Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Monday, April 26, 2004

What do we mean when we talk about democracy?

There is a lot of talk about democracy especially with regards to Iraq and the Bush administration's supposed defense of it in the "War on Terrorism." But what is it really?

I would suggest that regardless of any quibbling that could be offered about the difference between a "republic" and a "democracy", we all intuitively know what we mean when say a country is democratic or not.

First, democracy is NOT simply majority rule. It is conceivable that a majority of a population could support a dictatorship. There are numerous examples in history of this.

Second, equal protection under the law (and by implication, equal accountability to it) is a central component. Many people like to talk about "rule of law" by which they often mean "get tough on accused criminals." But that is not really equal protection under the law. Perhaps Law Talking Guy could elaborate.

Third, what is really at stake is minority protection. This not just protection of racial and ethnic minorities (see equal protection under the law) but also protection of minority political and economic interests. Can a 50% plus 1 majority of the country dictate policy to the rest? If so then we are dangerously close to what the Founding Fathers called "tyranny of the Majority."

Finally, most countries that we would intuitively consider to be democracies have guarantees of equal protection under the law as well as institutional protections for the losers of elections. Some popular minority protection features are: bicameral legislatures, requirements of 2/3 or 3/4 majorities for big policy changes, executive vetoes, judicial review of new laws, electoral systems that encourage multi-party governments (forces compromise), etc.

This has implications for both Iraq and the United States: In Iraq we need to find a way to convince the Sunnis/former Baathists that they will not be done unto as they did unto others. In the United States, the increasing emphasis on cultural conformity and patriotic (read nationalist) unity combined with increased prosecutorial powers for the executive is an alarming step away from what we would all agree are democratic features of our society.


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