Bonus Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on July 15, 2016

in Man of System

… is from page 179 of the 1981 Liberty Fund edition of Felix Morley‘s 1959 book, Freedom and Federalism:

The totalitarian concept of democracy originated with Rousseau.  His theory of the social contract hinges on the mystical conception of a “general will,” which may be mistaken but can never be wrong.  Such a will, of course, must be formulated into concrete terms by somebody, regardless of how extended and perfected the machinery of democratic elections.  The legislature may do its conscientious best to reflect and interpret the general will, but still that will must be defined by the executive.  There lies the tremendous danger.  For the executive, though a mere finite man, is always under pressure, and is by democratic theory indeed compelled, to formulate the general will as he sees best.

The danger that Morley here insightfully identifies is the tendency for people to look upon the the executive as a kind of demigod who embodies the spirit of the nation.  Thus, even a democratically elected executive, such as the U.S. president, comes to be regarded much as a 17th-century French or Russian monarch was widely regarded – namely, as someone uniquely positioned or ordained to know, to declare or to give form to, and to carry out the ‘will of the People.’

A powerful executive is a tremendous danger to liberty – a fact that makes the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election too awful to contemplate.

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