Freedom <> Democracy

In this country, at least in high school civics classes, we often equate freedom and democracy.  But this is not the case.  I have written before that protection of individual rights is far more critical to our well-being than voting.  If there was a system with a better track record for protecting individual rights than democracy, I would support it, even if it did not involve voting.

Here is an interesting example from Kuwait of a king protecting individual rights from a democratically-elected body

Although a monarchy, Kuwait has an elected parliament and a generally free media. It regularly invites foreign analysts and journalists to observe its elections. I am making my second trip this year.

Tremors from the Arab Spring are being felt here. The parliament elected in 2009 faced charges of corruption and lost popularity, and was dissolved at the beginning of the year. Elections were held in February.

All very democratic.

The new legislature was dominated by anti-government activists and, more important, Islamists. Top of the latter’s agenda was making Sharia the basis of all laws, imposing the death penalty for blasphemy, and closing Christian churches. Not very good for liberty.

The Kuwaiti emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, said no to all three. Liberty was protected only because Kuwait was not a genuine parliamentary system where elections determine the government.

Please, do not over-interpret my point here.  I am well aware that the Emir in Kuwait holds a number of illiberal views with which I would disagree.  But its an interesting example none-the-less.


  1. Bram:

    I've told many people that Democracy doesn't equal Freedom. They usually look at me strangely.

    Most Democracies in history ended badly in some sort of national suicide.

  2. Mark:

    Well, that is what the Constitution is designed to protect. In reality, the Constitution is a anti-majoritarian document. Most of its provisions LIMITS what the majority can do, not establish it. For example, even if every person in the United States, but you (presumably) wants a Bill of Attainder against you, it cannot happen. The Consitution created limits on what that majority can do. That is what protects our freedoms.

    On the other hand, libertarians cannot seem to understand that "personal liberty" is also not absolute. The Constitution does not create a world were everyone is totally free from government. TO understand this, one needs look at the concept of searches. YOu are not free from being searched by the government. There is a tradeoff between liberty and security. But libertarians only look at one side of the equation.

  3. alanstorm:

    By the same token, "democratically-elected" "legitimate".

  4. Matthew Slyfield:

    Your example of searches as a trade of between liberty and security is a poor one. Not one person gains even the smallest mote of security because the government as a limited power to search certain people under some circumstances. The government has no legal obligation to prevent crimes from happening and in fact can not use it's search power to do so.

  5. Mark:

    Certainly it is a trade off as defined by the Constitution itself. The word is "reasonable". Personal liberty is not absolute. The government has a legitimate right to invade your privacy for reasonable cause. And, legal obligation or not, one of the most reasonable causes to invade personal liberty is to prevent crime. One of the most idiotic ideas that libertarians have is that crime prevention is not a proper function of the government. DWI roadblocks being a good example of criminal prevention that the libertarians stupidly hate. But, they are effective in preventing crime (drunk driving) and improving public safety at a minimal cost of "liberty".

  6. HenryBowman419:

    Your last statement is simply silly, as well as false. Libertarians are perfectly willing to accept legal searches of persons and property. From a L-point of view, the problem is that far too often such searches are blatantly illegal. The courts usually side with the cops, unfortunately, because both the courts and the cops are essentially part of the same system.

    Libertarians want criminals caught and prosecuted, for real criminals degrade our freedoms. The cops simply get overzealous far too often.

  7. Vitaeus:

    Hmmm, but some states don't allow DWI checkpoints and their DWI numbers are lower than most that do??? Looks to me like the intrusion into liberty isn't necessary to fix the issue of drunk driving.
    Compare Washington state to others on this website

    Washington state doesn't use checkpoints , it is forbidden under our STATE constitution

  8. Matthew Slyfield:

    First, you missed my point entirely. My point has nothing to do with whether crime prevention is a proper function of government. My point was that the government has no legally enforceable obligation to do so. This is not some libertarian notion but standing SCOTUS precedent. The government in general, the law enforcement agencies and individual law enforcement officers have no obligation to prevent crime. A LEO could witness a murder in progress and do nothing about it. The family of the victim would be unable to sue the government, the law enforcement agency or the individual LEO for damages for not preventing the murder.

