E.D. Kain’s “Case for Democracy” suffers from an apparent flaw: namely, there is no case made. Instead, the piece reflects a “presumption of democracy” and then proceeds with a case against libertarianism as undermining democracy. In the interest of accuracy, then, the piece should be re-titled, “The Presumption of Democracy.” Cast in those terms, I would have no quibble with a criticism of libertarianism as undermining such a presumption. But that line of attack is not sufficient to demonstrate that “Theoretically, the ideal libertarian society would have no democracy at all,” or that “in order for it to exist as a model for society, democracy must be snuffed out through coercion.”
Kain attempts to justify his claims regarding the “ideal model of libertarianism” with an appeal to Michael Lind’s article. But this absolutely misses the boat. Why? Because libertarianism is not the only political philosophy that scoffs at a presumption of Democracy. There are plenty others. For example, liberalism.
To clearly see this, we should understand that a “presumption of democracy” holds that voting is the only means of legitimate collective action, and this legitimacy is sanctioned by a 50.01% majority and above. I seriously doubt that Kain, or anyone else–other than rabid communitarians–actually holds to such a presumption. So, what we end up, in terms of an actual presumption, is democracy decorated with an adjective; for example, “liberal democracy.” And what we really mean by “democracy with adjectives” is a preference regarding constraints on simple majority rule.
Now we should begin to see, once the terms of the argument are properly defined, how Kain’s presumption claim begins to unravel. The accusation vis a vis democracy against the likes of Mises and Hayek can be levied against anyone. H&M are simply guilty of preferring liberal outcomes and liberal constraints over a non-liberal outcome sanctioned by voting, or a “presumption of democracy(that is, they rejected democracy sans liberalism).” It’s a simple as that. Liberalism, whether enlightenment(classical) or modern, does not subjugate principles of liberty or equality to a “presumption of democracy.” That is to say, they aren’t up for a vote. This admission, which should be admitted by anyone who claims the label of liberal(and really, it’s an admission that can be generalized to anyone who ascribes to a “democracy with adjectives” constraint on the presumption of democracy), is not equivalent, however, to the necessity of eliminating voting as an instrument of collective action. Indeed, I could argue that any insistence of banishing democratic collective action would almost certainly violate the libertarian principle and that it cannot be shown that such a ban is either a sufficient or necessary condition for a libertarian outcome.
So, to summarize: libertarianism is hardly unique in it’s opposition to a “presumption of democracy.” And it’s a non sequitur to imply that a “presumption against democracy” follows from opposition to a “presumption of democracy.”
Kain is guilty of a logical fallacy but attempts to correct himself with this follow-up post, Liberty & Democracy, that drops the simple presumption of democracy for one decorated by an adjective, in particular, “liberal.” So the discussion properly shifts to one of liberal preferential constraints on simple majority rule.
It is at this point that the libertarian political critique becomes germane. A libertarian argument against a “presumption of democracy” is a trivial one. The meat of the libertarian political critique is it’s attack on the “presumption of liberal democracy.” It’s essential summary: much of the State’s actions are not rooted in consent. Liberal constraints fail to constrain the State’s actions. Democracy is not a means to constrain or ensure accountability against a monopoly moral claim on the legitimate use of force.
The essential summary can be best rolled up under the banner of “libertarian class theory.” E.D. Kain is, I’m sure, familiar with this critique, but he dismisses it, or at least dismisses it as a fatal blow against the “presumption of liberal democracy,” largely on the premise that all “social arrangements are coercive.” Another way to state the premise is that “coercive force” is a natural monopoly. This premise is a familiar claim and is often used to blunt the libertarian political critique with the charge that libertarian social arrangements would be rooted in coercion as well.
In the end, the “presumption of liberal democracy” survives; but it survives as a type of dilemma. In other words, we end up with the oft quoted phrase, “Democracy is evil, but it’s the least evil alternative we have.” Put yet another way, we end up with the “presumption of liberal democracy being the least worst rights’ violator.”
That a consideration of coercion supposedly leads us to this dilemma is illustrative why a mathematical minimization of this quantity called coercion is not the foundation of the social order(nor should serve as the basis of social analysis). If we understand the libertarian principle, in a social context, to be the Lockean Proviso and not NAP, then it’s fairly straight-forward to debunk the “Dilemma Presumption.”
