Thursday, November 22, 2007

Venezuela's Tyranny of the Majority

Libby at the Newshoggers points out that, in spite of all the criticism of Chavez, and in spite of his extreme policies, he remains quite popular in his country. She goes on to argue that Chavez, as compared to Bush, at least governs by the consent of his people, even if his "reforms" are scary. She argues that at least these "reforms" will be passed by democratic vote rather than by Presidential edict.

I think she is right to point out the hypocrisy of attacking Chavez for authoritarian tendencies while ignoring our administration's similar tendencies. However, I also think her article gives rise to a broader concern: how is it that direct popular democracy is inherently above tyranny? The answer of course is that it isn't.

Indeed, if Chavez' "reforms" pass, then the episode shows the inherent danger in a pure democracy in terms of a complete lack of respect for minority rights. In essence, pure democracy means that whatever the majority says, goes- no matter what that means for the minority.

Of course, as we have seen here, our (small r) republican government has plenty of flaws of its own when it comes to protecting minority rights. But, if I had a gun to my head and had to choose which system is more prone to true tyranny, I'd say that the Venezuelan potential for tyranny of the majority is scarier than anything Bush has been able to pull off here.

This libertarian's solution? Minimize the opportunities for government to act tyrannically by weakening (ie, eliminating it) government as much as possible.

**UPDATE** Just to clarify, I'm not agreeing with Libby's ambivalence towards the Chavez "reforms." My point is more about the dangers inherent in the "tyranny of the majority" that is unchecked democracy.