Taming the Woes of Leviathan: Direct Democracy and the Problem of Authority

by Michaël Bauwens, Ph.D

As is well known, Catholic social teaching is ambivalent on the question of what particular regime is best. At The Josias, we have considered the relationship of the Church to several types of regimes, including both monarchy and republican democracy, as well as the crumbling relationship between democracy and progressive liberalism. As Carl Schmitt observes in Catholicism and Political Form, “[The Church’s] elasticity is really astounding; it unites with opposing movements and groups. Thousands of times it has been accused of making common cause with various governments and parties in different countries…” (p.4) Accordingly, The Josias is happy to host a wide variety of opinions concerning the Church’s relations with modern democracy. We are therefore pleased to publish the following essay by Dr. Michaël Bauwens, on “direct democracy” and its relationship to liberal-utilitarian individualism on the one hand and the Catholic Church on the other hand. Not all may agree with the direction or logic of Dr. Bauwens’ argument here, yet it is a worthy example of infiltrating the logic of anarchistic liberalism with that of integralism, by way of a “back door” or a “Trojan Horse.”

Jonathan Culbreath


The question of direct versus representative democracy is first of all cast within the wider question of what legitimate political authority is. Although that question has historically been closely tied to theological issues, political reality and political thought in modernity are strongly defined by an explicit rejection of any such links. Hence, understanding the modern problem of political authority requires taking this historical reality and its rejection into account. More specifically, the rejection of divine omnipotence has shifted that omnipotence to the modern secular state with all the ensuing problems of trying to tame it. Direct democracy is then arguably the final step in the gradual emergence of human autonomy, since representative democracy fails to really place authority in the people. However, that same argument of human freedom and equality can be used to defend the right of secession, otherwise even a direct democratic state would fail to live up to its ideals. This leads to the question of the justification of these individual rights in the first place, and a brief version of the argument from argumentation is presented, able to legitimate private property and self-defense. However, this argument opens up the possibility that someone claiming to be God would thereby acquire supreme political authority, though this need not have the fearsome implications that are usually associated with it. Finally, given that the main danger lies in the modern omnipotent state, both direct democracy and monarchical rule share the characteristic of locating authority in real and concrete human beings, and are commendable for that.

By way of introduction, why there are more things in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in modern politics

The question ‘Who decides?’ is, as such, a simple factual matter, to be decided by journalists or historians. But in a normative mode, the question who ought to decide, who has the right or the authority to decide, is one of the most hotly contested and often rather bloody disputes in all of human history. It is a tangled web of political, philosophical, moral, legal and even theological oppositions. Human freedom is one of the most remarkable and precious things on the face of the earth, distinguishing humans from anything discoverable either by microscopes or telescopes. Suppressing the freedom of one person by handing over the authority to decide to another person therefore requires a very solid justification, or should be rejected outright as a demeaning and dehumanizing practice. As Hans Kelsen forcefully asked: “He is a human being just like me, we are equal! Whence his right to dominate me?”[1] 

A quick, seemingly pragmatic solution might be to argue that whatever the most efficient or cost-effective procedure, system or person to decide would be, should be chosen to make the decisions. The choice between direct democracy and representative democracy would then be akin to the choice between paper-based voting or electronic voting. But much more seems to be at stake. For the problem with that argument is that cost-effectiveness can only be measured given a definite goal to be obtained. Human freedom however, and the political problem that is implied by it, precisely centers on the question what the goals are or should be. Human freedom and politics is not about what the costs and benefits are of building a school or a hospital with brick rather than concrete walls, but about whether we value health care more than education or vice versa. The very question what the costs and benefits of something are can only be answered given a set of values, and those values are precisely what is at stake when political decisions are being made – including the decision who ought to decide, and how.

Quick legal answers merely reflect the fleeting political consensus of the moment or the century. Pragmatic solutions by ‘practical men’ likewise more often unconsciously than not rest on received opinions of the past: “Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct [philosopher]”.[2] If that implicit political or philosophical consensus starts to break, there arises the need for a critical, philosophical engagement with the ultimate principles behind the structures of authority. If no universally acceptable principles can be found upon which to ground an answer to that question, no distinction can be made between the factual question who decides and the normative question who has the authority to decide. In that case, might simply makes right.

