In response to a Daily Dish reader (DDR) who asserts that property rights are more fundamental than the right to vote, Hertzberg argues:
But voting, like property rights, is mainly instrumental. Voting is generally a good thing not because elected governments always make wiser policy decisions than absolute monarchs, but because experience shows that countries that elect their governments are more apt to have freedom of thought, conscience, and speech than countries that don’t. I’d rather live under a hereditary monarch who tolerates those freedoms than an elected president who doesn’t.
I'm not sure that the various goods under discussion can be placed hierarchically. With that caveat, I"m not sure that preservation of "thought, conscience and speech" is the primary good of democracy. In my view, democracy is essential because it holds governments accountable, and gives the people the power to throw the bums out, and so allows for course corrections when government policy is leading to disaster or when it allows those in power to steal all the wealth. An elected president who curtails freedoms, but nonetheless allows for an unrigged election -- if such a thing has ever existed -- would be preferable in my view to an enlightened despot who hands absolute power to an inheritor of unknown disposition.
Of course, there's no real choice in a democracy without freedom of thought, conscience and speech -- though dictators have on occasion been forced to allow free elections. But then, no real freedom of thought is possible without basic property rights-- if those who don't like what you say have the power to confiscate all you own, they will use it. Putin's "managed democracy" demonstrates pretty clearly that when those in power can confiscate property at will and suppress dissent, they will render all true opposition impotent. So I honestly don't see much meaning in Hertzberg's concluding two questions:
The question I would ask is this one: In what possible viable world view could the “right to vote” be valued more favorably than the right to think, believe, and speak as one wishes?
And this: In what possible viable world view could “property rights and the freedom of enterprise” be valued more favorably than liberty of thought, belief, and speech?
Further question: has there ever been a nonconstitutional monarch who truly upheld freedom of thought -- or, for that matter, property rights? In reality, all these goods -- accountability of the sovereign (which implies some measure of democracy), freedom of thought, property rights -- have existed in various combinations and proportions.
I'm a freelance writer and media consultant with a lasting interest in how democracy works, how it malfunctions and self-corrects. Since fall 2013 I've focused increasingly on the unfolding drama of Affordable Care Act implementation and health reform more generally.
I have a Ph.D. in medieval English literature and a propensity to parse the rhetoric and logic of our political leaders as well as that of media pundits and scholars who jump into the national debate. I wrote a dissertation on the remarkably humane and subtle medieval English anchorite Julian of Norwich, a mystic nun whose knack of squaring circles and framing paradoxes reminds me a little of our current president. A sampling of that work (mind the google gaps) is here: http://bit.ly/OzwsrR