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Duly Elected Tyranny: Recovering Democracy in the Age of Majority Abuses

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Democracy is dead, long live democracy. Modi has won by a landslide in India. Touted everywhere as the world's largest "democracy," India will be ruled by a man who has never repudiated or apologized for the slaughter of Muslims in his state's riots while he was in charge, a man who is the force behind the most ultranationalist and bigoted Indian political party in modern history. Right here in the USA, Princeton University demonstrates that most every policy and every piece of 'democratic' legislation is supporting the rise of an oligarchy and the disappearance of the middle class. From Russia to India to Israel, we have a problem with elected ultra-right leaders who basically embody what John Stuart Mill, one of the greatest modern architects of democracy, referred to as 'the tyranny of the majority.'

In every case majority tyrannies are injuring and endangering neighbors outside state borders and minorities within. There is one common thread to this trend: the insidious relationship between big business interests, the power of modern media to inspire and manipulate majorities into nativist and jingoistic self-service, and the ever ready charismatic politician ready to embody the righteous indignation of majorities; they search for spokesmen of their 'victimhood' that justifies their hatreds of those who are weaker. This insidious relationship allows for the Murdochs and Koch's to walk away with the vast majority of the world's wealth, while we dither imagining that we are still doing democracy.

The fact is that we are still doing democracy in the modern world, and we have made some damn good strides in the last three hundred years. The democratic evolution of modern governance has been on a slow and steady march toward greater inclusiveness for several centuries, at least in principle. Never before in history have this many people been represented by government, and have had their rights defended in court. That is at least one reason why our murder rates have plummeted, life spans gone up dramatically, and incidents of war and civil war are going down drastically. The rule of law for billions of people is better than it ever was, but we must face its flaws and backslides.

There are ugly pockmarks in this glorious march, not the least of which was the democratic rise to power of none other than one miserable corporal named Adolf Hitler, responsible ultimately for forty million dead by the end of World War II. Who helped him into power? Three crucial actors: 1. A minority of selfish supremely wealthy businessmen, 2. Clever media strategists who enriched themselves, and 3. A majority willing to sacrifice its minorities and 'inferiors' for the sake of a simple but stupid idea--their superiority to minorities. This is the deadly combination that sets democracy back periodically--and gets a hell of a lot of people killed in the process.

There is a straightforward answer to the mess we find ourselves in with the tyranny of majorities. The answer in a word is human rights. We have completely missed the point in terms of the quantity time energy and money that we spend on elections, or for that matter promoting and forcing elections overseas, and getting 'our guy' into office, rather than the slow and steady process of guaranteeing human rights to everyone within and beyond our state borders. That is the only true marker of success in these centuries, and it will continue to be the only marker of our progress--or regress. We have made enormous strides in this regard. But we must move on to the rights of non-citizens, the rights of combatants in wars we engage in, the rights of workers making our socks in Pakistan, and many more.

The more we pursue this approach with steady gains, the harder it will be for politicians and majorities in all countries to reverse rights once they are enshrined in national and international law. We must first come to know as many people whose rights are being compromised. Our empathy and understanding of their lot will induce us to lobby our respective governments for specific identifiable gains in terms of their rights. This, once enshrined in ever constricting legislation on a global scale, will make it harder and harder to commit quiet atrocities such as slave labor, as well as gross atrocities such as ethnic cleansing, mass rape, or honor killings. We must work to bring out our best human nature as we stand in solidarity with the weakest among us, even as we work for legislation that will control the worst in us.

As far as the atrocity of modern elections favoring tyrannical majorities it will be hard to undo the damage until there is greater consensus on elections free of massive amounts of private funds. But at the very least, until that occurs, we must march on in terms of human rights, so that men like Putin, Modi, and of course Assad, become more and more of a global anachronism.