Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Goldwater Institute: Solving the initiative quandary through reform

By Nick Dranias

Is the ballot initiative process fundamentally at war with the foundation of American government? Unfortunately, the short answer is yes-unless the initiative process is reformed to limit government power.

Our country is premised on the idea that government is meant to secure liberty. And the framers of the U.S. Constitution saw direct democracy as a tremendous threat to liberty because it concentrates power in momentary majorities. This viewpoint reflected a deep understanding of direct democracy's sordid past, from the death of Socrates at the hands of the Athenians, to the teachings of Polybius, who observed more than two thousand years ago that direct democracy naturally leads to tyranny once the majority realizes its power to spread the wealth.

There is a clear clash in philosophy between Arizona's unbridled initiative process and that of the Constitutional Republic envisioned by our country's framers. But this clash can be reconciled.

If the ballot initiative process were reformed to be a means of diffusing and checking-rather than expanding-government power, it would become a valuable corollary to the doctrines of federalism and separation of powers. The initiative process would join those two time-tested institutional restraints on the corrupting influence of political power. Together, all three doctrines would become a much more powerful bulwark against those who would seek to advance their narrow interests through government force.

Nick Dranias is the constitutional policy director at the Goldwater Institute.

Learn more:

Goldwater Institute: Ballot initiative analysis

East Valley Tribune:Three measures can roll back impact of government

Humanistictexts.org: Polybius

Mlloyd.org: Polybius and the Founding Fathers: the separation of powers

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