On Limited Government, Conservatives, and Majority Rule

P.J. O’Rourke is patently wrong here:

If the citizenry insists that abortion remain legal–and, in a passive and conflicted way, the citizenry seems to be doing so–then give the issue a rest.

The measure of a law’s legitimacy is not whether the citizenry “insists” on it. In this case, prohibiting abortion would be no more right if a majority supported it. It’s either a legitimate function of government, or it’s not–whether a majority would vote for it, or a minority.

As Ayn Rand said, invoking the Founders:

“I have sworn upon the alter of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”

Jefferson–and the other Founding Fathers–meant it. They did not confine their efforts to the battle against theocracy and monarchy, they fought–on the same grounds, invoking the same principle of individual rights–against democracy, i.e., the system of unlimited majority rule. They recognized that the cause of freedom is not advanced by the multiplication of despots, and they did not propose to substitute the tyranny of a mob for that of a handful of autocrats.

We must bear in mind, say Jefferson, that the will of the majority “to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate would be oppression.” In a pure democracy, writes Madison in a famous passage of The Federalist, “there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”

Regarding abortion, a woman either has the right to control her own body, or she does not, and it matters little to her whether it’s a minority that strips her of it, or a majority. If the Republicans want to regain their relevance in American politics, it is this principle–limited government as opposed to majority rule–that they must embrace. And conservatism, of which O’Rourke speaks in his piece, is one thing that the Republican Party must reject.

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