Such a principled philosophical investigation quickly encounters theological questions, even merely by noting the explicit and strong opposition to any links between political and theological questions that has marked the intellectual landscape in the West for the past handful of centuries. Prima facie at least, the question who has authority over something is closely tied to the question who is the author of something. So if there is indeed a God who created heaven and earth, all authority would belong to Him. Moreover, questions about what we find of ultimate value are closely tied to the notion of an omnibenevolent God who is goodness itself. Finally, questions about what are the ultimate rules of justice which ought to guide interhuman affairs are closely tied to the existence of a God as the final and perfectly wise judge, the highest court of appeal that everyone will sooner or later have to face.

Starting from the Constantinian era, there were indeed clear and strong ties as well as conflicts between Church and secular authorities in the West, with the Church claiming ultimate superiority over secular authorities – think of the Investiture struggle, or the Gelasian two-swords theory forcefully exemplified in the papal bull Unam Sanctam by Boniface VIII in 1302. The treaty of Westphalia in 1648 was a first clear break with that model and marked the emergence of the modern, sovereign, territorial state. The American and French revolutions of 1776 and 1789 further severed the tie between religious and secular authorities, and the First and Second Vatican Council of the Catholic Church seemingly completed that movement with Pastor Aeternus in 1870 and Dignitatis Humanae in 1965. Understanding the present day structures of Western (thinking about) politics has to take this explicit move away from Church-state relations into account, as it is one of its most characteristic features. Finally, to the extent that the modern state is one of the most successful European export products for organizing human life and political authority across the planet, it is crucial for understanding global political reality as such.

Moreover, the very structure of the question – who has the authority to decide? – and several of its key implications remains the same, whether or not the protagonist is God, the Church, or the modern state. The frontispiece of Hobbes’ Leviathan in 1651, one of the key texts of modern political thought, famously represents a commonwealth with the members composing the body of the king, who is himself both head and total body of the commonwealth. That book was moreover published during the reign of Louis XIV of France, the Sun King who allegedly declared ‘l’état, c’est moi’.[3] This was all well after the reign of Henry VIII who appointed himself, instead of the Pope in Rome, as the supreme head of what came to be known as the Anglican church. This is all too reminiscent of the classical ecclesiological picture of the Church and its members composing the body of Christ, who is Himself both head and total body of the Church – “And he is the head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1, 18), “ Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 12, 27), and other loci classici. Carl Schmitt is the standard 20th century author who argued that most of our central political concepts are immanentized theological and especially ecclesiological concepts. More recently, theologians like William Cavanaugh argued that what happened in modernity was not so much a separation of politics from religion, and of the state from the Church, but a sacralization of politics and a divinization of the state.[4] In brief, the question of political authority, and who gets to exercise it, is intimately bound up with theological issues, either in direct connection to it, or in opposition to it, or as a transformation of it.

Democracy and human authority

In line with this brief historical evolution of a gradual detachment of political authority from religious authority, one often sketches a gradual emergence of ever more democratic forms of government and political decision making. The waxing of democracy and the egalitarian ideal in politics seems to be historically matched with the waning of religious authority and hierarchical elements in politics. The less power to God or his divinely appointed kings, the more power to the people. Given the rightful importance attached to human freedom, this seems indeed like a gradual victory for freedom and human dignity as it liberates itself from heteronomy and oppression. Democracy then seems to be the logical twin of autonomy and freedom, since it embodies the ideal where nobody has authority over anyone else, and ‘we’ decide for ‘us’.

