Portrait of Bruce Smith

Bruce Smith on the misconceived and harmful legislation produced by voting as an inevitable though temporary case of “measles” (1887)

Found in: Liberty and Liberalism (1888)

The Australian barrister and radical individualist thinker Bruce Smith (1851-1937) warned that the new form of democracy sweeping the Enlgish-speaking world would introduce a new form of “class privilege” via the ballot box:

Parties & Elections

If there is any truth in these reflections, then the masses, having deprived kings of their despotic power, and the aristocracy and wealthy classes of any privileges they may have enjoyed, seem to be inclining now towards the creation of privileges for themselves, as against the propertied classes. To demand such advantages, or, if obtained, to persist in holding them, is simply to turn round on their own principles; for the author of “The Radical Programme” says that the “preservation of class privileges” is “the fundamental doctrine and uniform aim of Conservatism.”

In the last chapter I explained my reasons for believing that English-speaking communities will have yet to pass through a long period of well-meant but misconceived and abortive legislation—the inevitable “measles,” as it were, of democratic or popular government. I see no escape from the conclusion that, quite apart from the popular ignorance of the political science, so long as the masses pin their faith to the belief I have just mentioned, or to the bald principle of “majority” voting as a test of wisdom, the chances of legislation, beneficial to society as a whole, are well-nigh hopeless…

It is truly appalling to contemplate what life would become if each of these, and the hundred and one other wild and immature theories which are now in the air, were allowed to be carried into practice. Life would indeed be unbearable. Yet reflection will show that we are fast tending in that direction; for if we turn our eyes towards impending legislation, whether regarding commercial or social matters, we find that our individual liberty is being slowly but surely curtailed in a manner which will not for a moment stand the test of criticism, by the light of true principles.