governments compete, as companies do, by allowing states and regions to secede. Break up the monopoly. Let a thousand nations bloom. And, while you're at it, repeal the 16th Amendment, which authorized a federal income tax.

Now how come we Americans didn't think of that? Well, I vaguely remember that someone tried seceding one time, and it caused a big argument. The federal government is strong now. But once our politicians finish bankrupting the world's remaining superpower, it will be more like a wounded animal that exists solely to suck resources from the economy, and there will be no advantage in keeping it around. Secession would be a no-brainer. The states would form a loose federation, and we would get our freedom back.

dec 08, 2012

See also:
Books by Hans-Hermann Hoppe