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A very wise man* once told me there are really only three ways our species has ever found to organize itself. The first is for one guy -- a chief, a king, an emperor -- to tell everybody else what to do. Over the past 9500 years, since people started living together in villages, towns, and cities, that's how the majority of human societies have worked.
A distressing number of them still do.
The second choice is for everybody to tell everybody else what to do. The Greeks thought this one up about 2500 years ago, but it took a couple of millennia to catch on, hitting its peak popularity about two centuries ago. Since then, it's been downhill all the way. There are some undeniable reasons for that; we'll examine a few of them here. The worst part is that this choice is inherently unstable, usually reverting, fairly quickly, to one guy telling everybody else what to do.
We appear to be going through that process now.
The third choice is that nobody tells anybody else what to do. Regrettably, this hasn't been explored very much, because there's absolutely nothing in it for those who hunger for power over the lives of others. Examples most frequently cited are ancient Ireland and medieval Iceland, although there's a smidgeon of archaeological evidence for it in Turkey, about 9500 years ago, at a place called Catalhoyuk.
Given the way the world has bounced back and forth, just in modern times, between the first choice and the second choice, getting worse and worse practically every year, certainly every decade -- "being shaved by an insane barber" is the way Walter Huston put it in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre -- it's clear that we need a lot less of the first two choices while we give the third choice a chance to prove itself.
INSTEAD OF WHAT WE NEED
Well, it's clear to you and me, perhaps.
Apparently it's not so clear to a gaggle of what my good friend and colleague, cartoonist Rex "Baloo" May calls "squarepeggers" -- bowtie and propellor beanie types who urgently desire to see America run as that worst of all imaginable political systems, an absolute democracy, an arrangement that, historically, has frequently been described as a sheep and three coyotes voting on what to have for lunch.
They (the bowtie and propellor beanie types, not the coyotes) call themselves the "National Initiative For Democracy" or "NI4D" (add a dot com to that to find their website for yourself) when they aren't calling themselves "Philadelphia II", and it appears that they got their big idea from former United States Senator Mike Gravel of Alaska, one of the few in recent political history who makes Al Gore -- or Jerry Brown, for that matter -- look like a staid conservative statesman.
Or a model of sanity.
The gist of the thing is that they want to pass a law, add another amendment to the Constitution, giving "the people" power to end-run Congress and create new legislation -- new laws -- directly. I can see how this might seem like a good idea at first. Humorist P.J. O'Rourke once suggested that the first six-hundred people in the Manhattan phone book could do a better job running the country than Congress ever has. But wasn't it Robert Heinlein who observed that "Vox popula, vox dei" is best translated as "How did we get into this mess?"
That doesn't stop them. In the words of NI4D's own website, "The National Initiative for Democracy is a proposed law ... creating, for the first time, a government 'by you, the people' ... [initiated by] a constitutional amendment and ... a federal statute that equips the people with the central power of government, lawmaking ... [Elsewhere, they go further, asserting that "The central power of government in a democracy is lawmaking, not voting".] ... Citizens can gain control of their government by becoming lawmakers, stemming government growth and turning it to public benefit [historically, two entirely contradictory objectives] ... Representative government remains unaltered except for [the] partnership established between the people and their elected legislators."
Read that through slowly a couple of times, and you'll discover that it doesn't make any more sense than it did the first time. Also, pardon my cynicism, but I seriously doubt that people like this -- the left wing socialists who call themselves "progressives" these days because they've damaged the good old word "liberal" beyond any hope of salvaging it -- have any interest whatever in "stemming government growth".
OUTSIDE THE LAW
But perhaps I digress.
The part of their outfit that calls itself Philadelphia II, they tell us, "is conducting a national election ... to give [the American people] the opportunity to vote on the National Initiative ... The cycle repeats itself like a closed circuit ... When the number of 'yes' votes exceeds 50,000,000, the National Initiative becomes the law ... "
Note that this is not a Constitutional procedure being proposed here, but a sort of attempted electoral coup d'etat, ratification by a strange, circular, extralegal process they've made up in their own fevered brains that would somehow retroactively establish its own legality. It would also involve an unspeakable tangle of committees and procedures that are even more impenetrable than the current forms, and which could easily be taken over (in fact they seem designed for it) and operated by those -- like the subcreatures we all remember who ran the student government in high school -- whose lack of a life of their own gives them plenty of time and energy to control the lives of others.
