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HomeEconomyTwo Sheep, a Wolf, and Auberon Herbert

Two Sheep, a Wolf, and Auberon Herbert

Critics of majoritarian democracy are fond of pointing out that it is akin to two wolves and a sheep voting on the dinner menu. That evinces graphically compelling imagery, but many people respond by thinking “we just need more sheep.” That, of course, misses the point, because two sheep and a wolf voting on dinner simply imposes the dire cost of collectivized menu selection on the wolf.

Minimal minarchist Auberon Herbert (1838-1906) also exposed the inherent flaw of majoritarian democracy in his 1885 pamphlet The Right and Wrong of Compulsion by the State, which Connor Boyack compares favorably with Frederic Bastiat’s classic The Law

For Herbert, like others in the classical liberal tradition, each human is “the owner and possessor of his own self” and hence he or she “has to bear the responsibility of that ownership and possession to the full.” A “really free” individual, he noted, “will neither submit to restrictions placed on himself, nor desire to impose them on others.”

Most people, though, are unfree wolves, happy to impose their desires on others, or unfree sheep, ready to be slaughtered, if only by degrees, to appease the great goddess called majoritarian democracy. According to Herbert, though, majoritarian democracy is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, little more than the “divine right” of kings in a different garb. Neither God nor the goddess of the demos, he explained, has the authority to force individuals to do anything other than not invade the liberty of others.

Any allowance of power beyond that, Herbert warned, and “there is no matter, from the highest and most vital matters of life to the lowest trifle, that the stronger, more aggressive, the more presumptuous-minded part of a nation may not decree and organize for the weaker part and compel them to observe.” “Either the will of the majority,” he explained, “or the rights of the individual are the highest law of our existence; one, whichever it is to be, must yield in the presence of the other.”

His examples resonate in 2023. Once the goddess of majoritarian democracy becomes a totem, a simple majority of voters, not even of the entire population, may:

“dictate their religion or their philosophical creed” as the acolytes of the global climate change, ESG (environment, social justice, and governance), DIE (diversity, inclusion, and equity), and CRT (critical race theory) creeds do today.

“regulate their occupations” as with the extensive occupational licensing regimes that surged over the last half century, bolstered by increasingly restrictive scope of practice regulations.

“regulate … their amusements, their possessions” as with fishing, hunting, and trapping regulations and bans on furs, natural gas stoves, and autos run by ICE.

“drag [their children] to be trained in state barracks” as was literally done with American Indian children, and occurs to some extent today when the state deems parents “unfit” for wanting to know their own child’s gender.

force upon a parent “that his child shall be vaccinated or educated” in a certain manner as occurs daily in this country, even when the parent believes that the vaccine or the education may cause net harm to the child.

Herbert would support separatist movements like Texit (Texas independence) only to the extent that its supporters want to replace majority rule with a minimal state dedicated solely to protecting the life, liberty, and property of individuals. Those simply seeking a new majority so that they can impose their own views he would treat with the utmost disdain because they are nothing more than wolves cutting some sheep from the main flock for their own lamb feast. 

In other words, Herbert wanted the independence of mankind from all overreaching government, not the mere replacement of one pack of wolves for another, even a smaller or less voracious pack. “The nature of man,” he reminded readers, “is indivisible; you cannot cut him across, and give one share of him to the state and leave the other for himself.”

Herbert’s solution is simple and clear: “There must be the complete renouncement of force – that force which all the present governments of the world employ without hesitation – as the instrument by which the condition of men is to be improved.” To achieve that goals, governments must be shrunk to the smallest possible nub and coerced taxes replaced by voluntary payments to “self-directed associations,” like those that once flourished across America. Free riding will occur but no more than it already does, and perhaps less.