For example, consider a workplace democracy scenario(Scenario #1) where workers vote on an increase in income flows to go toward immediate increased salary compensation or a deferred benefit retirement plan. If one’s preferred choice loses out in the vote, is that person then a victim of coercion? Consider, of course, that the increased income flows may be a consequence of increased labor hours.
The answer would generally be no, if we assume that the worker is better off in the workplace bargain than without it. Agents do not enter into contracts or bargains as means to satisfy a mathematical min behavioral constraint on coercion–indeed, if humans were coercion “minimizers,” they would never enter any contracts or bargains. In short, there would be no society, no cooperation.
Humans cooperate and enter into contracts because it increases their welfare. The act of cooperation creates surplus. Bargaining theory deals with how humans will rationally bargain the distribution of such a surplus. One obvious constraint is that if an agent is made worse off in a bargain, it shouldn’t agree to the bargain.
If we consider say another democratic scenario(Scenario #2) where a geographical group of voters vote to impose a protectionist requirement, or barrier of entry, for our agent to make a workplace bargain, then it should be obvious that this agent is made worse off by this type of bargain, and it should reject it.
The distinction between #1 and #2 isn’t best illuminated by an analysis of coercion, but rather by an analysis of the Lockean proviso constraint. With #1, we have a collective body that has to bear the responsibility of it’s agreements and operates under a bargaining constraint. #2 gives us a collective body that does not have to bear the responsibility of it’s actions and is incentivized to maximize artificial surplus, under no bargaining constraint, while dispersing the costs to others.
#1 is an example of a collective action that does not violate libertarian constraints while #2 is an example of one that does. #2 is often dressed up in the language of the “Social Contract,” but it is evident that #2 can be a bad bargain for some(or many, or even most), so the presumption of something like the Social Contract, from a LP perspective, is not warranted.
An easily anticipated counter-argument is the appeal to a greater context that the State operates in, particular with respect to it’s other actions that may be said to create “positive externalities” which would offset the “bad bargain.” But this is actually a utilitarian appeal; in no way does a school or a road offset the bad bargain for those rotting in a cage because of protectionist laws. Indeed, tax-subsidized roads, for example, can be a bad bargain for mom-pop businesses that cannot compete against subsidized economies of scale.
The libertarian principle is not a utilitarian one, but the utilitarian argument, that is, the argument of overall welfare, doesn’t fare particularly well under the libertarian knife. A public Choice analysis of the competition for artificial rents in money,land,patents, tariffs and security provides a political economic model for welfare reduction. The model also provides us with an empirical measurement of a ruling class: when the flow of economic rent far exceeds the competitive money bidding for such rent, we have a “ruling class.”
The obvious empirical problem for a welfare defense of a the social contract presumption is what need does a utilitarian welfare state, one that is on the business of manufacturing positive externalities, have with things like the secret police? Why has the utilitarian liberal welfare state seen the need to overtly eviscerate it’s legal foundation of the Great Writ? These aren’t the actions of a liberal state ; rather they are the actions of an Actor that views the presumption of the social contract as a thing to be enforced, not as something rooted in consent.
From a social theoretic perspective, treating libertarianism as a theory of rational moral constraints–as a boundary condition on moral claims–rather than a moral theory of coercion(NAP), avoids the argument for a claim of the presumption of the social contract(the social contract of liberal democracy) rooted in a “coercion dilemma.”
Coercion as the foundational tool of social analysis is useless. Human social interaction is not explained by a coercion max/min problem. Indeed, if humans were coercion minimizers, they would never socially interact. We would all be Robinson Crusoes.
Instead, human social interaction, in a world of scarcity, is best explained by the fact that human cooperation creates “surplus.” The libertarian principle is a boundary constraint on this human cooperation, namely that any given rational agent benefits from the cooperative equilibrium relative to the defection state1.
Since it can be demonstrated that there are examples of social interactions of “constrained maximizers” vs those that incentivize unconstrained maximization, there is no real basis for the presumption of the Social Contract.
Further, E.D. Kain’s social contract presumption suffers from the empirical fact that the presumption of the State, the National Security State, is that it’s citizens do not abide by the presumption of the social contract. That’s why you have a National Security State and a secret police. The ballot box is not a means to legitimacy when there is none to be had.
1 For more details, refer to the these previous posts: