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How Democracies Turn Tyrannical

How Democracies Turn Tyrannical

Both monarchs of the past and dictators more in the present have denied limits on their power to command and coerce those under their control.

For most of the last three centuries, the ideas of liberty and democracy have been intertwined in the minds of both friends and foes of a free society. The substitution of absolute monarchies with governments representative of the voting choices of a nation’s population has been considered part and parcel with the advancement of freedom of speech and the press, the right of voluntary and peaceful association for political and numerous social, economic and cultural reasons, and the guarding of the individual from arbitrary and unrestrained power. But what happens when an appeal to democracy becomes a smokescreen for majoritarian tyranny and coalition politicking by special interest groups pursuing privilege and plunder?

Friends of freedom, including many of those who strongly believed in and fought for representative and democratically elected government in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, often expressed fearful concerns that “democracy” could itself become a threat to the liberty of many of the very people that democratic government was supposed to protect.

The Tyrannies of Minorities and Majorities

In his famous essay “On Liberty” (1859), the British social philosopher John Stuart Mill warned that tyranny could take three forms: the tyranny of the minority, the tyranny of the majority, and the tyranny of custom and tradition. The tyranny of the minority was represented by absolute monarchy (a tyranny of the one) or an oligarchy (a tyranny of the few). The tyranny of custom and tradition could take the form of social and psychological pressures on individuals or small groups of individuals to conform to the prejudices and narrow-mindedness of wider communities who intimidate and stifle individual thought, creativity, or (peaceful) behavioral eccentricity.

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Free Speech Leads to Tolerance and Prosperity

Free Speech Leads to Tolerance and Prosperity

The protection of free speech, including and especially offensive speech, is vitally important to a country’s well-being.

J.S. Mill was an early advocate for our current view of free speech. He wrote, “If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”

Such a rule is likely rhetorically supported in many liberal democracies, and beyond as Greg Lukianoff from FIRE notes, however there exist variations to the rule. European countries permit more restriction on speech and have adopted, by convention or individually, some form of prohibition on hate speech, no longer allowing it, unlike the American system. Hate speech as a category has always been difficult to define and is hued in ambiguity, but generally, it limits speech aimed at people based on race, nationality, ethnic origin, religion, sex, and sexual orientation. The United States has advocates intent on including this as a form of unprotected speech, a category which has been previously unrecognized.

Additionally, information from Pew shows a stronger culture of free speech in the United States when compared to other regions, reflecting the few narrow exceptions to free speech legally permitted now.

Not only is the United States an exception in terms of legal protections for free speech, a product of the First Amendment, but it embraces concepts of free speech to a greater degree than most of the rest of the world. This indicates a culture of free speech which is partially rooted in the legal protections but not solely.

To further illustrate the point that the U.S. is quite exceptional in regards to free speech, consider this survey which found the U.S. at the top of 38 nations.

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A Thirst for Economic Change?

A Thirst for Economic Change?

I sincerely hope, for the sake of posterity, that they will be content to be stationary, long before necessity compels them to it. –John Stuart Mill, On the Stationary State

In the face of global resource shortages and the alarming rate at which we are losing species, many of us share the hope that J.S. Mill so ominously communicates in one of his better-known quotes. But what will it take to catalyze the shift to an economic state that respects our natural boundaries? Perhaps the catalyst could be a life-altering dearth of a critical resource that, until recently, most of us in the United States have taken for granted: water.

The idea that a water shortage like the one California is currently facing could cool the economic engines that have elevated the state to the eighth-largest economy in the world has been discussed in local media and state government offices alike. The Desert Sun, a paper serving the rapidly-growing Coachella Valley in the southern part of the state, recently posed the question of whether water worries will slow development in the valley. The New York Times expressed its worries about California’s continuing economic vigor by stating the drought “. . . is forcing a reconsideration of whether the aspiration of untrammeled growth that has for so long been this state’s driving engine has run against the limits of nature.”

CA Drought - Kevin Cortopassi

 

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