Hayek and democracy

Will Wilkinson is unhappy about a recent article in Salon where Michael Lind denounces libertarians as enemies of democracy. One of Lind’s targets is the classical liberal, Friedrich Hayek who he says preferred libertarian dictatorships to welfare state democracies. Wilkinson hits back, arguing that Hayek was a staunch defender of "constitutionally-limited liberal democracy" and offers an extended quote to prove the point.

But Lind has a point. According to Greg Grandin he once told a Chilean interview that his personal preference "leans toward a liberal dictatorship rather than toward a democratic government devoid of liberalism."

As Wilkinson knows, Hayek’s "constitutionally-limited liberal democracy" isn’t what everyone thinks of as democracy. Hayek was all for democratically elected governments, but he favoured a system designed to prevent elected leaders from doing many of the things that voters want. What Hayek feared more than authoritarianism was an unlimited democracy where the government could legislate for and implement anything a majority of citizens wanted.

Some liberals worry about things like a white minority granting themselves rights and privileges they deny to blacks. But Hayek had other things in mind. As he said in a lecture titled ‘Whither democracy’:

An unlimited legislature which is not prevented by convention or constitutional provisions from decreeing aimed and discriminatory measures of coercion, such as tariffs or taxes or subsidies, cannot avoid acting in such an unprincipled manner.

… Agreement by the majority on sharing the booty gained by overwhelming a minority of fellow citizens, or deciding how much is to be taken from them is not democracy. At least it is not that ideal of democracy which has any moral justification. Democracy itself is not egalitarianism. But unlimited democracy is bound to become egalitarian.

Hayek went on to outline a system that would hold the executive in check and prevent it from raising taxes or paying subsidies aimed at particular groups. The first line of defence would be the constitution. This would limit the scope of legislative authority. The second line of defence would be to have two democratic assemblies making different kinds of laws.

The first legislative assembly would make what Hayek called "true law". This might include general laws such as the share of taxation each citizen would pay. The second assembly — the assembly from which the government is formed — would "administer the material and personal resources placed at the disposal of government to enable it to render various services to the citizens at large." While it might decide how much revenue to raise, it could not decide to vary the tax rates for different groups of citizens or different industries.

Of course Hayek worried that the two assemblies might collude in order to pursue some electorally popular goal. So to prevent this he suggested that citizens would only get to vote once in their lifetime for representatives in the first assembly and that members of that assembly would be elected for a period of "something like 15 years".

Hayek suggested that 45 might be a good age for citizens to exercise their one opportunity to vote. Voters would choose from candidates who were also 45 years old. Hayek thought that contemporaries were usually the best judges of a person’s character and that citizens might form "age clubs" that would enable them to have personal knowledge of the candidates.

So Hayek was a staunch supporter of a certain kind of democracy. But the kind he favoured was designed to severely limit what elected governments are able to do. Forced to choose between a less limited democracy and a authoritarian but economically liberal regime, Hayek would choose authoritarian liberalism. So it’s not surprising that he preferred Pinochet to Allende. And that’s pretty much Lind’s point.

Update: Back in 2002 John Quiggin noted how Hayek’s "support for liberal democracy in the ordinary sense of the term was weak and highly qualified". In Quiggin’s opinion: "Hayek’s support for Pinochet was a natural consequence of his system of thought and not an aberration."

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Mr Denmore
Mr Denmore
10 years ago

Don, there is an interesting new book by former UK diplomat Carne Ross – “The Leaderless Revolution” – which combines the idea of a more atomised democracy – networked anarchism he calls it – with social liberalism.

It’s a fair way from Hayek’s concept of authoritarian democracy, but it also draws from the libertarian view that nation state governments are largely powerless to address some of the more complex issues we face.

I’ve written about it in the Failed Estate today

here.

Fyodor
10 years ago

Not much of a gotcha, this. That Hayek preferred “liberal dictatorship”* to ochlocracy is unsurprising. Who doesn’t?

*If such a contradiction exists. That it doesn’t reveals Hayek’s mistake.

Sinclair Davidson
10 years ago

What opinion, in your view, should we have of dictatorships?
Well, I would say that, as long-term institutions, I am totally against dictatorships. But a dictatorship may be a necessary system for a transitional period. At times it is necessary for a country to have, for a time, some form or other of dictatorial power. As you will understand, it is possible for a dictator to govern in a liberal way. And it is also possible for a democracy to govern with a total lack of liberalism. Personally I prefer a liberal dictator to democratic government lacking liberalism. My personal impression — and this is valid for South America – is that in Chile, for example, we will witness a transition from a dictatorial government to a liberal government. And during this transition it may be necessary to maintain certain dictatorial powers, not as something permanent, but as a temporary arrangement.
Apart from Chile, can you mention other cases of transitional dictatorial governments?
Well, in England, Cromwell played a transitional role between absolute royal power and the limited powers of the constitutional monarchies. In Portugal, the dictator Oliveira Salazar also started on the right path here, but he failed. He tried, but did not succeed. Then after the war, Konrad Adenauer and Ludwig Erhardt held initially almost dictatorial powers, using them to establish a liberal government in the shortest possible space of time. The situation called for the presence of two very strong men to achieve this task. And the two of them very successfully accomplished this stage towards the establishment of a democratic government. If you permit I would like to make a brief comment in this sense on Argentina.
Why not?
I felt very disenchanted right from my first visit there, shortly after Peron’s fall. At that time I talked with many officers from the Military School. They were highly intelligent persons. Politically brilliant, I would say among the most brilliant politicians in their country. For me it was a pity they did not make better use of this intelligence. I would have hoped they could have laid the foundations for a stable democratic government. And yet they did not. I do not know why they failed, in fact, but my impression is that they had the political ability and the intelligence to do so.
Which means that you would propose stronger, dictatorial governments, during transitional periods…
When a government is in a situation of rupture, and there are no recognized rules, rules have to be created in order to say what can be done and what cannot. In such circumstances it is practically inevitable for someone to have almost absolute powers. Absolute powers that need to be used precisely in order to avoid and limit any absolute power in the future. It may seem a contradiction that it is I of all people who am saying this, I who plead for limiting government’s powers in people’s lives and maintain that many of our problems are due, precisely, to too much government. However, when I refer to this dictatorial power, I am talking of a transitional period, solely. As a means of establishing a stable democracy and liberty, clean of impurities. This is the only way I can justify it – and recommend it.

That is a longer quote from the 1981 El Mercurio interview.

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

Based on Sinc’s longer quote, Hayek’s view was left-wing received wisdom around about the time we invaded Iraq, iirc.

KB Keynes
KB Keynes
10 years ago

Hayek was never the same after he got beaten up by Sraffa.

His ‘Transitional’ theory merely confirms this.

jtfsoon
jtfsoon
10 years ago

well boo hoo

who *wouldn’t* prefer a liberal dictatorship to an illiberal democracy?

the main problem with this choice is that the first hardly exists or is unsustainable while the second is all too often inevitable.

jtfsoon
jtfsoon
10 years ago

The other thing not mentioned about that slimy Salon article is the quote by Ludwig von Mises about the fascists which was taken out of context. The Jewish Mises lived in Austria. The Austrian fascists, contrary to the wishes of democracy-fetishists, suppressed the Austrian Nazis who would’ve wanted to murder Mises once they got into power. The clerical fascist Dolfuss was arguably an unsung anti-Nazi hero.

Pedro
Pedro
10 years ago

“As Wilkinson knows, Hayek’s “constitutionally-limited liberal democracy” isn’t what everyone thinks of as democracy. Hayek was all for democratically elected governments, but he favoured a system designed to prevent elected leaders from doing many of the things that voters want.”

Democracy is, at heart, a process for selecting a government. The extent of the government’s power is irrelevant to whether a democracy exists. A person’s relationship to the state is in the first instance defined by a constitution that sets limits to the government. In a democratic republic (or defacto republic as we have), the constitution is also able to be changed by the people so that the relationship of the individual to the state is not set in concrete.

I would be surprised if a substantial majority of the population favours a totally untrammelled state, but people differ on the extent and nature of the limits to state power. So to treat Hayek’s preference for a democratically elected limited govt as a “yes but” to the question of whether he favours democracy seems disingenuous.

jtfsoon
jtfsoon
10 years ago

he favoured a system designed to prevent elected leaders from doing many of the things that voters want.”

The US Bill of Rights does the same thing.

KB Keynes
KB Keynes
10 years ago

no it doesn’t that comment is muddleheaded.

The bill of rights simply ensured separation of powers of the executive from the legislature and the Judiciary.

This is vastly different from an absurd theory of a nation in transition to parliamentary democracy

jtfsoon
jtfsoon
10 years ago

tell that to all the people who oppose a bill of rights in australia, homes.

btw how does your Nazi economics fit into your theory of democracy? and where did I say anything about ‘transition to parliamentary democracy’. Hayek’s opposition to simple minded democratic fetishism/vulgar majoritarianism is quite distinct from the transition argument in that interview. And the opposition to vulgar majoritarianism is a staple of liberal thought.

sorry but give me John Stuart Mill to Adolf Hitler anyday, homes, though I know that’s not your preference

KB Keynes
KB Keynes
10 years ago

Soony you stupid comment is that the US bill of rights prevents elected leaders from doing many of the things that voters want.

If this was the case then it would apply across the board to all Presidents and legislatures however it doesn’t.

to wit Reagan, Clinton Bush and Obama.

Think something through before you write.

I have never said Nazi Germany was a democracy. They got to power via democratic means. I have always agreed with the Kershaw/Gellately thesis that it was a dictatorship by consent as elucidated by Hitler in Mein Kampf.

I agree on John Stuart Mill however.

jtfsoon
jtfsoon
10 years ago

Homer you blockhead
does or does not the Bill of Rights place some limits on what elected governments might want to do? what’s the point of that bit on free speech for example? has it never been used to strike down a law?

KB Keynes
KB Keynes
10 years ago

Oh genius if it the Bill of rights it applies across the board i.e.e to ALL presidents and ALL legislatures however as I have already pointed out this hasn’t been the case.

Yes I agree the law stops anyone from striking down illegal laws but that isn’t what this is about.

This isn’t Catallaxy. Think before you write

KB Keynes
KB Keynes
10 years ago

The irony of Soony arguing against what elected governments might do but supporting Hayek who believed Dictatorship was a necessary transition to democracy.

plenty of support for minorities in dem dictatorships

Fred Argy
Fred Argy
10 years ago

Don, another fine piece. Well done. Hayek was not what we would call a “democrat”.

Pedro
Pedro
10 years ago

Homer, gun reform now!

“My personal impression — and this is valid for South America – is that in Chile, for example, we will witness a transition from a dictatorial government to a liberal government. And during this transition it may be necessary to maintain certain dictatorial powers, not as something permanent, but as a temporary arrangement.”

Homer, Hayek was simply saying that functioning democracies are not built in a day and so the transition from dictatorship to democracy will likely require that some power of the dictator will be held onto longer than others. Which I think we are seeing happen in China, even through the party might not have an explicit goal of a transition to democracy. Remember what happened in Russia.

Scare quotes Fred?

KB Keynes
KB Keynes
10 years ago

yeah Pedro,

Pinochet always had in mind Chile returning to a liberal democracy.

Even when he ‘bequeathed’ democracy ( under a lot of pressure both internal and external)the Army still had the ability to say yeah or nay.

As I said Hayek was never the same cove after his losing stoush with Sraffa which was possibly the highlight of his career from a technical point of view

Yobbo
Yobbo
10 years ago

the main problem with this choice is that the first hardly exists or is unsustainable while the second is all too often inevitable.

There are more examples of liberal dictatorships then there are liberal democracies.

Sally
Sally
10 years ago

So Hayek was a sort of corrupted Leninist, right? Dictatorship of the ruling class (minority) rather than of the proletariat (majority).

Original. Not. Democratic? Not so much.

.
.
10 years ago

We have two Labor bludgers saying completely absurd things from completely opposite polar ends to try and subvert our liberties. Both are complete nutters.

Bugger off Jinmaro/sally/pip/phil, and stop running interference for anything left wing and stop calling people who are for free speech, no security state, lower taxes, less Government (i.e libertarians), “fascists”.

You’ll say anything, no matter how untrue or rabidly left wing in order to support the Government of Julia you cross dressing freak.

Piss off to Bird’s sick little blog and continue to drip feed his 9/11 conspiracies. You ought to tell him you’re really a man and break it to him gently.

Soony you stupid comment is that the US bill of rights prevents elected leaders from doing many of the things that voters want.

Good.

I have never said Nazi Germany was a democracy. They got to power via democratic means.

This is a lie. The Nazis did not contest a fair and free election or Reichstag vote in which they as a result gained more power.

Are you going to call the 1936 elections just an expression of free will and compare the Gestapo to the Gallup organisation?

You sick, low rent freak. You’ll say anything to push the ALP agenda, even support of the Nazis.

.
.
10 years ago

Hayek was never the same after he got beaten up by Sraffa.

Homer, so when you were at uni, you used to teach the kids about Sraffa (nonsense) or Hayek’s (information based) theory of prices?

.
.
10 years ago

Some liberals worry about things like a white minority granting themselves rights and privileges they deny to blacks. But Hayek had other things in mind. As he said in a lecture titled ‘Whither democracy’:

I thought everyone agreed that there ought to be a parliamentary budget office, independent reserve bank and infrastructure decisions made by an authority much like the RBA etc.

As for what Don says Hayek specifically wanted, the taxation power in the Commonwealth Constitution goes along with this.

As for age limits, the only thing that can save us from insolvency due to greedy baby boomers and their absurd retirement plans is making sure their children and grandchildren vote against the greedy little fuckers.

Pedro
Pedro
10 years ago

Homer, I never said Pinochet was on the democracy path, I frankly don’t remember whether he expressed a view, though military dictators usually make those noises. I did say that the transition to democracy, whether or not intended or obvious at the time, will arguably be smoother if the full range of freedoms arrives in a measured way. The experience in russia shows that things might be a little better if that happens that way. At the time Hayek was speaking, the evidence for problems arising from a sudden change in polity was pretty strong. The asian tigers were taking off with relatively authoritarian govts and virtual dictatorships and there had been a very sorry tale in most of S-S Africa.

I guess you are agreeing that the gun control point refutes your other argument about BoR constraints on the US govt.

As usual, people seem to adjust their position on various claims depending on whether the person making a point is on the other idealogical side. Hayek is in favour of limited govt because he wants the individual protected. I recall a reasonable degree of lefty support for an activist bill of rights a few years back. Both of those ideas are simply different fetters on an elected govt.

KB Keynes
KB Keynes
10 years ago

yobbo,

We would all appreciate some examples of liberal dictatorships.

Mark you are an idiot

1936 elections in Germany? Making up things again are we when the facts are different?

Hitler became Chancellor because he was the only person who could command confidence in the Reichstag.

It was not me that made the analogy between the Gestapo and the Gallup organisation in the US but Tooze. Gellately also shows how important the Gestapo was used in finding out about public opinion. as both Kershaw and Gellately show Hitler maintained a dictatorship by consent.

This is not new to anyone who has actually read anything about German history which of course excludes you.

Pedro,

The point is there has been never a democracy coming about because of a dictator being in power.

Hitler was the reason for Adenuer? Franco for … Mussonlini for .. etc

KB Keynes
KB Keynes
10 years ago

Oh the Sraffa and Hayek ‘debates’ as they may be called were in 1932 in the Economic journal.

The result of which the decline in his influence and reputation eventually led him away from technical economics into the more philosophical writings on which his lasting reputation was built.

jtfsoon
jtfsoon
10 years ago

The Sraffa Hayek debates were of little consequence to anyone and remains so, policy wise.

Yobbo
Yobbo
10 years ago

Sure Homer

Monaco under Rainier III
Hong Kong under British Administration
Singapore under LKY
Rhodesia under British Rule, or any of the former commonwealth colonies for that matter, including Australia pre-federation.

Would you like some more?

jtfsoon
jtfsoon
10 years ago

Homer
Hayek’s theories about competition as a process which remains relevant to this day and prefigures a lot of recent stuff in complexity theory is more mind blowing than Sraffa’s nonsensical, obscure attempt to recreate Ricardian economics

JC
JC
10 years ago

The point is there has been never a democracy coming about because of a dictator being in power.

Huh!

Like most recent.. Spain , Portugal.. How about some the eastern bloc Homer? What ARE you talking about again? How the hell do you get yourself in these block-headed predicaments?

It was not me that made the analogy between the Gestapo and the Gallup organisation in the US but Tooze.

