Threatened Majority Rule

Duly Noted

Undermining majority rights in the name of democracy.

After his escape from the Soviet orbit, the writer began to study Political Science in Oregon. Past decades have left the experience vivid. Living freedom, instead of being a “class alien” with no right to more than an eight-grade education, made a system that did not threaten my physical existence exhilarating. Therefore, the study of “government” seemed as exciting as the shoot-out in a western. 

As a new arrival, I craved knowledge of my new home. I wanted to discover why the system works and how the success of individuals correlates with the framework “my” people have created. Luckily, I surmised by then that success and failure are not accidental but represent man-made factors.

For this reason, the early lessons of Political Science remain undiluted as they served as beacons that made sense of my new environment. Among the cardinal “discoveries” was that are to be no retroactive laws, no double jeopardy, and that contracts are to be enforced. Especially thought provoking was a principle that relates to this writing. It was that democracy and a just society entails more than simple majority rule. Regarding that, there is currently much confusion created by those that exploit it.

Obviously, democracy means that the majority rules. Meanwhile, there are things that even majorities may not do, such as using state organs to exterminate disliked groups. Untouchable fundamental human rights set the limits of majority rule. These include that even unpopular minorities should be extended the chance to become majorities by using persuasion but not violence. The seemingly liberal Soviet-style constitutions betrayed their dictatorial core by making the monopoly of the Party –her leadership and singularity as an organization- part of the fundamental law. 

Surviving two systems that perfected mankind by liquidating the unworthy, has an educational effect regarding the protection of minorities. Nowadays, however, a growing trend reveals that this principle is being abused with the help of PC. 

To resist the indicated perversion of democracy, we need to recall a few principles. These cut through the artificial fog created by confused and confusing references to the unconditional protection of the unpopular, immunity from the law for some, and the limitation of the majority’s powers when it displeases self-anointed elites.

First, democratic majorities are legitimate. Yet no majority of the moment has the right to legislate for its benefit the permanent retention of power. Majorities hold rights derived from their plurality as long as they provide the means by which, through persuasion, the minority can become a majority. This rule limits the power of the majority while it also regulates the minority’s struggle for influence. Ergo, minority status does not confer immunity from the law, from general ethical norms, and sets limits to “disobedience”. 

We need to affirm that, the abuse of power or of freedoms is possible not only by the governing majority but also by the minority in opposition.

Here the problem with the definition of what a majority is comes to mind. Especially the criteria set by elites is meant. In 1917, after Lenin lost Russia’s only free election, he stated that he was uninterested in “numerical” majorities. Therefore, due to the intellectual and the scientific foundation of Bolshevism, his 17% counted more than the base and uneducated rest. Bismarck’s famous “Vox populi, vox Rindfieh” (“The people’s voice is the voice of the oxen) is another way to put it.

Indeed, minority positions must have a chance to prove their superiority. Through that these may mute into a guideline for public life through the freely given consent, meaning the conversion, of the previous majority.

In the light of elitist challenges, beyond the limitation of majority power, we need to define the rights of minorities. These enjoy guarantees of unalienable rights against the abuse of a majority dictatorship. This concedes that, while tyrannies tend to be run by a minority, the majority -or those that act in its name- can also impose servitude. These untouchable basic freedoms are passive rights –mainly providing protection “from”- and do not amount to an unlimited mandate.

It is an abuse of a fundament of the democratic way of life when minority rights are interpreted to include the ability to impose their will on an allegedly unenlightened majority. This endeavor includes two demands. One is something that dictatorially minded minorities like to claim. “Nonnegotiable demands” confer immunity on those members that act outside the laws that they do not to recognize. What obligates and limits the majority must also apply to the critics of that majority. Basic freedoms do not include immunity for actions in a legal-moral no man’s land. The apprehended pedophile cannot expect to go free because his actions are “his way” and confirm his “identity”.

Second, minority rights are limited to free advocacy. They do not include a moral right to have their agenda imposed upon the majority. Politically it might be an effective tool of pressure or extortion, but even then, no group can claim to be “persecuted” and “oppressed” if its proposals –after a hearing- are rejected by the majority. It is even less proper to claim that the frustrated or the bored have a “right to revolution”. Even if it feels good to let off steam, nothing justifies violence in a democratic system because it can be changed by its institutionalized means of persuasion.

A concrete event is behind these general observations. The venue might be far from the reader, yet the core of the case is likely to touch home base.

The case is that of a man who had a criminal record. He also abused his wife. Untypically, the woman ran away, went to a “safe house” and initiated divorce procedures. The reaction of the husband who enjoyed refugee status took action against this violation of his pride. Aggrieved, he managed to track down his wife and to shoot her. Then he walked over to the local Social Services bureau. There he killed the social worker in charge of his file because she limited the “family” benefits he was receiving. 

The trial ending this everyday story has a twist that connects to the abuse of the freedom of minorities. The star defender will excuse his client’s actions. His plea will be that that, given his Kosovo ethnicity, its folkways, and in the light of his Muslim religion, the killer had acted according to his tradition and therefore, by his standards, properly.