The Corner

Politics & Policy

Mike Lee Is Right about Democracy

Sen. Mike Lee (R, Utah) (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Few incidents more starkly illustrate the dearth of civic education in American life than a mob attacking Senator Mike Lee for his completely factual tweet pointing out that the “objective” of the Constitution is to protect liberty and to allow individual flourishing, not to acquiesce to the whims of the majority.

Then again, Twitter is a perfect analogy for “democracy,” isn’t it? The more demagogic and hyperbolic you are, the bigger the mob you can gin up; the more you scaremonger and distort reality, the more success you are likely to find; the more pressure that mob exerts, the easier it is to shut down open discourse.

Madison could have been talking about Twitter when he wrote how “passion never fails to wrest the sceptre from reason.” But he was arguing for federalism — an idea that the modern Left is intent on destroying with its crusade to dismantle the Electoral College, states’ rights, Senate filibusters, and the courts, among other institutions.

States created the federal government, not the other way around, yet you would never discern it through the sneering contempt of pedigreed experts like Katie Hunt or Anne Applebaum, or any number of Lee’s critics. You would never know from them that the more centralized the “democracy,” the less Americans will have a direct say over the decisions that govern their lives.

The democracy that Democrats are suddenly so fond of doesn’t preserve diversity; it demands widespread conformity. And the only reason liberals are enamored with majoritarianism these days is that it is a useful tool in imposing their will on the nation — in education, guns, health care, marriage, you name it. The people of Provo have no interest in imposing their will on Brooklyn. I wish the reverse were true as well.

Of course, the Left is also involved in a perpetual game of Calvinball. Because if we imposed their new love of majoritarianism retroactively, there would be no Roe v. Wade, or Obergefell v. Hodges, or Miranda v. Arizona, or any number of counter-majoritarian decisions that they surely deem highly moral and needed.

On the other hand, having read Lee’s book and interviewed him, I am certain his views on individual liberty and democracy have been consistent. “Democracy” — in the proper way that Lee understands it — is not by default more moral, or more useful, or more virtuous than other systems. Ask the minority in Russia or in Gaza.

Today, “democracy” really just means “my preferred policy outcomes.” It’s a false idol, a clumsy system that often corrodes freedom and prosperity. The Left sees democracy as a cudgel to impose their cultural and ideological values on the minority. This is why we have separation of powers. This is why a Supreme Court exists. This is why we have deliberative bodies such as the Senate. This is why we have states. And this is why progressives want to weaken all those institutions.

David Harsanyi is a senior writer for National Review and the author of First Freedom: A Ride through America’s Enduring History with the Gun

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