The irony about “democracy” is it isn’t even that.
Ostensibly, it is majority rule – which sounds superficially appealing, to people who’ve not given it much thought. After all, it seems fair that in any group of people, the wants of the majority ought to be determinative, since more want whatever it is that’s up for discussion and it would be unfair for the minority to decide.
Are we headed to that Chinese place for dinner? Or how about the Italian joint? In that context, majority rule is reasonable – because the minority isn’t forced to go along. Or rather, the majority hasn’t got the legal power to compel the minority that doesn’t want Chinese to eat Chinese – much less to pay for everyone else’s Chinese meal.
The minority that does not want to eat Chinese – that perhaps can’t stand Chinese – can say: “We – I – don’t especially like Chinese; you guys go ahead without us (or me).”
Everyone’s happy. Or at least, no one’s been harmed.
This is probably what most people who haven’t given much to “democracy” think about when they think about “democracy.” It seems reasonable; fair, even. And in contexts such as the above, it is – precisely because the element of physical coercion isn’t involved. Instead, individuals deciding among themselves what to do next.
This image of “democracy” is certainly what “democratic” demagogues rely upon when they urge “democracy” as the highest political virtue.
Because, of course, it is they who aspire to rule the majority – as well as the minority. Which they can – and will – because they have the power of physical coercion.
And here we arrive at the irony of what is styled “democracy,” which you are forced to submit to even when you don’t want to.
In politics, it rarely, if ever does.
Most elections, for example, are decided by minorities – in terms of the numbers (and percentages) who vote. In a presidential election, the winner is usually the one who receives a bit more than 50 percent of the vote, which is – superficially – a “majority” of them. But only about 50 percent of the people who are eligible to vote actually do. This means the winner of the presidential election represents a bit more than 25 percent of the eligible electorate.
The minority rules.
One of the many legitimate reasons the Southern states elected to withdraw from what had been – and had been acknowledged to be – a voluntary “union” of the several states was on account of the election, by the minority of the union in the North, of Abraham Lincoln. The Southern states did not wish to be forced to submit to minority rule by the North, which now controlled the entirety of the Union. Lincoln, of course, turned this attempt to peacefully part ways into a crusade for . . . “democracy.”
Ruled by himself.
Which he proceeded to do, as via caging lawmakers and journalist who did not agree with him and using unprecedented force to compel the Southern states to submit to him. The “majority” in the North wasn’t in favor of this, either. But he made it so, regardless.
So go elections – and their consequences – in “democracies.” As recently, when another man the majority of the country did not vote for was nonetheless selected as president by a minority – perhaps some 80 million out of 330 million – almost all of them living in cities located in states with majorities who did not agree with the selection made by this minority, who now rules.
One thing rules – in the name of “the majority.”
But this majority doesn’t rule, either. And here we come to the other irony of “democracy.” It is not merely – as the saying goes – that it is three wolves and a sheep voting to decide what’s for supper.
It is often one wolf – or a few of them, perhaps – deciding, after the vote, what everyone will have for supper.
In practice, “democracies” are ruled by the minority – down to the one – which makes the remarkable claim that he or she or it channels the will of “the majority.”
This being an impossibility.
There are simply too many minorities – of individuals – comprising even what is styled “the majority” for this to be a possibility. Even at the local level, there are hundreds of individuals in each supposed “majority” and it is absurd to say they are in agreement on everything.
They haven’t even been asked what’s for supper.
Yet unlimited proxy power is somehow transferred by the vote upon the ultimate minority – one person, or just a small handful of them (as in the hundreds in Congress) endowed with the power to force everyone to go along with whatever he or they declares they have voted for.
Even though it is self-evident they did no such thing.
At least not explicitly.
Many voted – having been gulled into thinking – that they were doing essentially the same as when a group of themselves decided which restaurant they’d all be going to for dinner. But now they find that they are going to a different restaurant – one they never heard of, perhaps – and not only are they going to eat there, they are going to get the bill, too.
They may not even get to eat there.
But they will absolutely get the bill for what is eaten by there by others.
This is how “democracy” – and “majority rule” – works in practice, in politics, when the minority isn’t free to decline to abide by whatever “the majority” decides, because the minority has the power to force everyone to go along.
Including the putative “majority.”
If that sounds like something you’d like to be ruled by, then maybe “democracy” sounds good to you. And if you decide to vote for it, you’ll be getting it good and hard, too.
. . .
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