Volume 18

The Ethics of Democracy

by Alan Charles Kors

The fetishization of majority rule per se has numbed what should be our primary concern for the preservation of individual rights.  If political decisions intrude upon what should be left to the choice of free individuals, it does not much matter if such tyranny is the result of one’s person’s usurpation or of a majority’s usurpation of such rights.  While “the consent of the governed”—the right of a people to cashier its political leaders—is a great bulwark against tyranny, the essential question is what social and individual ethics are necessary for democracy itself to have value. A democracy worth having depends upon a commitment to legal equality, limited government, responsibility for the consequences of one’s actions, mutual forbearance, and the acknowledged rights of the individual.  Diminutions of these operational values harshly degrade the value of democracy itself and dangerously increase the dangers of democracy.

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