Go to their website; see for yourself if I'm exaggerating.
The "Electoral Trust" they plan to create along the way is the key. In effect, it would establish a parallel government that would preapprove -- or disapprove -- all proposed legislation in a manner that isn't democratic even in the slightest. As described, this right little, tight little committee -- a carefully selected director and board -- would be our jailers. Control it, and you control everything else. In short, this whole charade is a kind of Trojan Horse, aimed at installing a socialist dictatorship even worse than the one we have now.
Meanwhile, in addition to "volunteering your time, knowledge and experience" to carry off this coup for them, they urge their readers over and over again to donate, donate, donate. Rather than make any accusations of my own in this context, I urge all of you simply to go to Wikipedia's entry on Senator Mike Gravel for a glimpse at why all of this donating -- as well as NI4D's endless references to government appropriations of various kinds and sizes once the Electoral Trust is established -- might be the real motivation behind the rest of this nonsense.
Pay particular attention to what happened to Gravel's Senatorial pension, and to the unpleasant financial struggles he has had ever since. NI4D could be called the "Full Employment for Squarepeggers Act".
Another way that NI4D would control elections and legislation is through electronic signatures. If you've been following the Diebold case in California, you know that electronic voting has proven easier to corrupt than any other form, and is being abandoned now by many states. Most proponents of electoral reform want to return to paper ballots, perhaps even with receipts, but not NI4D, which also plans to conduct government business by public polling. I repeat, they would use poll results to pass new laws. From our long, bitter history, gun owners know, probably better than anyone else, how easily polls can be subverted.
It generally starts with how you ask the question.
THE TYRANNY OF DEMOCRACY
Meanwhile, according to NI4D, corporations (in this case, clearly a left wing code word for organizations like the NRA, GOA, and JPFO, which were created in the first place to protect our freedoms), or anything else that NI4D didn't regard as a "natural person", would be strictly forbidden to participate in this strange process. This very essay would probably be deemed illegal. So much for NI4D and the First Amendment.
Just to make sure you understand: NI4D expects you to place your life, liberty, and property, and the lives, liberty, and property of your family, in the hands of 300,000,000 products of the public school system.
I don't think so, Mikey. The reason that we don't have direct democracy in America, and were never intended to, is that the Founding Fathers, extraordinarily well-informed with regard to history, were every bit as worried about majorities violating the basic human rights of minorities as they were about the tyrannies imposed by kings. They installed some safety-valves in the system. Some of them -- like the election of U.S. Senators by state legislators, rather than by popular vote -- have been ruined over the years. Others, like the Electoral College, are barely hanging on. At one time, in fact, you couldn't vote unless you had something -- real property -- to lose in the process.
Historically, the "will of the people" usually turns out to be nothing more than the latest scam of the latest con-man. It's useful to note that when Jane Fonda and her then-husband Tom Hayden started to miss the good old anti-war days, the name they chose for their new vehicle to power was "economic democracy", a Progressive code-name for Marxism. Similarly, Sun Yat-sen, the Chinese philosopher and founding father who toured the United States between 1905 and 1911, soliciting contributions for what was always billed as a "democratic" revolution was in fact a socialist, revered today both in Taiwan and mainland China.
At its best, Democracy is like a balloon in which we all get hauled aloft by a huge ball of hot air and taken for a ride, whether we want to be or not, with no idea where we're going, where we'll come down, or what condition we'll be in when we do. Apparently these NI4D worthies never heard of the French Revolution, or managed to observe for themselves that, considered as a species, human beings simply do not play well in groups. Although people can be -- taken individually -- astonishingly decent, bright, kindly, and inventive, it is true nevertheless that the effective intelligence of any group is that of its most intelligent member, divided by the number of people in that group.
GETTING A GRIP
I don't know about you, but I won't let my next-door neighbors tell me what to do, and I certainly don't want 300 million "neighbors" telling me what to do, either. For example, I don't care what my lawn looks like -- I rather prefer it tall and shaggy -- but I have to cut it to municipal specifications because the Nazified minions of the city government have threatened me, on more than one occasion, with kidnapping, injury, or death if I fail to comply. I have better things to do; this essay is a example. But mine is a sullen compliance -- that's all they'll ever get out of me -- that will never accede to their fascistic coercion. And I have promised myself that I will see the obsolete institution of city government abolished altogether in my lifetime.
