Direct democracy; “Dictatorship of the majority”, give me a break!

Just in case you are not familiar with direct democracy, I will summarise it for you before I address the “dictatorship of the majority” criticism.

The easiest way to understand direct democracy is to use a simple example; your town or city.

With representative democracy, you elect the mayor and the town council. Once they are elected, all decisions are in their hands. They decide which street to repair, if to build a new public swimming pool and where, the local tax level, where houses, stores or factories can be built, and on and on.

In other words, all the local policy decisions, local laws and regulations are in the hands of the elected politicians. The only political right voters have is just vote to elect, not vote to decide any action or policy; they can not stop the politicians when they do something people disapprove of, nor can they tell politicians what to do. Between elections, citizens have zero power in a representative democracy. This means that between elections representative democracies are no democracies.

In the 1800s the Swiss decided representative democracy had a very important shortcoming; elected politicians had too much power. They decided to keep the elected politicians, but they introduced a peaceful but radical change, from then on the voters would have more power than the politicians. They did it after the politicians messed up another pandemic… Perhaps the people of other countries will now find inspiration to demand direct democracy.

Let me go back now to the critics or skeptics about direct democracy.  One of the criticism is: “direct democracy could become a dictatorship of the majority and oppress tha minority”. There is no evidence at all that will happen. We know it because of history, it never happened.

The  World knows of two proven examples of direct democracy; the democracies in the ancient Greek cities all over the Mediterranean is the first. As you know the Greeks invented democracy. To them, representative democracy would not be democracy, it would be just elected oligarchy or elected aristocracy, not democracy. 

It has been estimated that there were as many as 80 such democratic cities in Ancient Greece. The best known is Athens. Athens was the largest, approximately 100 000 people, and the best known because of all the information, archeology and other sciences have extracted from excavations, documents, etc.

None of the Greek democracies was a tyranny of the majority. The citizens of Athens were all Athenian men and women who were not slaves or foreign residents. Unfortunately, women citizens were not allowed to participate in politics. As you can expect, slaves could not either.

Nevertheless, the Greeks established the defining characteristic of democracy; that ordinary people would govern, not kings, emperors, oligarchs, dictators or priests.

Slavery and keeping women out of politics were two important  shortcomings but remember, slavery was the norm in most ancient cultures; Jews, Romans, Chinese, Moslems, the most advanced American cultures before Columbus and after him, and many other countries in the World practiced slavery until the 19th century in the West and the 20th in places like China, and the Moslem World. Even today, it is estimated that 30 million are slaves right now in various nations.

As for women, they gained the right to vote at about the same time as slavery was abolished.

But have no doubt; had Greek democracy, with its tolerance of free thinking, reason and analysis of everything, survived, the Greeks would have concluded that both, slavey and women not voting, was wrong. It would nave been addressed much sooner that was the case under Christianity because Christianity and other religions, are the opposite of free thinking: “this is the Truth, the rest is false or evil”.

In fact, some anciente Greeks posed some questions about the legitimacy of slavery.

As for Greek women, while they could not vote, many became important in poetry, leaders defending their cities, philosophers, physicians, astronomers, mathematicians, etc. No other ancient culture comes close to the Greeks in terms of so many important women in active roles and “men” roles. Sparta, another Greek city, although not a democracy, had practical equality between women and men.

More than 20 centuries after the Greeks, slavery, and women, and most men too!, were excluded from politics. The political emancipation of women in the modern World, and the abolition of slavery, are not the result of Christian ideas or the ideas of any other religion, but the result of the Renaissance which itself arose out of the awareness of the accomplisments of the Classical World, and the importance of the human body and mind, the lack of “original sins”, “expulsion of Paradise” and assorted stories that demean human nature. Those who studied Greece marvelled of its accomplishments; direct democracy, philosophy, arts, theatre, mathematics, astronomy, architecture, sculpture, the Olympics, non-absolute gods, rejection of dogma and absolute “truths” and other ideas much of the current World has not caught up with yet.

