Dangerous Democracy and Fundamental Freedoms
Posted by Jerry on August 13, 2007
[I posted a modified version of this post earlier. But it warrants resurrection as we approach the day of India’s independence.]
Democracy can be a very dangerous thing. Indeed, Aristotle described democracy as a “necessary evil,” but an evil nonetheless. A democratic country can be a threat to its own citizens as well as to other nations. Consider the threat of democratic, nuclear-capable Iran; or that of the democratically elected Hamas government of Palestine; or even that of the largest democracy in the world–-India.
Democracy, translated in practice, means that the majority gets to decide what the rules of the game are. If the majority of Indians are not “comfortable” with legalizing homosexuality, for example, well then the human rights of the homosexual minority can and should be trampled.
As Farah Baria, a writer for the Indian Express, stated in her article on the criminality of homosexuality:
“Replying to a petition filed in the Delhi High Court by Naz Foundation, an advocacy, AIDS control and gay outreach organization, the Government claimed that Indian society was “not ready” for the practice of homosexuality. In fact the 42nd report of the Law Commission opines that society’s disapproval was “strong enough to justify it being treated as a criminal offense, even when adults indulge in it in private.” The penalty? Imprisonment for ten years or even life.” [emphases mine]
At some point in the future, if the majority decides that they do not like eating broccoli, they can simply pass a law criminalizing its growth and consumption. It would be a strong enough justification to treat it as a criminal offense.
Democracy is the political application of Utilitarianism–irrelevant of all its variations–as the greatest good for the greatest number–and they are both equally evil. Morality is contorted into a statistical game of numbers, where the standard of good is the number of people that can be gathered on any one side; thus, exterminating the Jews in a majoritarian Nazi society would have to be a good thing by such a moral code.
What is the better alternative to democracy then?
In my opinion, the democratic institutions in India as they currently exist are instrumentally causing the decline of liberty and the move towards the fascism of a vocal collective. These legal and democratic structures need to either be dissolved entirely or reformed radically. A new legal structure needs to be introduced—one that is based on the recognition and guarantee of fundamental human rights, not on the guarantee of a majoritarian democracy, a thuggish minority, or one that is based on the expediency of the moment.
One effective and immediate way to achieve this would be to introduce a constitutional amendment declaring certain laws based on objective, fundamental principles as off-limits to a democratic vote. For example, laws such as the guaranteeing of the right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness, freedom of speech and individual expression (including artistic expression or romantic expression between consensual adults), the strict separation of religion and state, and the repeal of institutionalized discrimination based on caste, religion, or race should be taken off the voting table regardless of popular opinion.
We must outrightly reject the current idolization of democracy as the “sacred” voice of the people. We must reject the current, long-winded Constitution that seeks to enumerate every application of law in every concrete situation; instead, we must call for and adopt a parsimonious moral framework based on objective, fundamental principles that are common to all applications of moral laws and human rights. The current judiciary system more often acquiesces to the laws created by the “representatives of the people” rather than examining the legitimacy and constitutionality of those laws.
Fundamental freedoms, rights, moral laws should be off-limits to the voting of legislators or the public. For example, the recent voting in the legislature based on caste, religion, and origin of birth–including on all the issues surrounding the disgustingly institutionalized terms of discrimination such as “muslim quotas,” “backward classes,” “other backward classes,” “scheduled castes,” and so on, should have been declared illegitimate by the courts and in violation of the right of an individual to choose and express his self-identity without having to be oppressed under the accidental identities of his birth. These are not matters to be put to vote–neither in the legislature nor in the general election. These do not fall within the domain of democracy. No man has the right to label another man as a member of a “backward class.” Man is a self-made being; he should have the autonomy, liberty, and right to not associate with his religion, his caste, his race, or his tribe.
In every election cycle across India, political parties campaign on explicitly religious grounds, with campaign promises that are religious-based (like building this or that temple). Such campaigns should be banned outright–without vote or debate–and such political parties should be barred from elections until their manifestos clearly reject all religious references. The principle of separating religion and state should not be a matter of debate or democratic vote. The government has no right nor any freedom to practice its own religion.
Similarly, in the areas of art, media, television, opinions, blogs, etc., the government has no right or duty to interfere. Any interference must be swiftly restrained by the legal system in order to ensure the principle of freedom of speech and expression. Likewise, the acts of consensual adults–homosexual or heterosexual–are not matters for a democratic vote. These are private affairs of the concerned individuals, and their right to self-expression and autonomy should be respected by the government, upheld by the courts, and protected by the law-and-order system.
Democracy can be a very dangerous thing if let loose in the hands of the majority. Without the restraint of fundamental, unchangeable, irreplaceable moral laws guaranteeing the rights of the smallest minority in the world–the right of an individual–a democracy can be a threat to human life.
John Stuart Mill derided the “tyranny of the majority”; indeed, democracy can be dangerously similar to fascism in that there is no one single dictator but an entire mob that collectively dictates the terms of the existence for the entire population.