Tuesday, 28 February 2006

Putting freedom beyond the vote...

There are some things that are so important they should be put beyond the vote. That's the proposition I want to offer you this morning.

Consider this for example: Western countries around the world express concern at how waves of Islamic immigration could put at risk the freedoms we take for granted -- or at least the freedoms that some of you take for granted, such as the right to free speech, the separation of church and state, and the blessings of secure of secure property rights.

As long as there was widespread understanding of and support for these important bulwarks of liberty, the secure retention of them was relatively assured; but as ignorance overtakes knowledge and the population changes any of these things of importance can be easily taken away by citizens'-initiated referenda, government vote-buying, or the easy, knee-jerk clamour of populism.

There are some things that are so important that they need to be beyond the vote. You might disagree with me on what exactly those things should be, but I invite you to consider that some are so important that they simply must be. The only secure way to put things beyond the vote is with a Bill of Rights that defines those rights to be protected, and a written constitution that enshrines their permanence, and their superiority to all other law. New Zealand's present unwritten constitution and our toothless Bill of Rights offer insufficient protection from the venality of vote-buying and the turbulence of the modern world. Democracy is not liberty.

When democracy is all you have, you really do need to realise that some things are just so important that they need to be put beyond the vote. A written constitution is how you put them there. When you do, you can move beyond democracy and go for liberty instead.

TAGS: Constitution, Politics, Democracy, Cue Card Libertarianism, Rights , Free Speech


  1. This is pretty much the point made by Fareed Zakaria (editor of Newsweek) in his book, The Future of Freedom: Illiberal democracy at home and abroad. Western governments keep pushing for 'democracy' (which can lead to a Hamas government) at the expense of liberty.

  2. New Zealand has no written constitution because (a) what we have now gives advantage to the politicians and the legislature and (b) we have never had a statesman with enough intelligence and backbone to institute the writing of one.

    Most New Zealanders (and immigrants) will thus continue to vote for the party which guarantees the highest benefits e.g. the dole. A people deserve the government they get.

  3. Constitutions don't change a lot, even if supreme law and entrenched. If American judicial history has taught us anything, it is surely that constyitutions get reapplied and changed through interpretation.

  4. "Constitutions don't change a lot, even if supreme law and entrenched."

    Well, yes they do. If the job of a bill of rights is to delineate the rights to be protected by government(which it is)and if the job of a constitution is to tie up the government so it is only dong that and no more (which it is), then American judicial history shows that for nearly a hundred-and-fifty years this was pretty well achieved. Across the course of human history, that is a pretty unique occurence.

    "If American judicial history has taught us anything, it is surely that constitutions get reapplied and changed through interpretation."

    What it should have taught you is that it is possible to chain up the government for some period, and that if we can learn from the chinks in the US constitution and make sure they're repaired, we can hope to achieve the same or better.

    For more, and an example of what such a constitutiuon might look like have a look at Cue Card Libertarianism - Constitution.


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