Direct democracy in Greece did not result in the majority dictating to the minority. Slavery and women’s absence from public life, was not something brought about by Greek democracy, it preceded it and continued long after democracy perished.

In the reakl world, in Greece and now in Switzerland, direct democracy works in and orderly manner, there are no mobs: the people decide calmly, rationally, considering many factors. Because of that, those  whose vote is in the minority,  accept the outcome because in a direct democracy, decisions are democractic, by fello voters, not by the elected elite. There were no mob decisions in Greek democracy and there are no mob decisions  in Switzerland.

Let us look and see if in Switzerland there is anything resembling the “tyranny of the majority”.

Nearly 63 % of the population of Switzerland is German-speaking, 23 % French-speaking, 8% Italian-speaking and 0.5% Romansh-speaking.

Do we hear of the French, Italian or Romansh-speakers, feeling oppressed in any way by the German-speaking majority? No.

Have you heard of separatist movements in Switzerland with the French, the Italian or the Romansh areas, wanting to separate from Switzerland?, No. Did yoiu ever hear of French, Italian or Romans languages and culture being in danger because of the prevalence or German? No.

Far from tyranny of the majority, in Switzerland, when the French-speaking population of the majority German-speaking Canton of Bern, decided they wanted to have their own French-speaking canton, the majority of the German-speakers of the Canton of Bern voted and agreed. The majority of the Swiss also ratified the decision. As  result, the new French-speaking Canton of Jura was born. So much for “tyranny of the majority”. Which other country you know that would allow such freedom to a minority? I do not know of any.

If you examine how Switzerland works, you quickly see that the minorities, even the tiny Romansh minority of 40 000 speakers, in a country of 8.5 million inhabitants survives without difficulty. You will also find surprising that Romansh, spoken by just 0.5% of the Swiss, is one of the four official languages of Switzerland.

You have not heard of the minority languages in Spain, France, the UK, etc., becoming official languages of the country. Have you heard of Spanish or Native American languages becoming official languages of the US, or Native Canadian languages of the Indians and Eskimoss becoming official languages of Canada, or minority languages in Germany, like Danish or Frisian?

It is obvious direct democracy is no “tyranny of the majority.” Tyranny is tyranny, dictatiships are dictatorships  and have nothing to do with direct democracy.

Direct democracy, because it automatically takes into account the priorities of the majority, has never become tyranny and will develop into dictatorship either; it is representative democracies that can, and has developed into dictatorship when they do not listen to the majority; Germany, Italy, Spain, Cuba, etc., are examples.

It happens because representative democracy often fails to take into account the concerns of the majority. And that is the reason representative democracy is in crisis in most countries now; immigration, vaccine passports,  using public money to rescue banks and other big business, big internet companies out of control, politics “infecting” practically all institutions, job losses, lack of job stability, wages falling behind, the rich becoming much richer, etc., are all realities undermining the confidence of voters in representative democracy. In some ways it is representative democracy that has turned into the tyranny of the minority over the majority, something that is contrary to the stability of society.

All the worst crimes against humanity were commited, and are being commited, by dictatorships and even by representative democracies who degenearted into dictatorships, or shaky representative democracies. But mostly by outright totalitarian regimes; absolute religious regimes, the Communist regimes of the USSR and China, tribal wars in non democratic nations, etc.

It is also important to note Ancient Greece never had the  religious wars we have seen the World over, and always in regimes who are not direct democracies.

In a direct democracy, voters are responsible for life in the country. They understand that oppression of other citizens will threaten everyone because oppressed people, often turn to violence and the control of such violence can not be done without weakening democracy for all.

Another aspect that I believe prevents direct democracy from evolving into tyranny of minonirities, is that when voters make the decisions, they not need “leaders with vision”, “charisma” and other characteristics that often turn such leaders into mass manipulators to get elected, or demagogues who seduce the powerless masses or push legislators to give them special powers, etc.

Direct democracy forces voters to grow into responsible voters, nothing further from “tiranny of the majority”. Do not fear direct democraccy if you are part of a minority, fear representative democracy degenerating into dictatorship, as it has happened.

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