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Quotations about Liberty and Power

About this Quotation:

As another presidential and congressional election is upon us, we turn to one of the great legal and political analyses of the electoral process by the Italian jurist Bruno Leoni. In this quote from his 1961 lectures Leoni observes that fundamentally elections are a result of group decisions which produce decisions which are not compatible with individual freedom of choice. Furthermore, he suggest that coercion is frequently involved in the “machinery of voting”. The much touted benefits of “majority rule” in fact produce outcomes which are desired by only a “majority of the majority”, which in reality are that of a minority of the people.

Other quotes from this week:

Other quotes about Parties & Elections:

3 November, 2008

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Bruno Leoni points out that elections are seriously flawed because majority rule is incompatible with individual freedom of choice (1961)

Read the full quote in context here.

Bruno Leoni, in Freedom and the Law (1961), noted two serious problems with political voting, namely that it often volated individual freedom and resulted in rule by a minority:

But voting itself seems to increase the difficulties relating both to the meaning of “representation” and to the “freedom” of the individuals in making their choice. … Election is the result of a group decision where all the electors are to be considered as the members of a group, for instance, of their constituencies or of the electorate as a whole. We have seen that group decisions imply procedures like majority rule which are not compatible with individual freedom of choice of the type that any individual buyer or seller in the market enjoys as well as in any other choice he makes in his private life. The effects of coercion in the machinery of voting have been repeatedly pointed out by politicians, by sociologists, by political scientists (such as J.S. Mill who observed that) political issues are decided “by a majority of the majority who may be, and often are, but a minority of the whole.”

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

But voting itself seems to increase the difficulties relating both to the meaning of “representation” and to the “freedom” of the individuals in making their choice. All the difficulties relating to decision groups and group decisions remain when we consider the process of voting in present-day political systems. Election is the result of a group decision where all the electors are to be considered as the members of a group, for instance, of their constituencies or of the electorate as a whole. We have seen that group decisions imply procedures like majority rule which are not compatible with individual freedom of choice of the type that any individual buyer or seller in the market enjoys as well as in any other choice he makes in his private life. The effects of coercion in the machinery of voting have been repeatedly pointed out by politicians, by sociologists, by political scientists, and especially by mathematicians. Certain paradoxical aspects of this coercion have been especially emphasized by the critics of such classical methods of representation as the so-called single-member system which still is in effect in the English-speaking countries. I wish to draw your attention to the fact that these criticisms are chiefly based on the alleged fact that the system is not in accordance with the principle of “representation,” namely, when, as John Stuart Mill said, political issues are decided “by a majority of the majority who may be, and often are, but a minority of the whole.” Let me quote the passage of Mill’s essay on this subject:

Suppose then that, in a country governed by equal and universal suffrage, there is a contested election in every constituency, and every election is carried by a small majority. The parliament thus brought together represents little more than a bare majority of the people. This parliament proceeds to legislate and adopts important measures by a bare majority of itself. What guarantee is there that these measures accord with the wishes of a majority of the people” Nearly half the electors, having been outvoted at the hustings, have had no influence at all in the decision, and the whole of these may be—a majority of them probably are—hostile to the measures; having voted against those by whom they have been carried. Of the remaining electors nearly half have chosen representatives who, by supposition, have voted against the measures. It is possible, therefore, and not at all improbable, that the opinion which has prevailed was agreeable only to a minority of the nation.

[More works by Bruno Leoni (1913 – 1967)]