Home Opinion OPINION: Vox populi, vox humbug

OPINION: Vox populi, vox humbug

Thomas Knapp

The people of the state of New York don’t like Donald J. Trump much. They think he falsified business records, and have him in court over it.

Protecting abortion and legalizing marijuana are the will of the people of Ohio. They said so in a recent election.

Why does the United States have a constitution? Because “we the people” ordained and established one, that’s why.

Well, not exactly.

Trump was indicted by a prosecutor and grand jury, not by “the people of the state of New York.”

Abortion wasn’t protected and marijuana legalized by “the people of Ohio,” but by about 57% of the Ohioan adults who chose to, and were allowed to, vote on Nov. 7.

The U.S. Constitution was ratified — “ordained and established” — by a few hundred legislators out of the country’s population of nearly 4 million, not by “we the people.”

People exist. “The people,” on the other hand, is a fiction that falsely implies unanimity of support, or at least of representation, to justify claimed unanimity of obligation.

About one in four Americans chose Joe Biden for president in 2020. The other 75% preferred someone else, or no one at all, or weren’t allowed to express their preferences in binding form. Guess who moved in at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?

One in five Floridians supported Ron DeSantis for governor in 2022, with nearly as many supporting someone else and the majority not voting (by choice or because they were forbidden to). The 80% of Floridians who wanted nothing to do with DeSantis got him anyway.

If five hundred voters from a town of 5,000 people elect a city council of seven, all 5,000 people are supposedly bound to obey rules made by those seven, pay taxes set by and disposed of by those seven, etc., because “the people have spoken.”


If I seem to be bashing the whole concept of “democracy” as practiced in modern America, well, I am.

That’s not to say that voting is any WORSE than a would-be dictator showing up with enough armed supporters to successfully proclaim himself the embodiment of a “national will” or the tribune of some racial, ethnic, religious, or political group’s “collective interest.”

But it’s not really any better, either.

Engaging in a bunch of “democratic” preening and ceremony doesn’t the results.

Nor have attempts to “bind [our rulers] down from mischief,” as Thomas Jefferson put it, “by the chains of the Constitution,” proven successful.

Today’s “democratically elected” rulers enjoy more power over every aspect of our lives than any Egyptian pharaoh, Roman emperor, or European monarch dared dream of wielding.

The first step toward freedom is admitting the problem, which is mistaking “democracy” and politics for liberty. As William Tecumseh Sherman explained 150 years ago: “Vox populi, vox humbug.”

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.