Within democracy, there is the further distinction between direct and representative democracy. Direct democracy often means semi-direct democracy, in that there are structural tools of direct democracy available to correct a system that is mostly working as a representative democracy, thereby overcoming many of the alleged practical impossibilities of direct democracy in large-scale modern states. Rousseau was a famous early critic of the representative democracy that he saw, for example, in the British system:

“The English people think they are free; they are gravely mistaken, for they are but free during the election of the members of Parliament; as soon as they are elected, they are in slavery, they are nothing. In the brief moments of its liberty, the use they make of it merits that they lose it.”[5]

Indeed, if you can only choose who decides, i.e. who has the authority to decide; but if it is never you who can really decide, is it really you who is in power? Jos Verhulst gives the example of a band of robbers who force you to hand over your wallet, but give you the freedom to choose to which of the robbers you want to give your wallet. When the one robber to whom you gave your wallet is subsequently caught by the police, he pleads innocent, claiming that you were not forced to give your wallet to him.[6] This argument is even stronger than Rousseau’s, since it implies that we are not even free on election day, as it is only a tragic witness of the fact that we are forced to give away our freedom and autonomy, without ever having the possibility of exercising it directly ourselves. Direct democracy seems like a good solution at that point, finally allowing people to decide for themselves. There is a one to one correspondence between the persons deciding and the persons undergoing the (effects of) the decision. With the advent of direct democracy, the aspirations of human freedom seems to have reached its culmination point.

Or has it? Robert Nozick borrowed a fascinating argument from Herbert Spencer, known as ‘the tale of the slave’.[7] Through a series of gradual steps, a slave owner relaxes his treatment of the slaves, ultimately giving all of his 10,000 slaves the right to vote on all possible issues related to their treatment. The question Nozick rhetorically asks is at which point in the story the slaves are no longer slaves, the pun being that even in modern democratic states – possibly even coupled with direct democratic tools – a problem remains as to whether it really is compatible with human freedom. Does having the power to cast a vote, together with 10,000 other slaves, in the policy of a slave-owning plantation, make you less of a slave? There are evident arguments that those policies will quite likely be better and more humane policies than in the case of a single slave owner making all the decisions, but why would being treated well make you less of a slave?

In brief, God has been replaced by the King, the King has been replaced by parliament, and parliament is often replaced by the power-games of political parties – and multi-party systems don’t necessarily fare better than bipartisan systems here.[8] But even when we couple representative democracy with decent tools of direct democracy like the ones exemplified in Switzerland, there is still a distance between the one deciding and the one being decided for. Hence, the primordial question who decides remains, for one feature of the 1648 crumbling of political Christendom was the principle of territoriality. Who decides who does and who does not belong to the ‘we’ in the famous ‘We, the People’? What if ‘I’ don’t want to belong to the ‘We’ who is now making autonomous decisions for ‘Us, the People’? The probably two most democratic countries of the 19th century, Switzerland and the USA, both experienced a civil war of secession in less than two decades – the Sonderbundskrieg in 1847 and the Civil War in 1861-1865 respectively. How much freedom is there ultimately, even in a (semi-)direct democracy, if one is not free to leave the political body?

Hence, the right of secession seems to be the logical and final element to really live up to the ideal of freedom that direct democracy aims for. Otherwise, the majoritarian logic of democracy couldn’t answer why a Swiss majority would not have authority over the minority of people in Liechtenstein, or a French majority would not have authority over the minority in Belgium. Territorial borders are the blind spot for a lot of arguments claiming that democracy, even direct democracy, can fully realize the ideal of political freedom. One can argue that the closer feedback loop in a direct democracy improves the quality of the decisions made, and direct democracy indeed allows for more precise steering of the policy of a country than the very indirect way of influencing policy by voting for candidates or political parties. Moreover, politicians are only in office for so many years, but citizens have to make decisions for their entire lifespans and those of their children, which again ensures a closer fit between the ones making and the ones undergoing the decision. These arguments might be valid, but they remain vulnerable to the tale of the slave.

Only individuals left, but still, whence the authority?

However, this line arguing itself rests on the idea of individual sovereignty, which it then takes to its logical political conclusion in the right of secession. But even if it is true that no human being has, by nature, authority over another human being, this does not necessarily imply the validity of that very principle of individual sovereignty. Even such a strictly individualistic principle of human freedom requires that people accept the legitimacy and authority of that principle over their lives and mutual dealings with one another. Even a world consisting of 7.5 billion tiny micro states, only joined in loose confederations for as long as they deem that beneficial for their private ends in order to reap certain economies of scale, needs to respect the ‘thou shalt not steal, kill, etc.’ commandments needed to keep the market economy going. But where does their authority come from? Why are people under the authority to obey them? Why should we honor our contracts and pay back our debts?

