The Dark Side of Democracy: Popular Tyranny

28-10-07 Hotel Intercontinental
Cristina Kirchner was the winner of Argentina’s 2007 presidential election.

EspañolDemocracy has for centuries allowed people to be a part of the government and escape absolutes, despotism, dictators and tyranny. I still remember the joy of all Argentinians when in 1983, after more than seven years of a military dictatorship, democracy was returned to us and we could begin voting again.

In our minds, democracy is a synonym for freedom of choice, freedom of expression and freedom of action — its antonyms being repression, censorship and authoritarianism. It is a system based on the notion that inhabitants of a country are capable of making decisions and electing their own rulers.

Problems arise when these principles dissolve.

For a democratic society to avoid slipping into total chaos, voters have to be respectful of others and capable of taking charge of their lives. But the individual responsibility that demands freedom is a requisite to which many escape.  And a lot of these escapists would prefer — and vote — foor the security that an authoritarian government provides.

Even though democracy is based in freedom, it can be used to vote against that very same principle. It’s a system in which the 51 percent can enslave the 49 percent. Perhaps Benjamin Franklin described it best when he said, “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.”

From Nicolás Maduro to Evo Morales, from Cristina Kirchner to Rafael Correa, there are many examples of wolves in this day and age.

So, what is stopping a democratic system from being lead to tyranny by the majority?

There are three elements on which a democracy must base itself to avoid turning into an unfair system:

  • A culture or philosophy based in the rights of life, freedom, property and the pursuit of happiness.
  • An inviolable and immutable constitution, based in the absolute respect of these rights.
  • A division of power, in charge of overseeing these rights and the avoidance of falling into the hands of a tyrant that intends to rule as he wishes.

We have widely heard that the political system that follows these characteristics is the Republic. The United State is perhaps the best example of this system prevailing, as it is the country that was first constituted as a democratic constitutional republic founded in individual rights.

Even though such a republic is based in the rule of law, this doesn’t guarantee that said protection grants individual rights.  The USSR had a certain division of power and a compromise to the rule of law, but we can’t say it had an equal commitment to individual rights.

Currently, in Latin America, most countries are considered republics. There’s a division of power and a Constitution to abide. However, they are societies with a high degree of corruption and the violation of individual rights.

The reality is that nobody knows what each system implies, because countries have used them and defined them so differently that they have lost their meaning.

But what should remain clear is that if we intend to generate prosperous, free and peaceful societies, it is paramount to reinsert into the equation the aforementioned elements, and to take these elements as the founding, untouchable rock that we should guard with eternal vigilance.

If we do so any other way, we can expect from democracy the only thing it has to offer us: putting our lives in the hands of a majority. The only possibility remaining would be to beg for this majority to be decent, mature and independent.

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