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Friday, 9 January 2009

Democracy Vs a Republic

Democracy is a one of the many forms of government for any country. Like every other form of government it has its own political setup and social order. A democracy is popularly defined as “Government of the people, by the people and for the people.” In the words of Aristotle, democracy is a form of government that strives for the interest of the majority. As majority of a population is any society is generally poor, therefore it would not be wrong to classify democracy as government which caters for interest of poor. In short democracy means that poor of a country get to rule the country, while rulers are paid attend the assembly. But again this is not always true; there can be a society where majority of the population is rich. In such a case democracy would change into an oligarchy. Then again if majority of a certain state is racist or barbaric in nature, these people would get to rule the state. Not to mention if most of the population is illiterate and uneducated, like would be the people ruling them. This is because majority of the people get to have their say and there are boundaries to what majority can do when together. In words of Aristotle from his famous work “Politics”:

Tyranny is a kind of monarchy which has in view the interest of the monarch only; oligarchy has in view the interest of the wealthy; democracy, of the needy: none of them the common good of all

As already stated democracy is a form of government that takes care of the majority of the population or serves the interests of the majority only. This would mean that majority of the population if they want can and will make or change laws of the land as and when they want. This gives the majority the power of a monarch and thus of a tyrant ruler, in other words tyranny-by-majority. If we have learned anything from the history it is that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. If for example we assume that majority of people of a certain state are fascist or racist, they can try and eliminate all other minority nationalities from their society. This would bring misery and injustice to the people and would morally not be correct, otherwise what Nazi’s did in Germany should not be looked down upon as Germans were a majority in that land and thus exercised the right of majority to dislike or hate the minority races and thus take any action they deemed necessary.

Republic on the other hand, although generally confused with democracy, is a totally different kind of government. Today almost all of the countries in the world, with the exception of a handful, are declared republics. But still most people do not know what a republic is. A republic on the contrary is a form of government that is governed by laws. It controls the majority and ensures the rights of the minorities. It protects the minorities from the wrath of majority. It provides civil liberty to the people, especially minorities. The republic can therefore be defined as a constitutionally limited government, created by a constitution.

In democracy the majority’s power is absolute and unlimited its decisions are not appealable under the legal system established to give effect to this form of government. This is because majority is the authority for making of laws and therefore majority and make or bend laws in their own favour and thus achieve their own objects. As for example if in some country majority decides that a certain race or a religious group is unwanted and should not be allowed to live in that country after a certain period of time and the crime is made punishable by death. It does not matter if those people have been living there for past 500 years or 1000 years, when majority decides for them to be a threat they will have to either leave or be slaughtered by the majority. Again in democracy majorities can make minorities to change their lifestyle and ethical and moral standards. In other words democracy opens the door to unlimited Tyranny-by-Majority.

The question that arises is, whether rule of law is important? If it is important, is it so important that we ignore the wishes of majority of population? I believe the answer to these questions is yes. This is important in order to prevent injustice in the society. So that everybody get his basic human rights, irrespective of race, creed, religion and colour. If such is the case, it brings a happier and a coherent society. It brings society at peace with itself, a society where everybody’s life, wealth and loved ones are secure.

As we see today in the world, where almost every country is a republic there each country is being trusted upon with the idea of democracy as well. Whether anybody likes it or not, he has to be a democracy today. So much so that today we have forgotten about every country being a republic. The idea of a republic seems to be fading away in the flood of clamour for democracy. So can a democracy and a republic co-exist? Let us see through this question and try and find an answer. If a democracy and a republic are enforced together this means that popularly elected politicians now have the right to change the laws of the land at their will. It would also mean that majority can now enforce their will on the minority by just including certain provisions in the laws or the constitution. This imposition of will can be usurping their wealth or taking away their religious rights or simply by banishing them from the state. This mean in case of such collusion very purpose of a republic is lost. I think for the simply reason of these two political orders being totally different from each other, their co-existence is next to impossible. Many would argue against it not being the case around the world where every country is a democracy as well as a republic. But I would argue is majority not usurping the rights of minorities. Take an example of France, a typical western European country. A few years ago a law was passed by the government banning head-gear worn by the religious minorities of Muslims, Jews and Sikhs. Was it not against the rights of religious freedom? I believe it was steered by the popular vote which undermined the rules of a republic. United States of America cannot be considered as a Republic, but it is not a democracy either. It has changed into an oligarchy where the rich rule, but we would leave this debate for some other time.

As we have already seen in the previous essay on democracy and it’s menaces, we now know that under a democratic regime the ethical and moral standards are more prone to spiral down. Whereas in a republic, which is governed by a rule of constitutional law this can be controlled by those who are governing. The rogue elements in the society which tend to degrade these ethical and moral standards would be educated to improve themselves or removed from the state for the obvious dangers they cause to the survival of the state and fabric of the society. The ultimate aim of any society is for its inhabitants to be living in peace and harmony. This is not achieved by mob rule enforced by tyranny of the majority. Everybody has his or her rights but at the same time there should be a limit to these as well, so that these rights are not abused by those with vested interests. So that we do not offend anybody or a minority group with our freedom of speech for instance.

Media has a very critical role which has been very instrumental in the past revolutions as well. It has played a very important role in bringing up revolutions as well as in containing many revolutions. Although media and its representatives should be watched very closely for the power they hold on the population but this topic is still open for debate. As it will require more deliberation to outline the role it would play and the boundary it would contain itself in for a perfect state. This is left for future discussions, but one thing is clear that republic is a better alternative to a democracy and democracy is a potential threat to a republic as well.