Egypt Exposes Fundamental Defect at the Heart of Democracy

Egypt provides evidence of how devious people seek to claim authority over others against their consent. Morsi claimed that God Himself had told him to govern in the way he did.

It is almost entertaining to see all the handwringing in Western capitals over the ousting of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt.

Of course, no one is sorry to see the back of Morsi and his Islamic government, but Western politicians are making a lot of virtuous noise about the importance of upholding democracy. The United States, in particular, has been careful not to call it a military coup because that would technically require the suspension of aid to Egypt, which would have the effect of alienating what may turn out to be a more agreeable government to Western interests.

The position of the United States is most ironic, because the most eloquent justification for what has happened in Egypt can be found in the American Declaration of Independence itself.

Best known for declaring ‘that all men are created equal’ and have been ‘endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, [among which] are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’, it is actually what follows that is most striking. ‘That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the CONSENT of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government … on such PRINCIPLES … as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.’

This ‘Right of the People to alter or abolish’ their government if it becomes destructive to the ends it was supposed to serve, reveals a fundamental contradiction at the heart of liberal democracy, or what I prefer to call Liberal Fundamentalist democracy – which is, that individual freedom and majority rule are entirely incompatible concepts.

Although couched in the vernacular of ‘rights’, which were the intellectual currency of the time when referring to freedom, the ‘Right of the People’ to get rid of their government is in fact a profound statement of freedom. And that is because it rests on the principle of consent – ‘the consent of the governed’.

The importance of consent is central to the concept of freedom, because if any person can be subverted to the authority of another person, or persons, without his consent, he cannot be free.

Yet, ‘modern democracy’ does precisely that. In most Western democracies, governments of the day enjoy the support of less than half of the people. Some countries manage to rise just above the 50% level, which, as in Egypt, is hailed as some magnificent ‘mandate’ from the people. It is most curious that subverting 49% of the people to the authority and dictate of the other 51% is hailed as some kind of triumph of ‘freedom’. It is simply mob rule.

The roots of this contradiction between freedom and democracy go back to the origins of the so-called ‘social contract’ as devised by the likes of Rousseau, Hobbes and Locke – although Locke could more properly be identified with the modern version of democracy.

Since I have analysed in detail the flaws in Locke’s ‘reasoning’, when he claimed to have discovered the ‘perfect democracy’, in my article We Consent to be Governed by the Majority? (http://freedomvrights.com/excerpt2.html), I will deal with it here only briefly.

Locke begins his Second Treatise of Government in the proper way by first identifying what absolute freedom is: ‘a state of perfect freedom to order their actions and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of nature; without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man’. And Locke adds that men are also in ‘a state of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another’.

Now, once a principle of absolute freedom is defined, the next step should be to identify to what extent, and on what further principles, human beings would consent to that absolute freedom being diminished. In other words, to what extent, and on what conditions, could human beings consent to submitting to the authority of others, or government, while retaining the essence of individual freedom?

And this is where Locke’s thinking becomes ‘bankrupt’. Rather than seeking to identify what further principles people would consent to which would preserve the essence of their freedom while permitting orderly social interaction, Locke claims that ‘for their comfortable, safe, and peaceable living one amongst another’, man ‘divests himself of his natural liberty’ to be governed by the ‘majority’ – so that ‘the majority have a right to act and conclude the rest.’

But Locke doesn’t even argue that people actually consent to the majority having the ‘right’ to govern ‘the rest’; he argues that because men ‘consent [to make] a community,’ they make that community ‘one body, with the power to act as one body, which is the will and determination of the majority …’

He claims that forming a ‘community’ amounts to a sort of implied consent to submit to the authority of the majority.

However, as Locke ‘thinks’ through his ‘majority rule’ thesis, he does realise where it could end. He poses the question: What if government makes laws ‘to enrich and advance [its] followers … with the spoils of others, What if the [government] believe[s] that [it] has a right to make such laws, and that they are for the public good; and [its] subjects believe the contrary? Who shall be judge between them?

