… is from page 526 of George Will’s superb 2019 book, The Conservative Sensibility (footnote deleted):
The point of elections is to ensure that government has what Madison in Federalist 51 called a “dependence on the people.” The preoccupation of modern government, however, is to make more and more people, in more and more ways, dependent on the government.
DBx: Who can deny the validity of this conclusion?
The naive notion of democracy is that “the people” of a political jurisdiction is a singular entity with preferences and the ability to choose sensibly how these preferences will be satisfied, much like Larry Jones and Laura Smith each is a singular entity with preferences and the ability to choose sensibly how his and her preferences will be satisfied.
Yes, serious students of political philosophy, of political science, and of history understand “democracy” to mean something very different from what democracy means in this naive understanding. These serious students never forget that “the people” are plural – a number of individuals each with his and her own preferences and unique bits of knowledge. But the fact remains that the naive notion of democracy is the one that is widespread. The latest majoritarian outcome in each election is taken to be the will of “the people,” an expression of a preference that no one has any business questioning.
If “the people” is singular, then “the people” voting in favor of government dispensing this favor here and that sum of money there would pose no more of a problem than when Laura Smith chooses to treat herself to this favor or to spend her money in that way. But because “the people” are plural, voting too often is one subset of the people voting to snatch, in one way or another, the purses and wallets belonging to another subset of people.
Because “the people” are not singular, but plural, majoritarian politics is largely an exercise of each person attempting to form or join coalitions that use state power to gain at the expense of others. Majoritarian democracy – at least to the extent that it is unconstrained by constitutional rules, both formal and informal – is little more than the constant unleashing of what economists call negative externalities. There’s nothing glorious or grand or even admirable about democracy understood, as it predominately today is understood, as simple and raw majority rule. Quite the opposite.