16 March 2012

Bureaucracy and Democracy

I suppose there are some who think that democracy is a natural component of freedom.  This view is not particularly wrong if one’s definition of freedom is contingent upon positive rights. However, I suspect that everyone, deep down, understands the importance of negative rights (though I doubt that most people consider a defense of negative rights the most important aspect of a governing system).  What’s interesting is how history shows that there is a pretty strong inverse correlation between freedom (in a negative-rights sense) and suffrage.  But what explains this?

One explanation might simply be that most people don’t care for negative rights because they would rather impose their views of ethics and morality on other people.  I alluded to as much in an earlier post.  Democracy enables common people to exercise their petty tyrannies on minorities,* which is why democracies become so statist:  everyone wants to feel like they have some power, even if it merely by proxy.

One other explanation for why increases in suffrage lead to practical decreases in freedom is simply because the ruling elite need a way to fool people into accepting tyranny.  By this theory, government size and power increases before suffrage rights do, and the government must allow more people to go through the pretense of voting in order to keep the peace, by nominally asking consent from the governed.  In essence, the government does something tyrannical, but uses democracy to derive some form of consent, in order to convince citizens that “everyone” wants the government to do what it’s doing.

Bureaucracy is often a good proxy for the decline and/or absence of freedoms, as bureaucracy generally violates negative rights by its mere existence, and usually exists to serve the cause of positive rights which, unsurprisingly, often violate negative rights.  The link between bureaucracy and democracy has two possibilities:  either democracy leads to increasing bureaucratization because people actually want what bureaucracies (would in theory) provide or increases in bureaucracy lead to extensions in suffrage because the ruling elite need to distract people from the fact that they are losing their freedoms.

I have no idea which of the two ideas is more correct.  I suspect that both are partially applicable.  There are probably other explanations for why democracies lead to bureaucracies, and I would theorize that they all having some degree of truth, and that they all form self-reinforcing feedback loops.  I wonder, though, how people would give up their voting “rights” in exchange for killing off the bureaucracy.

 * Minorities here referring to those who differ from the majority in any way on any matter.

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