Contrasts of black and white can be wonderful, but they are not a useful pattern to grasp freedom. Image credit.
As with a number of other ideological staples of certain brands of demagogic libertarianism, I have come to oppose also their contempt of democracy. Like anarcho-capitalism and crypto-anarchism, both of which many libertarians subscribe to, we are dealing here with bundles of attitudes that purport to favour freedom while, in fact, they are incompatible with her.
A free society is unthinkable unless all citizens have access to the processes of (a) government and (b) the control of government. Political participation is as vital to freedom as it is complex, multi-layered, ambiguous and often messy and woefully imperfect. However, these deficiencies are only additional reasons for the need to defend freedom through the political processes of an open, democratic society.
Underlying libertarian contempt for democracy is an unwillingness to acknowledge the presence of political scarcity, i.e. the presence of political ambitions that are fiercely rivalrous, that is: the presence of diverging political values and aims that are intensively desired, yet incapable of being met simultaneously.
There are vast fields of political scarcity in a modern society, in fact, in any type of society. The libertarian conceit is that markets or market-type bilateral and mutually consenting transactions can successfully overcome political scarcity. The fact of the matter is, however, they cannot.
Libertarians of the anti-democratic bent manage to misunderstand both
- the nature of markets, which are NOT conflict-mitigating institutions, but expressions of the absence of conflict with regard to the specific contents of a certain transaction between trading parties, and
- political processes outside of and unreplicable by the world of markets, including the political processes of a "composite republic", or to put it differently, a "republican democracy", which are intended to act as conflict-mitigating institutions.
The often triumphantly evoked fact that the constitutional texts do not contain the word "democracy" is spurious. The American Constitution is a product of democracy, and it is purposefully enmeshed in a network of democratic processes, or as Akhil Reed Amar writes in his magisterial America's Constitution. A Biography:
It started with a bang. Ordinary citizens would govern themselves across a continent and over the centuries, under rules that the populace would ratify and could revise. By uniting previously independent states into a vast and indivisible nation, New World republicans would keep Old World monarchs at a distance and thus make democracy work on a scale never before dreamed possible.
See below Philip Pettit's lecture recently held at University College Dublin, in which he outlines the contours and challenges of republican democracy - the lecture itself commencing at time mark 04:00:
See also my Liberalism - A Manifesto.