Recently, I posted an argument that Prop 8 was a perfect example of what the men who wrote the US constitution were trying to avoid. I argued that direct democracy was inherently prone to the tyranny of the majority. Law Talking Guy defended direct democracy in two ways (as I understood him). First he pointed to several policy changes achieved through direct democracy that he presumed would be seen as universally good things but which had been held up by grid-lock in the legislature. To this I responded that there are of course examples of referenda doing things that everyone on this blog would agree are beneficial but that does not mean they are not examples of tyranny of the majority - it only means that in those cases, we were on the winning side.
Second, he contested my assertion that the men who wrote the US constitution saw direct democracy as inherently flawed. He said "I don't think the Federalists were overly opposed to public participation of this sort as ipso facto evil." However, there is considerable evidence that they did think direct democracy was - if not "ipso facto evil" at least a very bad choice of institutions that should be avoided.
Here is a quotation from Federalist 10.
From this view of the subject it may be concluded that a pure democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.
Here is a link to a wikipedia site that itself refers to a number of quotations by prominent American political thinkers at the time of the Constitution's establishment who saw direct democracy as deeply flawed. Some of my favorites are:
Pure democracy cannot subsist long nor be carried far into the departments of state - it is very subject to caprice and the madness of popular rage" - John Witherspoon
"That a pure democracy if it were practicable would be the most perfect government. Experience has proved that no position is more false than this. The ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated never possessed one good feature of government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure deformity." - Alexander Hamilton.
Direct democracy is not bad because it produces a single bad result - like Prop 8. It's bad because it fails to protect the rights of minorities against the fluctuating whims of the majority. Sometimes we will find ourselves on the winning side of those whims and we think direct democracy is great. But when we are on the losing side we realize how obnoxious it is to make laws in this way. If I only complain when direct democracy hurts my side, I'm a hypocrite. If I think the problem with direct democracy is that sometimes the wrong majority wins, I'm missing the point.