There are sophisticated utilitarian game-theoretical arguments available for why even strict egoists will find it to be in their own best interest to honor their contracts and pay back their debts, but it is highly controversial whether they are successful.[9] Within the Austrian School, argumentation ethics is a well-known strategy to give an individualist and moral realist ultimate grounding for one’s authority over one’s private property – and hence, by extension, ultimately over one’s claims to have sole authority over that virtual micro-state consisting of one’s private property. Hans-Hermann Hoppe, partly inspired by Karl-Otto Apel and Jürgen Habermas, is usually the point of reference,[10] but here we take Frank van Dun’s similar argument in his Het Fundamenteel Rechtsbeginsel as a point of inspiration.[11] 

The argument from argumentation, in the version on offer here, proceeds as follows. One first of all recognizes, necessarily, that we are able to think and speak reasonably and that we ought to think and speak reasonably. Otherwise, argumentation is impossible to begin with. Hence, one recognizes truth and rationality as having authority over one’s thoughts and words. Second, one grants the position of the other as an equal partner in the dialogue, i.e. as some who is likewise able to follow truth and reason and ought to follow truth and reason. Third, one recognizes in principle the equal capacities of the other person in this regard. Any argument that one of the partners in the dialogue is more knowledgeable, smarter, etc. should first of all itself be rationally established and accepted as such by the other participants. Hence, no one has any authority over another, but we both recognize that truth and rationality have authority over what both of us say and think and argue. If someone says something irrational or tells a lie, all others have the authority to correct it and demand acknowledgement of that correction. However, the others do not have that authority by themselves, but merely as acting on behalf of the truth and rationality that all agreed upon as an authority from the outset. Hence, one human person can only exercise legitimate authority over another person as a representative or vicar of that higher authority, but not on his or her own authority.

Next, this authority applies to both ‘words’ as well as ‘actions’, since making the distinction between ‘words’ and ‘actions’ for the applicability of that authority would itself require an argument that would have to be accepted. Next, every action, except for a knee-jerk reflex, exhibits a minimal sense of rationality because it is acting upon a reason for that action, as a manifestation of the rationality of the actor – however fallible and limited it may be. Since we all acknowledge truth and rationality to be the supreme and sole authority over everything we do, as well as our equality as beings capable of discerning truth and rationality, no unilateral overruling of one action over another is possible. There will be countless disagreements over whether the actions of other persons are rational or not, but as long as they are irresolvable we have to accept a principle of fallibilism or agnosticism and respect every action of the other person – out of respect for the minimal, and in our opinion possibly even misguided, rationality such an action manifests.

On that basis, one can argue for a homesteading principle of sorts – not a Lockean one in the sense of mixing one’s labour with unowned property, but in the sense of homesteading a sphere of action by acting upon one’s reasons for those actions. Those actions can include things like ‘keeping a house at one’s disposal’ after having constructed it. Every other stranger has to respect whatever reasons the constructor of that house might have (had) for building that house and keeping it at his personal disposal. One can homestead the countless possible actions one may perform by virtue of the reasons one has for performing those actions, which are subsequently unavailable for other people on the authority of the rationality behind those actions they necessarily have to accept.

Evidently, one can try to reason someone out of a certain action, or convince a person to freely give up his rightful claims to something and give it to someone else instead. This is exactly what happens in cases of charity, gifts or donations. However, to the extent that this does not succeed, one has to recognize these limits on one’s legitimate sphere of activity as other people’s rights and property. One can of course proceed to buy or sell these rightful claims, in which case my rightful authority over my piano is swapped for your rightful authority over your guitar – or for a certain amount of your dollars. In those cases both parties agree that it would be more reasonable, for whatever reason each party might find convincing, to swap their rights over these goods. Every sale or purchase is a swapping of rights the result of which is deemed to be better and more reasonable to all parties involved in the transaction.

