Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-
one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.” The fundamental
principle of democracy is majority rule. But unrestrained democracy also means that all actions
advanced in the name of the majority should be irrefutably supported. So what are these rights
that we must safeguard, even against democracy?
Freedom and democracy have become vague, interchangeable terms — often
misunderstood and carelessly tossed around in everyday discourse. The words are not
synonymous. Rather, they are ideas that, in ideal circumstances, can coexist. Of these two
concepts, I believe freedom ought to be our most cherished principle.
Our democratic system was not constructed by our founding fathers as a whimsical
political science experiment. They believed American democracy could succeed only if it
was rooted in certain universal concepts that would endure throughout time. The genesis of our
Bill of Rights arose from a principled definition of human freedom. Relying on Aristotelian
reason and the philosophy of John Locke, the founders argued that natural law automatically
gives all men the right to life, liberty and property. Even when time and circumstances change –
as they must, human beings will always hold dear these eternal rights. Democracy is often at
odds with these values, and a capricious simple majority rule becomes an unstable basis for
ethical action. Like the shifting sands of a desert, a world of relativism without guaranteed
human rights cannot create a solid foundation for progress. If you elastically define individual
rights by adopting the popular notion that elections equal freedom, you could easily forget the original purpose of democratic government. This is why I believe that people must occasionally
be reminded that the purpose of our political system is to safeguard individual liberties since that is the only true hallmark of human freedom.
Ask any reasonable person if they would willingly give up their constitutional rights and
they would probably respond, “No”. And yet, individual freedom is often voluntarily
relinquished for the sake of a common, unifying purpose. I bemoan the commonly held notion
that individualism can or should always be sacrificed for something greater – whether to promote
a seemingly wholesome cause or satisfy the pressing needs of national security. Harped by every
totalitarian government in history, be it the Soviet Union or Mussolini’s Italy, was the clarion call
of sacrifice for the sake of something greater than oneself — something so captivating that the
public would voluntarily leap up and cheerfully donate their own freedom for the promise of an
egalitarian utopia. A just society cannot be built without ensuring justice for the individual
citizen. While democratic societies want progress, the persistent call to sacrifice intrinsic human
rights for a higher cause is antithetical to American values. This is the moment when democracy
enslaves us and we lose our right to life, liberty and property.
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