Saturday, 9 September 2017

Democracy Cannibalising Itself

The Tyranny of the People

The will and consent of the people is a good and necessary component of godly government.  It is for this reason that historically the West has championed democracy and democratic government.  Both alike indicate rule of the people, by the people, and for the people.  But few are comfortable with pure democracy.

Why?  If there were no checks and balances, democracy can readily and easily become the tyranny of the majority.  This critical flaw in democratic government has long been identified and addressed by philosophers of government from Plato to Montesquieu.  Edmund Burke put it this way:
Of this I am certain, that in a democracy, the majority of citizens is capable of exercising the most cruel oppressions upon the minority, whenever strong divisions prevail in that kind of polity as they often must; and that oppression of the minority will extend to far greater numbers, and will be carried on with much greater fury, than can almost ever be apprehended from the dominion of a single scepter.  In such a popular persecution, individual sufferers are in a much more deplorable condition than in any other.  [Cited by Yuval Levin, The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left  (New York: Basic Books, 2014), p.99f.]
"Pure" democracy can (and inevitably will) turn into a tyranny of the worst kind.
 It is thus understandable that most democracies are not pure, but mixed.  They attempt to protect the rights and opinions and lawful actions of the minority.  But, it is at this very point, that democracies end up appealing to a standard or ethic that is higher and deeper and more authoritative than the will of the majority.

In secular democracies--that is, in most modern democracies--this standard hangs on sky hooks.  It has no reference point in heaven, from which it may be hung, or on earth upon which it may be built.  Ultimately, if the majority say, "Nah", it's all gone.  But as long as each succeeding generation respects and holds to the higher standard, things can continue for a time, and the rights of a minority can be protected.

One way to protect the rights of the minority is to build checks and balances into government.  This will inevitably mean that government is more messy.  The government stumbles along like a drunk man more often than not.  The separate powers (legislative, executive, and judicial) compete; each needs the advice and consent of the others.  Majorities are not easily sustained and maintained.  The people can grow cynical, weary, and angry.  It does not take much for mobs to form and riots to occur.  We have seen this frequently in the United States since the election of Donald Trump.

We believe that it is only within the context of a Christian republic that democracy can be nurtured and sustained indefinitely.  For the Christian republic indeed has a standard that is higher, deeper and more authoritative than the will of the people.  It is the law of God Himself.  And the law of God places upon men deeper duties and obligations than those which their choices may embrace.  Take, for example, the obligation of parents to care for their children, and the obligation of children to care for their parents in their older age and infirmities.  This, says Burke (reflecting the higher law of God) is not a matter of the free-will choice of an atomised individual.  It is a duty enjoined upon every parent and every child.  It reflects a law and duty which no majority may vote into extinction.

The French Revolution showed in stark relief what can happen when the only recognised authority is "the will of the People".  The tyranny of the majority quickly began to oppress, imprison, and then murder the minority.  The only way out of the chaos and anomic bloodshed was to reject the rule of demos and submit to the Emperor or Dictator.  In the case of France, enter Napoleon.

Since the West has rejected Christ and His Kingdom, don't be surprised at seeing democracies begin to persecute minorities who reject humanitarianism, that cluster of doctrines which proclaim Man to be the beginning and the end of all things, and which deny any accountability to God.

No comments: