Thursday, 7 November 2013

Popper's theses on gov't (4): we're not democrats because the majority is always right

We are democrats, not because the majority is always right, but because democratic traditions are the least evil ones of which we know. If the majority (or ‘public opinion’) decides in favour of tyranny, a democrat need not therefore suppose that some fatal inconsistency in his views has been revealed. He will realise, rather, that the democratic tradition in this country was not strong enough.

The best-known example of people voting for tyranny is Germany, 1933. However, as Channel 4’s Hitler’s Rise: the Colour Films show, the Nazis had formed part of coalition governments since 1930. Had Adolf died in 1938, writes biographer John Tolland, he would be revered as a great statesman for getting Germany back to work. And, presumably, proto-Holocaust atrocities swept under the carpet. The Germans had undergone the double whammy of a humiliating peace treaty in 1919, and the strategy of printing money to pay the war debts obliterated its wealth come the 1929 crash. They had a psychological need for a strong leader.

The same psychological need can be seen at work in those Greek voters who support the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, in a country which was occupied by Nazis within living memory.

Greece, despite nurturing democracy in classical times, does not have the same democratic hinterland as, say, the Nordic countries and their former colonies, which started producing parliaments in medieval times. Greece didn’t win its independence from the Ottoman Empire until 1827; once that tyrant slipped out of memory another – Ioannis Metaxas, previously a minister in a coalition – took power in 1936.

So can public opinion, when it results in votes for something objectionable, be "toxic", as Business Secretary Vince Cable referred to it in regard to immigration? Christian saints before (like St Ambrose) and even after (like St Anselm) the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity thought so, referring to tyranny of the multitude, and the 1912 Catholic Encyclopedia refers to the same thing in an analysis of Rousseau’s The Social Contract.

The problem I have is that today it’s so easy to rig ballots, especially using postal votes, that it’s difficult to work out what the multitude actually wants.

Just watch out for those coalitions.

Gerry Dorrian
300 words

This series:

Popper's theses on gov't (1): state a necessary evil

Popper's theses on gov't (2): democratic government can be got rid of without bloodshed

Popper's theses on gov't (3): democracy confers no benefit on citizens

Popper's theses on gov't (4): we're not democrats because the majority is always right

Popper's theses on gov't (5): institutions are insufficient without traditions

Popper's theses on gov't (6): Utopia is an impossibility

Popper's theses on gov't (7) - liberalism is evolutionary, not revolutionary

Resources

Hitler’s Rise: the Colour Films - 4oD

Review of The Social Contract - The Catholic Encyclopedia

Vince Cable: public opinion on immigration is now 'absolutely toxic' - Rowena Mason, The Guardian

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