And So We Force Our Brothers To Be Free
So a Dutch court in the Hague has delivering a stunning new ruling. In an unprecedented decision, a court has announced that the government of the Netherlands must ensure that by 2020 carbon emissions have been cut by at least 25%, and that on its current course of action a reduction of only 17% will be accomplished for further measures must be implemented to change this. This ruling was based on the principle that the Dutch government has an obligation to protect the welfare of its citizens, which climate change threatens, and therefore the court must step in and correct what it deems is a misstep on behalf of the current government.
Within moments of this ruling being issued there was a deluge of delighted climate-change activists and various lefties of all sorts proclaiming that this was a landmark decision and a tremendous victory for the cause of environmental justice. While I’ll certainly agree that this ruling is a landmark one, I would hold off on the champagne. Far from being a victory to the people, I see it as a horrible defeat, and I struggle to see how so many people celebrating this turn of events simultaneously claim to be those that are democracy’s greatest advocates.
Let us start with the basic premise of the ruling: that a democratic state must rule for the benefit of its citizens. Of course that is true. Every form of government, not just democracy, rules under the assumption that what they do shall be for the good of the people. When we were tribal bands of hunter-gatherers, the chieftain made decisions that he claimed was for the good of the tribe. In the days of divine right of kings, the monarch’s dictates were carried out on the premise that his will was always for the good of the people. Even truly odious regimes such as the Nazis or the USSR claimed that what they did was for the greater good of people. There’s never been a governing system in history that has openly claimed not to operate for the good of the people governed (however the reality of it might have actually turned out). What separates democracy from all the others is the idea that it up to the people themselves to determine what is in their best interests, and have that will translated into the actions of the government.
Now of course, there is no actual democracy known today that follows that principle absolutely. In its truest form, democracy should be practiced in the manner of Athens, where every single citizen was allowed to speak and vote directly on every issue of the day. Naturally, there isn’t a democracy today that follows that model for quite understandable reasons. Every democratic society that exists today compromises on that principle to some degree, hence why the courts have been granted, to some extent, the power to check legislative power when it is found to be in violation of constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms. That’s just reality, and it’s a fair point. Having safeguards in place to protect the minority from the tyranny of unrestricted majority will has merit.
But what has happened here goes far beyond that. What we see here is a democratically elected government being told that the policies and platform they campaigned on and were voted in on must be changed for the welfare of the very voters whose will they had previously been acting on. Given that the Netherlands practices a variant of proportional representation you cannot even make the claim often made in Canada that the government doesn’t truly represent the true will of the citizenry as only a minority of them elected it. No, the government of the Netherlands is one that a majority of its citizens chose and gave a mandate to. The people spoke, and now they are being told that what they had to say does not matter. This is not just a matter of a particular law having found to be in contradiction of some constitutional right, but rather a decree that numerous far reaching areas of government policy such as energy, economics and taxation must be altered to meet the opinions of one presiding judge.
To be clear, I am not saying you cannot be concerned about climate change, or argue that more needs to be done to try and protect the environment. That is topic people can agree to disagree on which can be debated in the public sphere. What I am saying, though, is that you cannot applaud this ruling and also claim to be an advocate of democracy. You cannot say that government is for the people and by the people, and caveat that by saying the exception is when the people get it wrong or choose a path that you happen to disagree on.
That this ruling has been so widely applauded by so many progressives simply confirms my suspicions that for all their talk of the speaking for the people, what they really want is to speak on behalf of the people. Why shouldn’t they? Rousseau, the first prophet of what would become the religion of progress, recognize this. He realized that the people must be forced to be free, for too often the people simply don’t know what is good for them. Ordinary folks are too easily swayed by rhetoric and easy promises, and are too concerned with their own petty, immediate material interests to recognize what is really good for them. What’s really needed is governing by someone enlightened and wise who can make the proper decisions, all for the people’s own good of course.
If that is the case, then why should we even bother carrying on with the pretense that we are a democracy? Why not just allow a supreme court of judges make all the governing decisions for us, and skip the expense and time of having elections and legislatures and elected representatives. In fact, why not just hand power back to the Dutch royal family and let them reign as God’s ordained ruler over the Dutch people? For that is exactly what we are witnessing here, the will of the people being told it is secondary to the better and wiser judgement of one person’s arbitrary decisions. It is Plato’s philosopher-king made real, though thankfully without his additional provisions on communal wives and childbearing by rigged lottery.
I freely admit I don’t worship at the altar of democracy. I see democracy as a means to an end, that end being good governance, so I’m not particularly moved by arguments that proportional representation is more democratic than First Past the Post. The very people cheering this decision do claim to believe democracy, in its purest of meanings, is a good in and of itself. So I say please drop the hypocrisy. If you truly believe in democracy that means accepting that sometimes things are not going to go your way. Sometimes decisions will be made that you disagree with. Sometimes issues that you care passionately about will be ignored and overlooked in favor of others that are simply more popular. You cannot force your brothers to be free in accordance with some predetermined path, you can only exercise your own right to try and freely persuade them to follow the path you advocate.