    DWI road blocks are NOT a proper use of the government's search power. The constitution requires that in order for a search to be performed the government has to have probable cause to believe that a specific individual has committed a specific crime to conduct a legal search. DWI checkpoints don't qualify.

    There is NO evidence that they improve public safety, and the cost of "liberty" is NOT minimal.

  9. Mark:

    No, I did not miss your point except imply what I am going to say directly. "Legally enforceable obligation" is a completely meaningless claim. Who cares. The law enforcement office is not going to "witness a murder" and do nothing about it. Luckily, the vast majority of the country are not whacko libertarians that have such idiotic views. We realize that crime prevention is an important function of law enforcement and also an major component of the quality of life. In the real world, as opposed to Libertarian Fantasy, people do harm others and society must do what they can to both punish and deter criminals.

    I understand that coming from a libertarian fog a DWI road block is not a proper use of government power. You are totally incorrect that the constitution requires probable cause to conduct a search. It only requires REASONABLENESS (it requires probable cause before it can arrest you). The Supreme Court has defined reasonableness in a reasonable manner. The level of intrusiveness versus the government's interest. This issue has already been before the Supreme Court in Michigan Dept of Public Safety v. Sitz. So, sorry, DWI checkpoints DO qualify.

    Next, using the above court case, your claim that the cost of "liberty" is NOT minimal, the Supreme Court found that the average delay for a motorist through the checkpoint was just 25 seconds. And, from that checkpoint two DUI arrests were made. I am sure that the average citizen would gladly sacrifice 25 seconds on their drive home to take two drunk drivers that are direct threats to their safety off the roads.

    The claim that there is no evidence that DWI checkpoints improve public safety is patently false. Here are several studies: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Evaluation of New Mexico's Anti-DWI Efforts, by J. H. Lacey and R. K. Jones (February 2000) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Checkpoint Tennessee: Tennessee's Statewide Sobriety Checkpoint Program, by J. Lacey, R. Jones, and R. Smith (1999).T. R. Miller, M. Galbraith, and B. Lawrence, "Costs and Benefits of a Community Sobriety Checkpoint Program," Journal of Studies on Alcohol, vol. 59, no. 4, 465-468.

    Most of these studies found significant decreases in alcohol related fatalities, injuries and property losses after such enforcement. I have not read any of them so I cannot vouch for their statistical validity, although I believe the the NHTSA usually does a thorough job on such studies. These studies, like many such studies may be completely invalid. Again, I don't know. But, the "NO EVIDENCE" claim is really just something you are pulling out of your a**, and that is the point.

  10. Matthew Slyfield:

    "The law enforcement office is not going to "witness a murder" and do nothing about it."

    This might be a valid point except for the fact that such situations HAVE happened, otherwise there wouldn't be SCOTUS precedent on the issue.

    "This issue has already been before the Supreme Court in Michigan Dept of
    Public Safety v. Sitz. So, sorry, DWI checkpoints DO qualify"

    SCOTUS is not infallible.

    "the Supreme Court found that the average delay for a motorist through the checkpoint was just 25 seconds"

    Has nothing to do with the cost to "liberty".

    "Most of these studies found significant decreases in alcohol related fatalities, injuries and property losses after such enforcement."

    Even if true this is insufficient to prove that DWI checkpoints are worth the cost. Did penalties for DWI increase at or around the same time the checkpoints were instituted? If so this is likely a factor in the decrease. Event if penalties weren't increased at the same time, It is the Arrests not the checkpoints themselves that drive the decreases. to prove your case you would have to show that the related increase in DWI arrests could not have been achieved by less intrusive means.

  11. Gil:

    Au contraire, Libertarians want there to be no governments and instead people privately working together. And quite frankly, yes, Libertarians believe property to be sacrosanct and believe anyone who barges onto their property without permission to be trespassers regardless of their intent.

