Thursday, 19 January 2006

Democratic Ethics

In the democratically numbed mind, it is enough that it is known that most people want to see a policy enforced for it to be considered right that it be enforced. The old fallacy of “might is right” – or “in the multitude there is rectitude” – has not disappeared; on the contrary, it forms an essential component without which democracy could not function. It is felt to be enough to say, for instance, that, “most people want an end to privatisation, higher tax for the rich and a British withdrawal from Iraq” [1] for it to be felt that these matters ought to be enforced. It bears witness to the power of democracy that so evident a fallacy, and so bold an inconsideration of the rectitude of such matters, can pass through the minds of most as a legitimate argument.
.....This political stratagem has the advantage that it appeals solely to the power of the people, and not to their better natures. If, then, one is not to be persuaded by virtue or by a reasonable understanding of the present facts of the matter, might one at least be persuaded by the many examples of history that show that rectitude does not stand coterminous with multitude? I maintain that one should of course be persuaded of this view, but the tragedy is that in a democratic society one is likely to be in a minority in the holding of this view, precisely because the multitude is driven—by the promise of power and by the words of those who seek it—to the selectively ignorant view that the multitude is the legitimate principle by which rectitude is ultimately decided!
[1] Seumas Milne, “The battle over this phoney centre excludes the majority”, The Guardian, 19th January 2006.


Ben said...

Few find 'might is right' convincing as a principle of justice, except for Hobbes - who ties it to majority rule - and yet I think it is behind many people's views on how democracy should operate.

Assuming we reject both this and the utilitarian creed ('greatest happiness for the greatest number'), I think the path is open to non-majoritarian democracy.

Deogolwulf said...

"I think the path is open to non-majoritarian democracy."

A step in the right direction, I think.