Finally, transgressing those borders, rightfully established in virtue of the rationality of the other person, would clearly be an irrational act, for which the other person does not have the authority. Hence, forms of self-defense can be grounded in the authority one has to act as a representative or vicar of the authority of reason or truth that argumentation ethics accepted to begin with. As a consequence, forms of physical protection or policing as well as judicial systems can be given a legitimation as well, and the individualistic system is complete. Summing up, although direct democracy is the most perfect embodiment of political freedom within a state, it is itself only justified if the right to secede is acknowledged. Moreover, the right to secede and the principle of individual sovereignty on which it rests is justified by the argument from argumentation itself, which we cannot escape except at the cost of completely leaving rational discourse and dialogue.

The theological question through the back door

However, what if someone were someday to arrive and claim to be the truth – e.g. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14, 6)? Based on the preceding argument from argumentation that granted all authority to truth and rationality itself as opposed to granting authority to other persons, if that one person would indeed be the truth, he would ipso facto be the one to whom “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given” (Matthew 28, 18). Moreover, His representatives, and especially His vicar, would, within the due limits set by that very person and by truth and rationality itself, acquire a special and privileged status vis-à-vis all earthly political authorities. We would have the investiture struggle all back again, but through the back door of the individual sovereignty of market anarchism as grounded in argumentation ethics.

Evidently, one can question the veracity of that person’s claim, but one cannot a priori deny the possibility as such of a person truthfully making that claim. This is not the place to argue for the veracity of such a claim made by the particular historical person Jesus Christ, but one can consider the necessary political implications it could have or has had. Believing in that person would simply imply believing in the truth of the claim of that person to be the truth. That kind of ‘belief’ has just as much political and legal relevance as the ‘belief’ in a courtroom whether a freely incurred debt was to the amount of 1000 euros or 10,000 euros, the ‘belief’ as to what the mathematical method to calculate the interest due on that loan is, or the ‘belief’ whether a president seized power in a coup d’état instead of being validly elected. One cannot reduce or limit these truth claims to ‘private’ beliefs because the political or legal structures and their operation are themselves at stake. Similarly, the claim that someone is truth itself has immediate political and legal implications if accepted or rejected. For example, all political authority would owe loyalty to that person, and all laws in contradiction with the commandments of that person would, in principle, be void.

To be sure, there is no danger of theocratic despotism here. Because of the preceding argument relying on argumentation ethics and the authority of truth and rationality, it is to be expected that the implications of the acceptance of that claim will concur in a lot of cases with the legal and political structures arrived at ‘within the bounds of mere reason’. It is no historical coincidence that natural law and liberalism arose in a Christian context. The idea of all men being made in the image and likeness of a God who transcends all earthly realities provides an important bulwark against despotism. The idea of God who paid an infinite price – namely His own life on the cross – for each and every single individual gives a rock-solid foundation for the infinite worth of each individual. To the extent that democracy, and especially direct democracy, is the political embodiment of the freedom and equality of individuals, it is heir to these fundamental presuppositions that are far from self-evident and have a specific theological underpinning in the history of the Christian West. Even the deep-rooted conviction of the possibility of science arose, according to Whitehead, out of medieval theology: “the faith in the possibility of science, generated antecedently to the development of modern scientific theory, is an un­conscious derivative from medieval theology,” namely “the medieval insistence on the ra­tionality of God.”[12] Creation is open to rational investigation because it was created by a rational Creator. Critics will be quick to point out historical conflicts between certain representatives of the Church and some of these developments, but this is an argument as to what Christianity in general disposes a civilization towards, not that it turns real or apparent adherents into perfect automatons of truth and justice.

Moreover, although the divine right of kings might sound like a clear contradiction to anything resembling liberalism and individual rights, the wonderful thing about divinely ordained kings is that neither they nor anyone else can expand the limits of their power. Their ‘checks and balances’ are the tight reins immutably held by God instead of by elections. When Boniface VIII thundered in 1302 against Philips IV of France of the spiritual and the temporal sword that “both are in the power of the Church,” whereby “the latter is to be used for the Church, the former by the Church” and that “one sword must of necessity be subject to the other, and the temporal authority to the spiritual”, he gave as a reason that “the spiritual power excels the earthly power in dignity and worth, […] just in proportion as the spiritual is higher than the temporal.”[13] 