No it wasn’t. It was me. I was making fun of your silly comments suggesting the Gestapo was Hitler’s polling service one time.

jtfsoon
jtfsoon
10 years ago

BTW Homer if you are so insistent that Hitler was a result of an untarnished democratic process it sort of proves Hayek’s point doesn’t it? Compare the status of the Jews under democracy to that under the Kaiser, etc where they were subject to some discrimination but otherwise secure in their lives and property. Look at the bloodshed under democracies, compare with the great relatively liberal and multicultural Habsburg and other monarchies. Hayek came from this more civilised and peaceful era when you didn’t even need a passport to travel, which is the reason for his nostalgia.

.
.
10 years ago

obscure attempt to recreate Ricardian economics

You can’t polish a turd. Ricardo was a bright lad but rejecting marginalism takes us back to the water and diamonds paradox.

Give up Homer.

What exactly am I making up about the 1936 German elections?

.
.
10 years ago

The bill of rights simply ensured separation of powers of the executive from the legislature and the Judiciary.

Wrong.

Brilliant presentation:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8z7NC5sgik

Don’t Talk to Cops, Part 1

Mr. James Duane, a professor at Regent Law School and a former defense attorney, tells you why you should never agree to be interviewed by the police.

KB Keynes
KB Keynes
10 years ago

wow yobbo.

hong kong , singapore, Zimbawew are all blooming democracies.

Unbelievable.

Soony avoiding the point as per usual on Hayeek and Sraffa.
After these debates and Hayek’s humiliation Hayek retreated to his philosophical ventures on which he was much better at than economics. At least Hayek realised his support of austerity policies for Germany in 1931 were wrong and he changed his mind, Still classical economics gave us Hitler. wow

I never said Hitler was the result of an untarnished democratic process. Well over 50% of Germans voted for parties that were going to get rid of the Reichstag in the last election!

you need to read more than Bat,man comics to understand Germany between the wars!
Marky.
The first election in the Weimar republic was in 1919 and the ninth and last election ( as correctly predicted by Goering)was in 1933.

JC,

Are you honestly saying that Franco was intent on giving France a democracy?

.
.
10 years ago

After these debates and Hayek’s humiliation

Right, Sraffa “proved” Jevons, Menger and Walras wrong?

Well over 50% of Germans voted for parties that were going to get rid of the Reichstag in the last election!

No Homer you are lying again and derailing the thread. Please post some worthwhile content. The Nazis beat up, intimidated or killed their opponents to vote along with them.

DUE PROCESS you idiot, it’s an integral part of civil society and democracy.

The first election in the Weimar republic was in 1919 and the ninth and last election ( as correctly predicted by Goering)was in 1933.

Where the hell did Goering make such a prediction?

JC
JC
10 years ago

Are you honestly saying that Franco was intent on giving France a democracy?

No, not at all Homer.

I think you took a wrong turn at the foot of the The Pyrenees Mountains. You shoulda turned right, Homes.

KB Keynes
KB Keynes
10 years ago

Marky,

you really do not know what the debate was and wouldn’t understand it anyway.

Show that I am lying. There ere three parties that said they would get rid of Reichstag in terms of Governing, One was the Nazis another was the Communists guess which one was the third?

He makes the prediction to businessmen when getting money from them before the last election in 1933.

It is in Turner’s book in 1979. another book you haven’t read and so made common mistakes about Germany

JC please tell us how Franco laid out bhis plans for Democracy in spain nad why it too so long?

JC
JC
10 years ago

Homer have you been playing Risk?

I don’t think Franco gave a toss what came after him except for a left wing dictatorship.. You can’t read his mind but you can make some guesses. He was essentially anti communist and left structures in place that made transition relatively easy.
If were dead set in continuing the fascist state the Monarchy wouldn’t have been around for a start.

Yobbo
Yobbo
10 years ago

hong kong , singapore, Zimbawew are all blooming democracies.

Are you really that stupid Homer? I even named the period when they were dictatorships to help you out. And Hong Kong is still not a democracy.

KB Keynes
KB Keynes
10 years ago

well yobbo you then must be that stupid.

none of them are democracies yobbo!

JC it appears you are then at odds with Hayek but agreeing with me!

.
.
10 years ago

you really do not know what the debate was and wouldn’t understand it anyway.

Wrong Homer. You’re not even Hayek’s shadow and you’ve been slammed for your stupid idea that marginalism was somehow hounded out of the British universities by a neo-Ricardian.