  12. HenryBowman419:

    Gil, you are referring to anarcho-capitalists, not Libertarians. You simply don't know what you're talking about,

  13. Zachriel:

    Coyote Blog: In this country, at least in high school civics classes, we often equate freedom and democracy.

    Without minority protections, democracy can be tyrannical. Modern democracies are composed of all the various institutions that make up civil society, including divided power between executive, legislature, judiciary, federal, state, local, corporations, citizen groups, trade unions, families, communities, property rights, the rule of law, and individual liberties. Without these preexisting structures, it is very difficult to impose democracy from the top down.

    That's one reason why the French Revolution failed while the American Revolution succeeded. The Americans had working legislatures, which continued to function during the revolution. On the other hand, nearly all French institutions were discredited by association with the monarchy, so when the revolution occurred, the entire fabric of society was rent.

  14. Mark:

    1. SCOTUS precedent or not, these isolated issues on the obligations of law enforcement have little to do with policy and more to do with liabilities. Obviously, just as we expect that a major function of our armed services is to DETER war, we also expect that a major function of our law enforcement branch is to deter crime.

    2. And, I agree that SCOTUS is not infallible. But, at the same time, the rule of the land is set for now. The term "reasonable" is found directly in the 4th Amendment. The Supreme Court has made many rulings on the concept of reasonableness. And, in every case the term is essentially reduced to a balancing of the state interests and the level of intrusiveness that the search entails. For example, upon credible information that there were nuclear weapons being smuggled into the United States a reasonable search at the border would be more extensive than the searches allowed for drugs and/or illegal immigrants.

    3, Yes, the delay the motorist experienced in the checkpoint is indeed the cost to "liberty". For a free society to remain free, there must be some measure of security. And, like I said, the average motorist probably does not care that they spend an extra 25 seconds getting to where they were going to take 2 drunk drivers, DIRECT THREATS to their safety, off the road.

    4. Sure, there are many factors that can account for a decrease. Usually studies are designed to isolate these factors but sometimes there are simultaneous factors that cannot be controlled. I have not read the studies. I do not vouch for their statistical validity. I only point out the obvious falsehood of your claim that there is NO EVIDENCE to support the effectiveness of DWI checkpoints.

    5. False, it is not the arrests that are most important in law enforcement. It is the deterrent. Increased penalties are effective deterrents. But so is the increase in the effectiveness of CATCHING the drunk driver. If you think you can drive drunk but not get caught, then even significant increases in the penalties for drunk driving will not deter you. But, increasing the liklihood of getting caught changes the drunk driving equation. It is clear that the methods that have been utilized in the past couple of decades, including the use of DWI checkpoints, have been effective.

  15. Mark:

    I guess from your persepctive it is. But the DWI roadblocks are a good example were the Libertarian viewpoint is very one sided. A "road block" is a minor inconvenience. IF you have not broken the law you have very little to fear and the impact into your personal libertiy is so marginal its limit is zero. Yet, they see such an action as a major intrusion on personal liberty.
    As far as the courts usually siding with the cops, um, yeah, because that is the law.
    Regardless, I stand by my assertion. Libertarians may want criminals "caught" but the trick work is their definition of "real", as in "real crimes". Overzealous cops or not, a person who drives drunk is breaking a REAL law. Deterring people from driving drunk is a major part of public safety because of the number of accidents and death caused by drunk driving. Part of the deterrence equation is the patrolling and law enforcement must design effective patrolling procedures. DWI roadblocks are an effective approach to law enforcement because it is utilization of data and concentration of resource (DWI roadblocks usually have a DWI arrest yield of about 1%, which I think is very effective). Done properly they clearly are an good utilization of resources and most people understand the "costs" involved to them are minimal. Libertarians simply cannot, so I stand by my assertion.

  16. marque2:

    Hmm, could just be that if you are not looking for the crime you will find less of it. Sorta a corollary to the "Butterfield effect"