As you all probably know, Egypt is, hopefully, in a transition to a democratic society. We toppled the dictatorial regime of Hosni Mubarak in the Jan 25 revolution and have been doing our best to make a smooth transition to a functioning democracy ever since.
There are many factions trying to influence the shape of our future democracy, and most of them argue that they are the only hope for our society. For the sake of honesty, I must declare my own political affiliation: I am in favor of the establishment of a secular, liberal democracy with a capitalist economy. Don’t worry though, this is not going to be an apologetics piece in favor of my political affiliation 😀 Instead, I am going to speak out against a rather alarming phenomenon. A phenomenon that I have seen people from all over the political spectrum use.
The phenomenon I am alluding to is the “rule of the majority is always right” fallacy. I have seen many people post “we must accept without question whatever the majority chooses”. While this may seem like a fundamentally healthy position to take, closer examination reveals otherwise.
First, allow me to establish some context. I usually see this phrase used in discussions on civil liberties. Whenever the idea of fundamental human rights are brought up and people argue for protecting these rights, I see a flurry of posts stating that “we must accept whatever the majority chooses”. I am not going to examine what these rights are, or the political affiliations of those posting said quotation, because they are irrelevant. What is relevant is the, fallacious, idea that the will of the majority somehow trumps fundamental human rights.
This position displays a glaring lack of knowledge about how a true democracy functions. Because we haven’t had a democratic system for a very long time, we seem to have forgotten how a constitutional democracy, as opposed to mob rule, should work. So let’s rehash the correct definition of constitutional democracy: A constitutional democracy is a system where majority rule applies, given that the fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution are preserved.
That last phrase is of the utmost importance. The fundamental rights of citizens should not be violated even if the majority chooses to pass discriminatory laws. Those laws should be found unconstitutional and rejected. Let me offer some concrete examples to make this clearer.
- At one time in history, the majority of the US population voted in favor of racial discrimination
- At one time in history, the majority in several countries voted for laws that denied women the right to vote
- At one time in history, the majority voted for laws supporting the institution of slavery
The list goes on. A simple perusal of the list should convince you that the majority is not always right. As a matter of fact, the majority can be oppressive and intolerant. A true constitutional democracy would prevent said oppression and intolerance. In all of the examples mentioned above, it was the actions of a minority of conscientious objectors that finally ended these injustices.
Even then, the “majority” did not take things quietly. For example, the military was brought in to enforce desegregation in some southern states in the US. These were painful periods in the emerging democracies of Western societies. They went through these transitions a long time ago and finally reached a steady state of relatively functional democracy — don’t get me wrong, many, if not all, of these societies still have flaws in their democracies, but at least they have overcome the “majority always imposes its view regardless of consequences” phase.
Let’s not reinvent the wheel. The will of the majority cannot be blindly followed when it comes to civil liberties and personal freedoms. The majority does not have the right to tell me how to dress, or what I can or cannot eat or drink. The majority does not have the right to tell me what not to watch or listen to in the privacy of my home. The majority does not have a right to treat me differently from other citizens because I do not happen to follow their philosophical or religious beliefs. In short, anything that is my personal business is none of your business.
Of course, all this requires a constitution that protects the individual rights of citizens. That is why I am among those who call for the creation of a constitution before any elections. If a constitution that protects fundamental rights is in place, then no matter what political party is voted into office, we can rest assured that our rights will be protected by the courts using the constitution as the reference document. Here’s hoping that we get over this silly “the majority must impose its view regardless of the consequences” mentality.