The general outline of this argument is simply that temporal power can only be used when it is in accord with the authority of truth and justice, which is entrusted to the Pope. However, the Pope himself is the mere vicar – not the successor – of Christ, and hence lacks the kind of omnipotence that every single modern state currently has. So the claim made by Christ to be the truth and hence the absolute authority on heaven and earth first of all undercuts any claim for absolute authority made by any other human person, group or state. Second, the institution of the papacy, itself strictly deprived of omnipotence, can act as a concretely embodied break on any concentration of political power in temporal authorities. An authority can only be checked by a higher authority, and merely human checks and balances will only work for a couple of centuries as long as the cultural inertia of a preceding era in which that common higher authority was recognized lasts – “attempting to preserve the fruits of Christianity after having surrendered the roots”[14] will sooner rather than later prove to be an utter failure. The history of the Church during the past 2000 years is not all sunshine and roses, but abusus non tollit usum.

Direct democracy and supreme authority

How does all of this apply to the comparison of (semi-) direct democracy to (merely) representative democracy? In the case of a merely representative democracy, arguments like the ones advanced by Rousseau and Verhulst showed that merely representative democracy fails to live up to the ideals of democracy itself. The representatives are indeed designated by the people, but if the people can never directly exercise their authority it is difficult to see how the people are the supreme authority at all. Moreover, these representatives cannot claim to exercise power on their own authority, as could be the case in an aristocracy. Hence, a merely representative democracy necessarily has to rely on the fiction of a sovereign ‘State’ or ‘Nation’ on whose authority they are exercising their power. For example, the Belgian Council of State, the supreme administrative court of Belgium, has repeatedly argued against the possibility of direct democracy in Belgium because article 33 of the constitution stipulates that “all powers emanate from the Nation”, hence “the Constitution has not established a regime based on popular sovereignty, but on national sovereignty” which implies that when the representative bodies take their decisions they can “neither in law nor in fact be bound”, not even by the people whom they allegedly represent (e.g. by tools of direct democracy) because “the role of the population in the creation of laws, decrees and ordonnances is in the current constitutional system limited”.[15]

Hence, who or what is really sovereign is ‘the Nation’, a mythical entity which is neither a God nor a human being, and yet is wielding omnipotence over all human beings on its territory. This entity then becomes, as Frédéric Bastiat noted centuries ago, “that great fiction by which everyone tries to live at the expense of everybody else.”[16] But the money Bastiat worried about is just one consequence of the fact that the omnipotence of the state is up for grabs for whoever succeeds in convincing a majority that it will be used for their purported benefit. Merely representative democracy on the other hand covers up a nameless omnipotent state because there is a mismatch between the ones making the decisions and the ones bearing the consequences of them. In trying to locate the responsibility in a representative democracy, the representatives can always point back to the electorate who authorized them, but the electorate can point back to the representatives who made the real decision that they were unable to alter. Amidst the shadows of this mismatch arises the nameless legal construct known as Leviathan. If people rightfully refuse to submit to the authority of another human being, but likewise refuse to submit to the authority of God, the only place where omnipotence can be placed is in that faceless creature of modernity called the state, which has since left a bloody trail through history.

On the other hand, in a direct democracy there is no nameless or faceless ‘state’ or ‘nation’, but real and concrete individuals who are ultimately exercising their joint individual authority – and only allowing their representatives to decide if they do not do so themselves. The possibility of direct democratic decisions on the highest legislative level of a country ensures that who is really in power are the concrete human beings living across the street. There is a clear match between the ones really making the decision and the ones being responsible for it and bearing the consequences of the decision. In that sense, direct democracy and monarchical forms of government have more in common than what might be expected at first sight. In the case of a monarchy, there is likewise a concrete individual exercising his or her private authority over his or her property, dealing not with citizens of a state but with other concrete and private persons. Moreover, there is a clear match between the one making the decisions and the one bearing the full responsibility for it. There might be a great imbalance in political and economic power between all the persons involved, so the consequences of decisions made by a powerful individual – for good or for evil – will be felt by more people than when persons with very little power make decisions, but this is much like a contemporary CEO having far more power than a simple employee of a multinational, in that the decisions of the former have more repercussions for the latter than vice versa. What matters is that there is no categorical difference between a CEO and an employee in the way that there is between a citizen and ‘the State’. The latter difference is closer to the difference between a human being and God – which is not much of a surprise given the above mentioned indications of the state as an immanentization of divine omnipotence.


