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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.


Insouciant said...

To label the whole nation racist or fascist on the crimes of few would be a most unjust thing to do. Even if Hitler came in power riding on majority, which he did not, blaming the German nation for the crimes committed by the Nazi party would be the most naive thing to do.
Herman Goering, the Chief of luftwaffe, German airforce under hitler said at Nuremberg trials:
"Why, of course, the people don't want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship. voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

The idea of conflict between democracy and a republic in the modern world (i repeat not in the Aristotle's world)is a folly. And the country in which you are sitting is a democracy (not a republic) where the will of the Parliament is bounded by none. Even the Supreme Court can not declare any law ultra vires, yet this paragon has been adapted by many countries. And democracy only strengthens a republic. By all means the possibility of a majority changing some provisions in a law is far less than by the rule of a few or a dictator. The whims of a tyrant is law, while the consent of majority only makes it to the law books. I fail to see what have you against democracy and that too sitting in England. It defies understanding.

Muhammad Shemyal Nisar said...

To start with I never labelled the whole German nation as racist or fascist, I just used it as an example as the situation in Germany is well known to everybody. All I meant was that is a nation is racist the Germany like scenario can build up. Although I agree that Israel would have been a better example which didn't occur to me while I was writing the article. Besides there are more people who can relate to Nazis that any other regime anywhere I the world.

Secondly, I never claimed in the article that communism is better or if monarchy or tyranny is better so you are reaching the conclusion that I never mentioned.

My present location does not matter in away way at all. I tried to argue on the topic with logic. Sometimes you have to reach results that you do not like but are logically more sound. Unfortunately your Comment does not point out any flaw in the logic that I have presented. I do not claim that it is perfect logic but at least your comment does not point to any flaw in the logic that I tried to build.

Besides I have not reached any final conclusion and therefore the topic would continue in the following posts as I mentioned in the article as well that certain issues require more deliberation and thus would be catered for later.

Insouciant said...

The logic part in my earlier comment,
"The idea of conflict between democracy and a republic in the modern world (i repeat not in the Aristotle's world)is a folly. And the country in which you are sitting is a democracy (not a republic) where the will of the Parliament is bounded by none. Even the Supreme Court can not declare any law ultra vires, yet this paragon has been adapted by many countries. And democracy only strengthens a republic. By all means the possibility of a majority changing some provisions in a law is far less than by the rule of a few or a dictator. The whims of a tyrant is law, while the consent of majority only makes it to the law books"

All the logic you have tried to give against democracy can also be applied for dictatorship, rather the chances of a conflict with republican style is greater in an authoritarian government instead of a democracy.

Muhammad Shemyal Nisar said...

Firstly, I never said that dictatorship is better or these flaws are not there in a dictatorship. Besides, after reading your comment I read my article over and over again but could not find anywhere in the article where I find myself endorsing dictatorship over democracy.

Secondly, I am not a very ardent follower of Aristotle. All I did was to take one quotation out of the whole work of his. To my understanding this does not make me a follower of Aristotle.

"democracy only strengthens a Republic" it is a statement that is lacking any evidence prior to it or after it. So I presume it to be one another on of your comments that does not have a supporting argument.

Finally I disagree with your "while the consent of majority only makes it to the law books" comment. You might find it so for the place where you live. But as I see from where I am sitting every law that makes it to the law books is vehemently followed and made sure that it is obey. Therefore this argument of yours might only stand true in developing countries, but certainly nit the case in the developed world.

Many a times laws are made that are so stupid and dictatorial in nature but they still make it to the law books as well as being implemented as if it being some holy words. Although media comes in very handy in such a situation as these laws public is first brainwashed to accept these changes to be right.

In the words of Sir Muhammad Iqbal:

"for two hundred donkeys’ mind can’t replace one man’s thought."

this is the weakness of democracy that it gives the same weight to both of them.

But as I said this is not the last article, the later articles would try and throw more light on issues and then in the end would try and reach a logical conclusion in this pursuit for best form of government. To be very honestly even I myself only have a vague idea what it would be.