And what is Locke’s answer? ‘I answer’, he says, ‘God alone’. Quite remarkable! With an answer like that, you would think that Locke would have realised that his ‘perfect democracy’ is more like a blueprint for ‘perfect tyranny’, and gone back to the drawing board.

At least the Egyptian people realised that – and they did the next best thing to appealing to God – they appealed to the army.

Although Locke does give certain examples of when he would consider it appropriate for the people to overthrow their government, none is of any use against modern Liberal Fundamentalist democratic governments because, in Locke’s view, ‘the legislative can never revert to the people whilst the government lasts: because … they have given up their political power to the legislature, and cannot resume it’.

The only event which Locke claims gives the people the ‘right’ to remove government by force is when government uses force against the people without authority and in breach of its mandate. The problem with that is all governments make insurrection a treasonable offence. So unless, like in Egypt, the people can persuade the military to side with them and kick out the government, the people are in a state of ‘perfect submission’ to government, and the whim of those who put it there.

To ‘compensate’ the people for their loss of freedom, Western governments have come up with, or resurrected, the concept of ‘rights’. Following the Second World War we have seen an avalanche of ‘rights’ declared in mighty Declarations and Charters of Human Rights – Universal and Regional.

But every ‘right’ is simply a ‘procedural expectation’. They simply mean that before government takes away a person’s liberty or property, it must promulgate a law that passes constitutional muster, then follow the right procedure. Justice Scalia, of the Supreme Court of the United States, said this regarding Rights: “The Constitution has a Due Process Clause, which says that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law. Now, what does this guarantee? Does it guarantee life, liberty or property? No, indeed! All three can be taken away. You can be fined, you can be incarcerated, you can even be executed, but not without due process of law. It’s a procedural guarantee.You want a right to abortion — create it the way most rights are created in a democratic society, persuade your fellow citizens it’s a good idea and enact it. You want the opposite — persuade them the other way. That’s flexibility.” Or, more properly, ‘government of the mob, by the mob, for the mob’. And Liberal Fundamentalist democracy is simply mob rule of the misfits.

Rights cannot cure the fundamental fault that underlies the concept of ‘majority rule’.

We do not build a Temple of Freedom by stacking one right on top of another like bricks; instead we build ourselves a prison – a prison governed by a Tyranny of Rights.

Now I should make clear that I would have no problem with ‘majority voting’ to elect representatives, so long as those representatives are limited in their authority by a strict set of PRINCIPLES which, if they breach, they commit a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment – because those who subvert the freedom of others, by abusing the authority the People have vested in them, deserve the loss of their own freedom.

So what are the PRINCIPLES which should define and limit government, and guarantee individual and collective freedom?

I have already set these out in detail in my book, Freedom v A Tyranny of Rights, and various articles (http://freedomvrights.com/tenprinciplestwo.html), so I will limit myself here to a short summary.

Like Locke, we need to start with a Principle of absolute freedom. That principle, the First Principle, is this: ‘No one person, group of people, or institution, whosoever constituted (including government), has any authority (natural or otherwise) over any other person, without that person’s consent.’

Now, because those who seek to subvert others to their authority will resort to all sorts of devious means and ‘bewildering propaganda’ (Albert Schweitzer), we need to reinforce that first Principle. Again, Egypt provides evidence of how devious people seek to claim authority over others against their consent. Morsi claimed that God Himself had told him to govern in the way he did.

So, to cover these eventualities, the Second Principle must be this: ‘No one person, group of people, or institution howsoever constituted (including government), has any authority, natural or otherwise, to compel another person, without that person’s consent, to serve or obey anything created, written or designed by another person, group of people or institution (including government).’

The next two Principles prohibit government from imposing obligations upon people without their consent, or compelling some people to labor for others, without their consent.

So Principle Three must be:No one person, group of people, or institution howsoever constituted (including government), has any authority, natural or otherwise, to compel any other person, without that person’s consent, to enter into any obligation.’