He makes the prediction to businessmen when getting money from them before the last election in 1933.

Not much of a forecast when you plan to stage a coup.

there ere three parties that said they would get rid of Reichstag in terms of Governing

The Nazis beat up, killed or otherwise intimidated voters or their opposition in the Reichstag you tool. You are saying the Nazis were democratically elected but ignore free will and due process…

You meathead.

Since when have you posted anything of value here?

jtfsoon
jtfsoon
10 years ago

Are you really that stupid Homer?

I presume that’s a rhetorical question.

Hong Kong – yes, the best example but probably a unique one.

Singapore – yes to some extent but even putting aside political rights as we would in this case it is not always liberal in other areas e.g. it actually has long standing laws on the books against vilification of Islam (to preserve racial harmony), used to have a ban on oral sex, etc. But accepted, it is a good halfway example in matters of most economic liberalism.

And yes the smaller European principalities. But aside from these? They are not more common than existing liberal democracies which however you cut it, are *not* democracies ‘devoid of liberalism’ and whose imperfection are not any greater than the imperfections of the liberal dictatorships (like Singapore).

KB Keynes
KB Keynes
10 years ago

Mark,

you are clearly running for the most stupid person on the blogosphere.

you make another comment which has no relevance to the Sraffa and Hayek debate.

gosh they intimidated voters so much they didn’t get anything like the vote they thought they would get.

What coup.
They gained powers courtesy of the enabling laws. no need for Parliament then.

wow another startling comment form our Marky. Keep them coming son.

let us see just how stupid you can get.

just a shame Yobbo’s examples have not yet gained democracy.

jtfsoon
jtfsoon
10 years ago

Homer you numskull

You asked for examples of liberal dictatorships. This is what Yobbo supplied or tried to supply (I would argue most of his examples are good but too marginal e.g. the best example of HK will revert to China eventually). what was your point?

jtfsoon
jtfsoon
10 years ago

PS by ‘revert to China’ I mean the two systems framework may not prevail, it is of course already back under China

.
.
10 years ago

you make another comment which has no relevance to the Sraffa and Hayek debate.

All of my comments were relevant Homer.

gosh they intimidated voters so much they didn’t get anything like the vote they thought they would get

???

The vote for the Nazis in 1936 was 99%.

You clown.

KB Keynes
KB Keynes
10 years ago

Soony you do not seem to appreciate that liberal dictatorship is a contradiction in terms. nor does yobbo.
not surprising though.

Really Marky tell us what the two main topics were then. I will even give you a hint. you haven’t broached them yet.

I was talking about 1933. only a complete imbecile would believe 1936 was an election. gosh how many parties were there? what was the reason for it?

What an idiot.

just when you think Marky can’t top himself in stupidity he does.

Pedro
Pedro
10 years ago

“Soony you do not seem to appreciate that liberal dictatorship is a contradiction in terms”

Jeez Homer, don’t make yourself seem stupid. You really can’t understand the point hayek was making? And you can’t think of any situation where a dictator or junta has moved on and allowed democracy to be established or return?

“The single-party period was followed by multiparty democracy after 1945. The Turkish democracy was interrupted by military coups d’état in 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997.[18] In 1984, the PKK began an insurgency against the Turkish government; the conflict, which has claimed over 40,000 lives, continues today.[19] Since the liberalization of the Turkish economy during the 1980s, the country has enjoyed stronger economic growth and greater political stability”

rog
rog
10 years ago

I was wondering how long it would take for someone to identify liberal dictatorship as being an oxymoron. Catallaxians believe in these things, because collectively they are fanatical fantastists. Perhaps benevolent dictator is closer to the mark, like Mussolini perhaps?

This is a favorite pastime of Catallaxians, my dictator is better than yours – just count the dead bodies!

.
.
10 years ago

You idiot rog how many times have you actually read catallaxy sober?

The consensus is that any kind of tyrant deserves nothing less than death and I go so far as to say Mitterand should have been hanged for the Rainbow Warrior.

Really Marky tell us what the two main topics were then. I will even give you a hint. you haven’t broached them yet.

Yes we did Homer.

I was talking about 1933.

They killed, beat up or otherwise intimidated the electors. You talk about contradiction but then ignore free will and due process in a democracy.