PERSPECTIVErnVirtual Democracyrnby Thomas FlemingrnDittoheads were depressed at the end of April, when RushrnLimbaugh announced his “trial separation from the RepublicanrnParty.” As in so many divorce cases, the charge was infidelity:rnthe GOP had caved in on the minimum wage. Evenrnthough a good moral case might be made for the concept of arnliving wage, there is a great gap between a moral principle (suchrnas “love thy neighbor as thyself”) and the decision to employrnthe instruments of state coercion euphemistically styled “policies,”rn”programs,” or “congressional legislation.” Rush was perfectlyrnjustified in his disgust, but what he and other Republicansrnmust begin to realize is that the principles of economicrnconservatism are only secondary goals, which cannot be pursuedrnas ultimate or absolute ends. If the minimum wage isrnmerely inefficient or unfair in distorting the free relations of thernmarketplace, a sensible Republican politician will often (probablyrnalways) find it in his interest to vote for a little inefficiencyrnin the short run. Politics, he will say, is the art of the compromisernwhich aims at the possible, and if the ultimate goal is thernmost efficient and productive economy that is possible, thenrnthere can be nothing wrong with taking a zigzag course so longrnas every conservative zig goes a little farther than the liberal zag.rnThat it only occasionally works like this, that conservativernstatesmanship is more often two steps back for every one steprnforward, is not a subject for polite discussion at Republicanrnthink tanks.rnTo oppose the minimum wage or price controls or AFDCrnpayments requires an essentially moral understanding of thernproper function of government. If the national state bearsrnsome responsibility for the personal welfare or economic conditionrnof individual citizens, then liberals and conservatives canrndebate until the end of time just exactly how much money.rnhow much control, how much interference is justifiable in thernname of some greater good. If, on the other hand, there arernsome areas of life into which the state may never legitimatelyrnintrude—marriage, birth, childrearing, private associations andrnagreements—then a “conservative” politician can no morernagree to a national law on spanking or a minimum wage thanrnhe can countenance mandatory sterilization of “the unfit” orrnthe slaughter of the innocent.rnIn their defense, some Republicans are pointing to opinionrnpolls which seem to indicate that a majority of Americans favorrnan increase in the minimum wage. We live in a democracy, afterrnall, and—in Mencken’s famous gibe—”Democracy is therntheory that the common people know what they want, and deservernto get it good and hard.” Democracy, on this widely heldrnunderstanding, is conceived of in positive terms, as the people’srnright to do this or that. If Lincoln’s “government of the people,rnby the people, and for the people” means anything, it impliesrnthat political power in a democracy is exercised by the peoplern(obviously through their representatives) in pursuit of their desiresrnand self-interest.rnThis “positive” conception of democracy corresponds to thernpositive rights invented by 19th-century liberals on their pilgrimagernto socialism. The doctrine of natural rights, vacuousrnas it is, remained relatively harmless so long as classical liberalsrnhad control of the definition. For Locke and his descendants,rnpolitical rights were immunities against a sovereign who wishedrnto deprive his subjects, without due cause, of their life, liberty,rnor other property. Like the threshold of a freeman’s house,rnnegative rights marked the boundaries of private life into whichrngovernment was not supposed to intrude. With the inventionrnof positive rights, individuals were now possessed of positivern8/CHRONICLESrnrnrn