The John Birch Society always liked to say that America is a republic, not a democracy. Why? Critics assert it’s because the JBS is an anti-democratic group of fascists, but that’s untrue. The reason is that it doesn’t think individual rights should be subject to the whims of a majority. And, although he was a staunch critic of the Birchers, William F. Buckley expressed the same sort of concern in Up from Liberalism.
I was thinking about this as I watched Sarah Palin on 20/20 last night. (And, BTW, she did a superb job on that. It’s amazing how good she can come across when she’s not cut off by choppy editing!) Charlie Gibson asked her about her increase of the sales’ tax as mayor, as well as her bond to pay for a big sports’ center. She responded that the people of Wasilla voted for that center, so government was truly on the side of the people because it gave them what they wanted.
But the city used eminent domain to get that property (see here). From what I’ve read, it’s not as if Wasilla was looking to boot someone off his own soil. What happened was that the Nature Conservancy was dealing with two potential buyers at once, and the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing. Wasilla thought it had the property because of a verbal agreement. And a big-time industrial developer stepped in and actually purchased it. So this isn’t exactly your classic fairy-tale in which the government kicks a poor, struggling family off its land.
And, technically, the eminent domain lawsuit occurred after Palin left office. But she is proud of the sports’ center, and she touts it as one of her major accomplishments as mayor. But is using eminent domain to carry out the will of the people moral? Does majority rule trump the right of an individual to his property?
Later in the interview, Charlie Gibson pointed out that 70 per cent of Americans support a ban on semi-automatics. Palin responded that she did not. That’s the right answer! Just because the majority wants to take away someone’s rights, that doesn’t mean it should happen. Government is supposed to protect people’s rights, even when the majority is against them.
Of course, I may be contradicting what I said in my 9/11 Reflections: “I have a problem treating civil rights as an absolute that cannot be infringed. In my opinion, if we can listen in to the conversations of terrorists, then we should do so.” Maybe there should be exceptions to rights. After all, Article 1, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution states: “The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” My point is that the mere vote of a majority is not a sufficient reason to take people’s rights away, since we should be ruled by law, not a mob.
But these are just thoughts.