And Principle Four will read: ‘No one person, group of people, or institution howsoever constituted (including government), has any authority, natural or otherwise, to compel another person, without that person’s consent, to labor for any other person, group of people, or institution (including government), or to compel any person to surrender all or part of their labor, income or property to any other person, group of people, or institution (including government)’.

These first four Principles thus define the fundamentals of freedom which has at its core the element of CONSENT.

The next step is to then determine to what extent all people could consent to limiting that freedom, and defining that consent in terms of Principles.

To find the first Principle which everyone could consent to – by virtue of the very fact that they have life – we need look only to the creation and perpetuation of human life. So the Fifth Principle must be this: ‘The only discernible purpose of human life being the perpetuation of human life itself, and the union of a man and a woman to create new life being the only natural means by which human life has been and is perpetuated, every human being is free to seek to enter into that union which fulfils the purpose of human life, subject to the obligations attaching to the creation of new life.’

By creating new life, a man and a woman freely consent to be bound by the most important and fundamental of human obligations: the obligations each has to that new life; to their collective obligations towards that new life; to their obligations towards each other which benefit that new life; and finally, their obligations towards each other. This union being the only means of fulfilling the only discernible purpose of life, and being the foundation of all human obligations, must never be threatened, undermined, diminished or otherwise interfered with by any person, group of people, or institution howsoever constituted (including government). This is the sanctity of the family.

So the first five Principles can be summarized as follows:

1. No other human being can tell me what to do, without my consent.

2. No other human being can compel me to serve what he has created, without my consent.

3. No other human being can compel me to enter into any obligation, without my consent.

4. No other human being can compel me to work for him, or take my income or property, without my consent.

5. The family, the union of a man and a woman to create new life, being the only discernible purpose of life, and the only means of perpetuating human life, is sacrosanct.

The Fifth Principle is also the ‘bridging principle’ between absolute freedom, and the adoption of certain obligations by consent – because by creating human life a person imposes upon himself, or herself, certain fundamental obligations by their own free and voluntary act; by their own consent.

In Principle Five we see how obligations arise without being imposed by one person asserting some authority over another person without that person’s consent. And the obligations which arise under this Principle give rise to the next five Principles, although I shall not detail here the reasons for these Principles – they are quite self-evident, and only a fool would claim that they would not consent to them.

These Principles could be summarized as follows.

1. Do not use or threaten violence.

2. Do not cause or be party to a betrayal, sexual or otherwise, of your own or any other person’s family obligations.

3. Do not interfere with the property of others.

4. Don’t be dishonest.

5. Do not use your freedom to interfere with the freedom of others.

Now, the important point in respect of these Ten Principles of Freedom is that they be taken as one. They are one unit and indivisible. We consent to all the Principles, not a selection of those we think will best serve our purposes. So we cannot use one Principle as a shield against the consequences of a breach of another Principle.

And this is where Locke went so badly wrong. Although he started with a sort of definition of absolute freedom, he could not envisage any Principles everyone could consent to which would define the limits of government, and determine the extent to which individuals would agree to surrender some of their freedom to the authority of another, or to government.

These Ten Principles demonstrate that in order to preserve as much of their absolute freedom as possible, people would only agree to submit to an authority limited to ensuring that everyone honors their obligations as defined by those Principles to which all have consented.

And as long as those we elect are strictly limited to ensuring that everyone complies with the obligations they have consented to, there can be no problem with electing such people by ‘majority vote’. Because we would not be ‘electing’ government to impose upon us whatever authority it considers appropriate, and whatever obligations it thinks are ‘best for us’, or what ‘conscience’ and ‘compassion’ it thinks we ought to exercise.

 

So if the only legacy of the second Egyptian revolution is that we in the West revisit our blind ‘faith’ in ‘democracy’ and ‘rights’ as some kind of guarantee of freedom, it will have been a thoroughly worthwhile achievement. Or, perhaps, having rid themselves of their previous ‘democratically tyrannical government’, the Egyptians should consider setting up a ‘new form of government’ based on the Ten Principles of Freedom. Then they would end up with the real thing, while we slave away under an illusion of freedom.

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