Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on December 13, 2017

in Philosophy of Freedom

… is from page 100 of an excerpt from the great Richard Overton‘s 1646 An Arrow Against All Tyrants and Tyranny, shot from the Prison of Newgate into the Prerogative Bowels of the Arbitrary House of Lords and All Other Usurpers and Tyrants Whatsoever, as this excerpt appears in the superb 2015 reader, Individualism, edited by George H. Smith and Marilyn Moore; Overton’s remark here is aimed at Parliament:

For the edge of your own arguments against the king in this kind may be turned upon yourselves; for if for the safety of the people he might in equity be opposed by you in his tyrannies, oppressions, and cruelties, even so may you, by the same rule of right reason, be opposed by the people in general in the like case of destruction and ruin by you upon them.

DBx: I won’t live to see it, but one day people will look back with as much befuddlement upon the notion that democratically elected assemblies are uniquely capable and deserving of ruling with diktats as we today look back with befuddlement upon the notion that kings and queens are uniquely capable and deserving of ruling with diktats.  Put differently, we pride ourselves today, rightly so, on having rejected the notion of vox rex vox dei; but we today embrace a piece of mysticism no less absurd, namely, vox maioris ad suffragii vox dei.

Put in yet another way, there is no such thing as the will of the people – and, therefore, there is no political arrangement capable of discovering this unicorn.  None.

None of these protests implies that majority rule isn’t better on many margins than is monarchy or dictatorship; majority rule is indeed better than is monarchy or dictatorship for making collective decisions.  But recognition of majority-rule’s superiority to monarchy or dictatorship must not continue to mislead us – as, unfortunately, it does continue to mislead so many of us – to the mistaken conclusion that any and all decisions made according to majority rule are superior to decisions made by other means (such as, for example, individually in a regime of private property rights).


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