Is that what NI4D's brave new democratic world will be based on, sullen compliance and smoldering resentment engendered by threats of kidnapping, injury, or death to those who won't let everybody -- or those who claim to speak for everybody -- tell them how to live their lives? They should call themselves "Slavery Loves Company" instead of NI4D.
Face it: the problems of democracy cannot be solved by democracy, any more than the problems of public education can be solved by public education. Duke University lacrosse players, who were falsely accused of a rape that never happened, had a chance to experience democracy up close and personal, when the socialist university faculty, the student body, a putrescently corrupt District Attorney's office, the mass media, and the people of the city of Durham closed ranks against them, and either ignored or suppressed the overwhelming evidence of their innocence. If it hadn't been for a tiny handful of courageous -- and essentially anti-democratic -- correspondents and columnists, they might well have ended up in prison, or worse, despite their obvious innocence.
Given what we've seen of the Duke case, or of popular prejudices against certain individuals like Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, or Don Imus, we can predict that NI4D's egalitarian democracy would collapse into a legislative lynch mob, coast-to-coast, in about twenty minutes. And, as advocates of pure democracy, NI4D can't offer us any assurances to the contrary that are worth even the hot air they're written in. The fact is, NI4D can't offer anything to anybody, because in a pure democracy, absolutely everything is up for grabs, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. As a consequence, as Frodo Baggins said to Gollum, "There's no promise you can make that I can trust."
A BETTER IDEA
To those on the left who might be attracted to NI4D, I offer this thought experiment: suppose for a moment, that my side in the struggle for the right to own and carry weapons got the upper hand (as it seems to be doing) and it was as nasty and dictatorial as the other side has always been. Under the system NI4D is trying to cram down everybody's throats (demonstrating pretty plainly what side they're on), "We the People" could pass a law requiring that everybody must buy and carry a gun.
This means you. Get caught unarmed, go to jail.
Happily -- for you, my progressy little buddies -- an overwhelming majority of individuals on my side of this issue are too decent even to contemplate such an outrage. However given the temptation of an ability to conduct national referenda about anything at the drop of a hat, who can say how long that decency would last, after the century of vicious persecution that antigunners have subjected us to? Quite suddenly, a direct democracy doesn't seem nearly as attractive, does it?
When somebody tells you that individual rights don't exist, or that they're not absolute, it only means that you've got something he wants. My rights can never be cancelled out by sheer numbers. Nor can yours. Rights are not collective in character -- any more than virtue or intelligence are -- and no group has more rights than any single individual within it. If each and every one of my 299,999,999 fellow Americans decided tomorrow that I don't have a right to own weapons, I'd go right on owning weapons, because my rights, which are inherent simply in my existence as a human being, aren't subject to anybody's vote.
With regard to the mess we find ourselves in today -- a pair of controversial wars overseas while the Bill of Rights gets raped at home -- not only do we need to fix it, we must do something once and for all about how we got here in the first place. One project to begin with is an International Bill of Rights Union. Another would be a Constitutional amendment creating a moratorium on all lawmaking at every level of government (except for bills of repeal) for the next century.
Or maybe the next millennium.
Either of these is preferable to NI4D's proposals because, unlike NI4D and its not-very-well-hidden socialist agenda, these ideas were designed to engender genuine individual liberty. America doesn't need more voters, or more powerful voters. What America needs is fewer thing to vote on. Likewise, America doesn't need more people making laws, it needs fewer -- many fewer -- laws than we're burdened with now.
* The late, great Robert LeFevre, who also maintained that there were 15,000,000 federal laws (as of 1972, when I attended his seminar in Wichita, Kansas) and reminded us that "ignorance of the law is no excuse". --
A fifty-year veteran of the libertarian movement, L. Neil Smith is the Author of 33 books including The Probability Broach, Ceres, Sweeter Than Wine, And Down With Power: libertarian Policy In A Time Of Crisis. He is also the Publisher of The Libertarian Enterprise, now in its 17th year online.
Visit the Neil Smith archive on JPFO.
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