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Thursday, February 10, 2005

 

freehold


reason notes the first municipal elections in decades which have taken place in saudi arabia, noting that the franchise is there extremely limited.

and that's frankly as it should be. for all george bush's sermonizing on the virtues of plebiscitarian government, a great many of the ills of democracy stem from the fact that too many people have the vote. granting suffrage to the indigent, uneducated and idiotic -- who inevitably outnumber the industrious and educated by a wide margin -- is a manner of sowing the seeds of tyranny, as has been demonstrated time and again in history.

i would prefer a property-requirement, simply because it means that such voters have a large stake in the outcome of elections -- the owners have the assets and income which the government taxes in order to operate.

such a restriction would have a great limiting effect on the size of government -- the explosion of governmental size in the west was certainly related to the successful movement for universal suffrage.

all the states of the original union restricted suffrage to freeholders of some minimum amount -- "freehold" being the outright ownership of some real estate without debt against it. alexander hamilton wrote in the farmer refuted:

If it were probable that every man would give his vote freely, and without influence of any kind, then, upon the true theory and genuine principles of liberty, every member of the community, however poor, should have a vote? But since that can hardly be expected, in persons of indigent fortunes, or such as are under the immediate dominion of others, all popular states have been obliged to establish certain qualifications, whereby, some who are suspected to have no will of their own, are excluded from voting; in order to set other individuals, whose wills may be supposed independent, more thoroughly upon a level with each other.
this was then a society that still sensibly looked askance of indebtedness because it so clearly puts one in a position of dependency. receipt of government entitlement should, for the same reason, be an obvious disqualifier specifically to prevent the inclusion those who hamilton refers to as "some who are suspected to have no will of their own". putting people who are dipping into the till the chance to determine who guards the till is the quickest path to economic implosion. as historian and jurist alexander fraser tytler, lord woodhouselee, is reputed to have said in a series of lectures early in the 19th c regarding his studies of the decline and fall of the athenian democracy:

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been 200 years.
that said, such a government is still best when run by lockean principles -- rule by law and separated powers. an aristocratic government so divided is checked by the people (who still hold the pitchforks and torches, after all) to ensure that their power does not grow beyond the proscription of law.

none of this is new, of course. it's exactly the system the english fought for in the 17th c and that we subsequently constructed in the 18th. what is new is that we have completely forgotten it.


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