Majoritarianism versus Hyperdemocracy/Unanimous Consent

Tuesday, Dec 14, 2010

Rather than accepting majority will, once the voting's over, a minority is inclined to skulk off, plotting to get even next time. In a culture where taxation, conscription, self-defense, capital punishment, and private lifestyles are considered legitimate public issues... it's even harder to view such a reaction as unreasonable.

Majoritarianism rests on two false assumptions and a cynical threat. It first assumes that two people are smarter than one person. Strength is additive, two people are stronger than one person, and this has been the primary source of tragedy throughout human history... People, in fact, do possess certain attributes which are additive, and many which are not at all. Decency, kindness, integrity are all individual characteristics. Time is additive only in a limited sense: two women can't have a baby in four and a half months... Just as gravity arises from the nature of space and mass, rights arise from our inherent nature as individual human beings. Rights aren't additive. Systems which assume that they are labor under the false and dangerous assumption that two people have more rights than one.

Some claim that majoritarianism, despite its faults, is an alternative preferable to physical conflict. They're wrong: majoritarianism is physical conflict. Elections are a process of counting fists, rather than noses, and saying, "We outnumber you -- we could beat you up and kill you -- you might as well give in and save everyone a lot of trouble." Majoritarianism, to put it straightforwardly, possesses the full measure of nobility manifested by any other form of extortion.

The free market... runs on Unanimous Consent. The canned pears "issue" gets solved every day without debate, without TV pundits, without elections. If you don't like canned pears, you don't buy them. If you do, your choice isn't limited by political bosses in smoke-filled rooms. If your concern is cost, you buy generic. If you want savings and colorful pictures on the can, you buy housebrands. If you like a company because it has funny advertising or doesn't make its workers take urine tests, you buy name products. If you consider yourself above the common herd, you buy specialties -- canned pears in garlic sauce -- at specialty prices which don't penalize anybody else. Everyone, manufacturer, distributor, retailer, and consumer gets what he wants. Unanimous Consent. Hyperdemocracy. Even crippled by taxation and regulation, quality steadily increases, while prices, in terms of real wealth, continuously fall. Satisfaction guaranteed or your money back...

The most important piece arrived (as puzzle pieces often do) in a colorful cardboard box -- steaming hot on a thick crust, with black olives, mushrooms, onions, sausage, pepperoni, green peppers, and extra cheese. Sitting in a room full of friends, I noticed how such a group makes decisions by the process of Unanimous Consent. They were hungry. Something got done because that's the way everybody wanted it. The idea of pizza met with unanimous approval, but the earth wouldn't have stopped if it hadn't. Whoever didn't want pizza wouldn't have to eat it. Or pay for it. Among libertarians, the individual is free, limited only by a non-aggression principle forbidding initiation of force, to do whatever he wishes, including going out for a hamburger. The crisis always centers on anchovies, but "pizzacracy", as I began to call it, seemed to be up even to that. Pizza could be had with anchovies on half its surface, although anchovies do tend to make their influence more widely felt than their little bodies are distributed. Two pizzas could be ordered, with and without, common practice even among non-libertarians.

But something else was happening. An anchovy-lover might consider his friends more important than dead fish on toast. His friends, seeing how he'd been deprived of anchovies since the McKinley administration, might decide, just this once, to suffer for the pleasure of his company. Nobody was campaigning, voting, or skulking off to plot revenge. Instead -- and entirely unlike the majoritarian process -- individual feelings seemed genuinely important to everyone. The Ordering of the Pizza had become among the most festive of American rituals.

The one principle that makes all of this possible is that an individual may opt out of group activity at any time, without negative sanctions. Without having to pay for what the rest of the group wants. As I discovered later, if this principle is stringently observed, there are rewards. The remainder of the group, thus "reconstituted", becomes unanimous all over again. The individual who opted out will likely rejoin for another, later reconstitution. Even if he doesn't, everybody stays friends. The process is natural to human beings, if you wake them up in the middle of the night before they put on their majoritarian pretensions. It may resemble 60s-style consensus, it's also a transfer of the ethical processes inherent in the free market system to all social endeavors. if it sounds simple, the best ideas are. How many moving parts are there in a lightbulb?

Some folks have an impression that, under Unanimous Consent, nobody does anything without everybody else's permission. On the contrary, no group does anything without the Unanimous Consent of its members, which is a different thing, indeed. But, I pretend to hear you asking, what about the claim that nothing can ever get done? To be absolutely truthful, with respect to the government, I wish to hell it were true.

If history demonstrates anything, it's that every lasting victory which the cause of liberty ever achieved was won for it by radicals. Every humiliation it ever suffered was inflicted, not by kings, dictators, or opposing parties, but by its own moderates and gradualists.

The Tyranny of Democracy, L. Neil Smith, Prepared for the Boulder County Libertarian Party, 1989,

WE, THE UNDERSIGNED Witnesses to the Lesson of History -- that no Form of political Governance may be relied upon to secure the individual Rights of Life, Liberty, or Property -- now therefore establish and provide certain fundamental Precepts measuring our Conduct toward one another, and toward others:

FIRST, that we shall henceforward recognize each individual to be the exclusive Proprietor of his or her own Existence and of all products of that Existence, holding no Obligation binding among Individuals excepting those to which they voluntarily and explicitly consent;

SECOND, that under no Circumstances shall we acknowledge any Liberty to initiate Force against another Person, and shall instead defend the inalienable Right of Individuals to resist Coercion employing whatever Means prove necessary in their Judgement;

THIRD, that we shall hold inviolable those Relationships among Individuals which are totally voluntary, but conversely, any Relationship not thus mutually agreeable shall be considered empty and invalid;

FOURTH, that we shall regard Rights to be neither collective nor additive in Character -- two individuals shall have no more Rights than one, nor shall two million nor two thousand million -- nor shall any Group possess Rights in Excess of those belonging to its individual members;

FIFTH, that we shall maintain these Principles without Respect to any person's Race, Nationality, Gender, sexual Preference, Age, or System of Beliefs, and hold that any Entity or Association, however constituted, acting to contravene them by initiation of Force -- or Threat of same -- shall have forfeited its Right to exist.