Democracy and Its Ills

I subscribed to Chronicles magazine for a year, a few year back. I never renewed, but the consistent bright light was Thomas Fleming. His article on the Nov 2011 issue theme, “The Tyranny of Democracy,” provokes thought.

Pure democracy is a nightmare, the thought of which horrified the founders of America. It is nothing but mob rule, where 51% can trample the rights of the rest, with no moral brakes.

If we truly reject this, as I believe we should, we need to face an uncomfortable question. What keeps the majority from imposing its will?

Legally, a constitution does. Culturally, there are often lines a majority won’t cross, even if they could. What this does is deal a death blow to egalitarianism. There is some authority to which the majority must defer. The people are not supreme to decide whatever values they want. This would lead to the biggest faction in a country bullying the rest. Instead some moral compass generally guides a group.

On the pro-democracy side, a minority view should not be allowed to hold the majority back from prevailing, using procedure or politics, if there aren’t moral boundaries crossed. The majority view should generally prevail, given moral and procedural restraints are observed.

When is it right for a majority to simply outvote the rest, and when should you work for greater consensus first? How does a group of people function when a general consensus or will cannot be ascertained?

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