Myth of the 'Will of the People'

The Colorado Freedom Report:  A libertarian journal of politics and culture.

The Colorado Freedom Report--www.FreeColorado.com

Myth of the 'Will of the People'

by Ari Armstrong, November 16, 2000

The difference between the Easter Bunny and the "Will of the People" is that most people realize the Easter Bunny is a fantasy.

"The people" are just a collection of 270 million (or so) individuals who happen to live within arbitrary geographic boundaries in North America, who share a variety of cultural traits, and who are fleeced by the same centralized bureaucracy. Each of these persons has an individual will, but there can be no will of the collective.

Quite possibly the most destructive thinking error in the history of humanity is the error of reification, or treating abstractions as if they were concretes. Existing in reality are the 270 million individual human beings who live in the United States, each with his or her own tastes, preferences, and beliefs. And will. What does NOT exist in reality is some transcendent "people" capable of purposeful activity.

Sure, there is such a thing as a "culture" which arises among a community of people, involving language, habits, government, mores, commonly held beliefs, and so forth. Through voluntary cooperation, individuals share ideas and goods with one another leading to mutual influence and mutual gain. Certainly trends are noticeable in the progression of human culture. At different times, different philosophies and psychologies become dominant. So what I am advocating here is not a belief in a radical atomistic individualism, but just the ordinary kind of reality-based individualism. Each of is, after all, an individual.

When we think of the 2000 presidential election in this manner, avoiding the error of reification, divining the "will of the people" as it pertains to selecting the next president becomes patently absurd. The "will of the people," if it means anything at all, means only that one person gains the majority of votes, in a pre-established system of voting procedures. Outside of those arbitrary guidelines for voting, there is no such thing as the "will of the people." Of course, it's probably a good thing that those rules be objectively defined (as they do not seem to be in Florida), and that the rules be followed. The rules help create social stability. As bad as the American system of government has become, it's a lot better than most alternatives.

Voting rules necessarily determine who can vote and how and where people vote. Al Gore's campaign team takes us down a dangerous path if it wants to suspend the established rules of voting in order to realize the (non-existent) "will of the people." This campaign must have been particularly frustrating for Gore, what with the "Nader factor." In a two way race, probably Gore would have won handily. However, this only proves the point that an election is a process bound by rules, and not any sort of approximation of the "people's will" -- two candidates is as arbitrary as three or ten, and in no case can the victor claim to be the highest preference of even a single voter. (I mean, surely each of us can think of at least one other person besides Gush or Bore we think would make a better president.)

The "will of the people" becomes even more obviously absurd if we play a simple numbers game. I never heard the exact percentage of registered voters who cast a vote for president -- let's say it's 70 percent. (Republican turnout was lower than expected, probably because gun owners remember that Pappy Bush banned the importation of select rifles and Junior claims he wants even more restrictions, along with a myriad of other big-government programs.) Approximately 80 percent of those who could register to vote bother to do so, which brings us down to (around) 56 percent of the eligible population that voted. Both Gush and Bore got around 48 percent of the total votes cast, or about 27 percent popular approval. So let's not hear any more talk about the "will of the people" as it pertains to this election.

In general, though, there is one more problem -- call it a technical glitch -- with the concept of the "will of the people." Whether that "will" is interpreted in a transcendental version or simply as majority rule, sometimes "the people" are just flat wrong. Surely we have not forgotten that some who are popularly elected can be real brutes. The "will of the people" has at various times resulted in torture, slavery, the Inquisition, witch hunting, genocide, and religious wars.

In America, individuals are supposed to be protected from mob rule. Our country is great to the extent that individuals retain well-established property rights, they can cooperate voluntarily with others to achieve social change, and their civil liberties are respected. The best things in life are those NOT subjected to majority rule.

* * *

Perhaps a cousin of mine said it best: do we really want to leave the presidential election in the hands of the stupidest people in Florida? I mean, casting a vote is not rocket science. I have successfully used both "punch out" ballots and "color in the circle" ballots. Not once did a break a sweat from the stress of it. This is kindergarten stuff. I say, if you're too dumb (or too careless) to successfully punch out the appropriate hole in a piece of paper, you don't deserve to have your vote counted. "Dimpled chads" -- please.

Of course, it's entirely possible that some people "dimpled a chad," and then thought to themselves, "Oh, to hell with it -- I'm not voting for any of these bastards." Any attempt to second-guess the intentions of the voters is inherently corrupt, and opens the door to outright ballot-fixing.

* * *

The wonderful thing about this presidential election is that it may well foster grid-lock. However, a Bush victory might be worse than a Gore victory. Bush has already made a reputation for "crossing the aisle" in order to "compromise" away our rights. I'm afraid he'll try to "heal our nation" by passing new bi-partisan socialist programs. For example, Gore's gun-grabbing proposals would be more obvious and more far-reaching. The Republican Congress would balk, leaving us in glorious grid-lock. However, that same Republican Congress might be willing to go along with disarmament laws proposed by "W." The NRA has already thrown its support behind Bush, knowing full well he wants to expand Brady registration checks. Bush will have stronger sympathy among those who voted for him precisely because of the contentious election. This could spell trouble. On the other hand, this election could spell exactly what the state does best: nothing.

* * *

Here's a simple way to see why the electoral college is important. Suppose Candidate A one every state by one thousand votes, except California, which Candidate B won by a landslide. According to the electoral college, Candidate A should win. According to strict majority, Candidate B should win.

Americans forget that the state governments are the fundamental units of power. The state governments created the federal government and are supposed to be masters of it. Hillary's cry to eliminate the electoral college is but one more indicator that today's politicians regard the federal government as primary, and the states and citizens its subjects.

The Colorado Freedom Report--www.FreeColorado.com