What is Democracy? Words of Wisdom from F.A. Hayek

07.20.2006

The conception that government should be guided by majority opinion makes sense only if that opinion is independent of government. The ideal of democracy rests on the belief that the view which will direct government emerges from an independent and spontaneous process. It requires, therefore, the existence of a large sphere independent of majority control in which the opinions of the individuals are formed.  There is widespread consensus that for this reason the case for democracy and the case for freedom of speech and discussion are inseparable.

The view, however, that democracy provides not merely a method of settling differences of opinion on the course of action to be adopted but also a standard for what opinion ought to be has already had far-reaching effects. It has, in particular, seriously confused the question of what is actually valid law and what ought to be the law.  If democracy is to function, it is important that the former can always be ascertained as that the latter can always be questioned.  Majority decisions tell us what people want at the moment, but not what it would be in their interest to want if they were better informed; and, unless they could be changed by persuasion, they would be of no value.  The argument for democracy presupposes that any minority opinion may become a majority one.

Emphasis mine. This is from Hayek’s Constitution of Liberty.  His chapter on “Majority Rule” is a must read for all, especially for those who think that democracy is about majority winning the elections and ruling over the minority.  I met quite a few people who do think so and often find it difficult to convince them that ‘tyranny of the majority’ is a serious matter and it is not what democracy is all about.