In the end, both direct democratic or monarchical forms of government, or a combination thereof, can be used for good or for ill. No form of government or decision-procedure can in and of itself guarantee good, or bad, outcomes. Hoping or believing the opposite would reflect an unhealthy faith in and fixation on the state under the modern motto ‘in the state we trust’, however disappointed we may be time and time again in politics – with alternatives like ‘in science and technology we trust’ or ‘in the market we trust’ being merely variants of the core theme ‘in man we trust’. While direct democracy is for some of the above-mentioned and other reasons worthy of being implemented as a more perfect embodiment of the democratic ideal, its decisions will only be as good as the people taking them are. It is and can only be a part of the full story in taming the woes of Leviathan – for which a stronger ally as supreme authority will have to be found. To the extent that people who care about the possibility of direct democracy are interested to further the cause of justice, human freedom, and ultimately truth itself, they might do well to pay heed to that full story.


Bastiat, Frédéric. “L’État.” Journal des Débats (September 25, 1848).

Bonifacius VIII. “Unam Sanctam,” 1302.

Cavanaugh, William T. The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Dewachter, Wilfried. De Mythe van de Parlementaire Democratie: Een Belgische Analyse. Leuven: Acco, 2001.

van Dun, Frank. “Argumentation Ethics and the Philosophy of Freedom.” Libertarian Papers 1 (2009): 1–32.

———. “Concepts of Order.” In Ordered Anarchy: Jasay and His Surroundings, edited by H. Kliemt and H. Bouillon, 59–92. London: Routledge, 2016.

———. “Economics and the Limits of Value-Free Science.” Reason papers 11 (1986): 17–32.

———. Het Fundamenteel Rechtsbeginsel. 2nd ed. Antwerpen: Murray Rothbard Instituut, 2008.

———. “On the Philosophy of Argument and the Logic of Common Morality.” In Argumentation: Approaches to Theory Formation, edited by E. M. Barth and J. L. Martens, 281–294. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1982.

Hoppe, Hans-Hermann. The Economics and Ethics of Private Property. Studies in Political Economy and Philosophy. Auburn, Alabama: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2006.

Kelsen, Hans. Vom Wesen Und Wert Der Demokratie. Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1920.

Keynes, John Maynard. The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1936.

Manning, Henry Edward Cardinal. The Vatican Decrees in Their Bearing on Civil Allegiance. London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1875.

Nozick, Robert. Anarchy, State and Utopia. Malden, Mass.: Basic Books, 1974.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Du Contrat Social. Amsterdam: Marc Michel Rey, 1762.

Sheen, Fulton John. Communism and the Conscience of the West. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1948.

Spencer, Herbert. The Man versus the State. Caldwell, Idaho: The Caxton Printers, 1960.

Verhulst, Jos. Het Verdiepen van de Democratie: Feiten, Argumenten En Ervaringen Omtrent de Invoering van Het Referendum. Brussel: Cypres, 1998.

Vonglis, Bernard. La Monarchie Absolue Française: Définition, Datation, Analyse D’un Régime Politique Controversé. Paris: Editions L’Harmattan, 2006.

———. L’Etat C’était Bien Lui: Essai Sur La Monarchie Absolue. Paris: Cujas, 1997.

Whitehead, Alfred North. Science and the Modern World. Pelican Mentor Books. New York: The new American library, 1948.

[1] “Er ist ein Mensch wie ich, wir sind gleich! Wo ist also sein Recht, mich zu beherrschen?” Hans Kelsen, Vom Wesen Und Wert Der Demokratie (Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1920), 4.

[2] The full original quote by Keynes reads as follows: “The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. […] I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas.” John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1936), 383.

[3] For background information about what the exact legal and political meaning of this statement might have been, regardless of whether Louis XIV really said this or not, cf. Bernard Vonglis, L’Etat C’était Bien Lui: Essai Sur La Monarchie Absolue (Paris: Cujas, 1997); Bernard Vonglis, La Monarchie Absolue Française: Définition, Datation, Analyse D’un Régime Politique Controversé (Paris: Editions L’Harmattan, 2006).

