Thomas Jefferson said “A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.”

That is the risk of Democracy — that ignorant people will use it to promote values of intolerance.

Remember that Hitler, Chavez, and Ahmadinejad were all elected. Although the quality of those electoral processes was inarguably bad, they were still nominally democratic processes.

What is the solution to the problem of democracy? The solution is a good set of basic laws which cannot be turned to serve the whims of any group of citizens — no matter how large a political majority they hold.

As Horatio Seymour said “The merit of our Constitution was, not that it promotes democracy, but checks it.”

Law too, must be kept in check. Law can limit freedom as much as it can protect it. The rule of law and the rule of democracy have one thing on common — rule. They both involve a concentration of power and that concentration of power can be used for good or for ill.

I am in favor of individual liberty. However, individual liberty cannot prosper without the rule of law. Anarchy quickly devolves into criminal oligarchy. Individual liberty requires a minimal rule of law to ensure that each citizen is able to safely enter into commerce with other citizens.

Individual liberty does not, on a theoretical level, require democracy. It is theoretically possible that a single ruler could provide law and order while restraining themselves from meddling into the affairs of their citizens.

History, however, shows us that human nature prevents this from working. Power concentrated is power used. Every ruler tries to improve his country and his people, and most have created only failure through their efforts.

Democracy has the best track record of any form of political organization, but it is far from a panacea

As Robert Heinlein pointed out “Democracy is based on the assumption that a million men are wiser than one man. How’s that again? I missed something. Autocracy is based on the assumption that one man is wiser than a million men. Let’s play that over again, too. Who decides?”

For more on democracy, visit the Quotes on Democracy page.