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Three Big Myths

In my most-recent column for AIER, I highlight three Big Myths. A slice:

A third Big Myth is that government carries out the will of the people as long as its top officials are chosen by majority rule. At root, this naïve faith in majoritarian democracy is mistaken because there is, in fact, no will of the people. “The people” is not a sentient creature with a mind and preferences and fears and hopes. “The people” includes, of course, sentient individuals each with his or her own mind and preferences and fears and hopes. But this reality of each member of the group does not transform the group into a giant individual equivalent in all but size to each of the flesh-and-blood men, women, and children who comprise the group.

This ‘non-sentience’ of a group of individuals does not mean that two or more – or even millions of – individuals cannot agree upon goals to pursue collectively. Should we or should we not pool some of our resources to build a highway? Should we or should we not organize to provide community policing or national defense? And some form of democratic decision-making is the best means available for registering the preferences of each individual in a way that results in an acceptable collective decision.

But this reality does not mean that the results of the democratic decision-making process reveal that “the people” have a will that is in any way similar to the will that is possessed and exercised by each individual. All that even the best collective decision-making process does is to discover a compromise outcome that is acceptable to each member of the group.

Anthropomorphizing any group of individuals, and supposing that the results of majority rule express the will of this collective creature, creates the false and dangerous impression that if any individual objects to a majority-rule outcome, this individual is attempting to elevate his paltry self over a will not only as real as his own but also greater because it is that of many individuals. But, again, “the People” is not a being with a mind or a will. It follows that no method of collective decision-making, not even the most ideal form of democracy, reveals the People’s will. That which is unreal cannot be revealed.