[4] Cf. William T. Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).

[5] “Le peuple Anglois pense être libre; il se trompe fort, il ne l’est que durant l’élection des membres du Parlement ; sitôt qu’ils sont élus, il est esclave, il n’est rien. Dans les courts momens de sa liberté, l’usage qu’il en fait mérite bien qu’il la perde.” Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Du Contrat Social (Amsterdam: Marc Michel Rey, 1762), 214.

[6] Jos Verhulst, Het Verdiepen van de Democratie: Feiten, Argumenten En Ervaringen Omtrent de Invoering van Het Referendum (Brussel: Cypres, 1998), 18.

[7] Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia (Malden, Mass.: Basic Books, 1974), 290–292. The original and longer version is in Herbert Spencer, The Man versus the State (Caldwell, Idaho: The Caxton Printers, 1960), 41–43.

[8] Cf. Wilfried Dewachter, De Mythe van de Parlementaire Democratie: Een Belgische Analyse (Leuven: Acco, 2001). He provides an analysis of the power of political parties and the government vis-à-vis the weakness of the parliament in Belgium.

[9] Cf. for example the elegant critique by Frank van Dun, “Concepts of Order,” in Ordered Anarchy: Jasay and His Surroundings, ed. H. Kliemt and H. Bouillon (London: Routledge, 2016), 59–92.

[10] Cf. Hans-Hermann Hoppe, The Economics and Ethics of Private Property, Studies in Political Economy and Philosophy (Auburn, Alabama: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2006), 339–346.

[11] Frank van Dun, Het Fundamenteel Rechtsbeginsel, 2nd ed. (Antwerpen: Murray Rothbard Instituut, 2008), 148–160. Van Dun has also written in English on these issues, cf. Frank van Dun, “On the Philosophy of Argument and the Logic of Common Morality,” in Argumentation: Approaches to Theory Formation, ed. E. M. Barth and J. L. Martens (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1982), 281–294; Frank van Dun, “Economics and the Limits of Value-Free Science,” Reason papers 11 (1986): 17–32; Frank van Dun, “Argumentation Ethics and the Philosophy of Freedom,” Libertarian Papers 1 (2009): 1–32.

[12] Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, Pelican Mentor Books (New York: The new American library, 1948), 13–14.

[13] “Uterque ergo est in potestate ecclesiae, spiritualis scilicet gladius et materialis. Sed is quidem pro ecclesia, ille vero ab ecclesia exercendus, ille sacerdotis, is manu regum et militum, sed ad nutum et patientiam sacerdotis. Oportet autem gladium esse sub gladio, et temporalem auctoritatem spirituali subjici potestati. […] Spiritualem autem et dignitate et nobilitate terrenam quamlibet praecellere potestatem, opportet tanto clarius nos fateri quanto spiritualia temporalia antecellunt.” Bonifacius VIII, “Unam Sanctam,” 1302. The English translation is taken from Henry Edward Cardinal Manning, The Vatican Decrees in Their Bearing on Civil Allegiance (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1875), 58–59.

[14] Fulton John Sheen, Communism and the Conscience of the West (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1948), 166.

[15] “Zowel uit deze bepaling zelf, als uit de overige bepalingen van de Grondwet betreffende de uitoefening van de machten, blijkt dat de Grondwet niet een stelsel gebaseerd op de volkssoevereiniteit heeft ingesteld, doch wel een stelsel gebaseerd op de nationale soevereiniteit (…) Het door de Grondwet aldus ingesteld representatieve stelsel impliceert dat het de volksvertegenwoordigende vergaderingen zijn die de beslissingen nemen in de aangelegenheden die tot hun bevoegdheid behoren en dat ze in de uitoefening van hun mandaat, noch in rechte, noch in feite, mogen worden gebonden. Het aandeel van de bevolking bij de totstandkoming van wetten, decreten en ordonnanties is in het huidige constitutionele bestel beperkt” Advies van de Raad van State, NR. 37.804/AV.

[16] “L’État, c’est la grande fiction à travers laquelle tout le monde s’efforce de vivre aux dépens de tout le monde.” Frédéric Bastiat, “L’État,” Journal des Débats (September 25, 1848).