Majoritarian Democracy Reassessed

Автор: Shuja Shakir

Журнал: Revista Científica Arbitrada de la Fundación MenteClara @fundacionmenteclara

Статья в выпуске: 1, Vol. 5, 2020 года.

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This paper attempts to show that while fear of democracy turning into a ‘majoritarian’ system is rational, it is not always realistic because of the inherent inconsistencies in the idea of ‘community cohesion’. Traditional notion of community, constituted by oneness of race, religion, culture or caste, has been seriously contested by upsurge of ‘salad bowl’ multicultural societies comprising assortment of races, cultures and religions. Even as the trajectories of modern democracies appear to foreground the ethnicisation of its politics, it does not amount to a full-fledged ethnicisation of the communities at large. A thoroughly united community, if there is one, looks real only in the realm of imagination.

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Majoritarian democracy, ethnicity, community cohesion, religious unity

Короткий адрес: https://readera.org/170163681

IDR: 170163681   |   DOI: 10.32351/rca.v5.145

Фрагмент статьи Majoritarian Democracy Reassessed

Introduction

Reflections on democracy are laced with a hope that despite being rule by majority democracy will operate within certain philosophical and constitutional constraints that will not to allow it to violate the rights of minorities. Supporters of the democracy wax confident that since a system chosen and built by people themselves cannot become anti-people, any aberration in the stated objective of democracy comes more as an exception than a rule. However, a sense of trepidation prevails, especially about the oft-encountered incapacity of democracy – parliamentary democracy in particular – to convert the rule of majority into the rule by consensus that is accommodative of minorities. When a democratic leadership begins to invoke majoritarian sentiment to get elected and harness the liberal institutions to further an anti-minority agenda, it is natural for the apprehensions over the litheness of democracy to arise. The electoral triumph of Donald Trump in US, Erdogan in Turkey and Narendra Modi in India is already broadening those apprehensions (Levitsky & Ziblatt, 2018).

Democracy sustains in the vote of the majority population, and precisely for that reason, it spawns the threat of majority dominance in a society seething with racial, religious, and caste divides. What is one to do, for instance, if the majority wants an anti-minority legislation passed and votes a favorably inclined government to power to execute it, or the political executive starts exerting an undesirable influence on the democratic institutions to toe a particular ideological line?

It is because of the propensity of the elected representatives to pander to their majority constituency that the questions are raised whether democracy is truly inclusive of minorities in the plural societies. A vociferous champion of representative democracy, John Stuart Mill advocated the need for proportional voting system to ensure the protection of minority interests against the majoritarian tendencies in the democracy (Mill, 2010). Gandhi shared similar fears about the possible violation of minority representation in context of the proposed representative democracy in the independent India. Commenting on the representative democracy in Hind Swaraj in 1909, Gandhi wrote, “I pray to God that India may never be in that plight” (Gandhi cited Shankaran, 2019). Gandhi’s love for democracy was restricted to his utopian belief in direct democracy where everybody could directly participate in the governance. And in this formulation, he came close to Rousseau who found the possibility of the ‘just and indestructible General Will’ in some sort of direct democracy (Rousseau, 1993). To Gandhi, representative democracy was not going to work in a multicultural country like India, and he tended to draw from Mill that “democracy was next to impossible in multi-ethnic societies and completely impossible in linguistically divided countries” (Mill cited in Lijphart, 1996).

Multiculturalism is the mainstay of the contemporary societies. Ushered in by the waves of migration in an increasingly globalised world, linguistically and ethnically divided societies are a norm. That has given rise, among other things, to the rejuvenated debates about the political space that minorities should or should not occupy in the lands where they are not supposed to belong. The issue of minority rights has humungous social and cultural implications that the liberal structures of democratic governance are finding difficult to deal with. For example, granting special group rights to the minorities implies welcoming their separate ethnicity, culture and religion into the mainstream culture of the receiving country. What follows is perhaps the biggest dilemma of present-day democracy: what happens to the national unity of the country when you allow different ethnic, racial, religious peoples to live with different sets of rights in one country (Bloemraad et al., 2008)? The contradictory political perspectives on how democracy should negotiate the question of ethnic divide have had both the social scientists and the policymakers deeply preoccupied everywhere. However, neither seems to provide a convincing answer.

So, is Gandhi’s fear of representative democracy degenerating into anti-people institution coming true? Is the democracy in the country becoming majoritarian in such a way as to facilitate social and political exclusion of the minorities? Have the Indian minorities been reduced to what Lee (2001) calls the ‘persistent minorities’ who remain minorities, no matter how many times they vote and how many issues they vote on?

Community Cohesion is Unrealistic

This paper attempts to show while fear of democracy turning into a ‘majoritarian’ system is rational, it is not always realistic because of the inherent inconsistencies in the idea of ‘community cohesion’. Traditional notion of community, constituted by oneness of race, religion, culture or caste, has been seriously contested by upsurge of ‘salad bowl’ multicultural societies comprising assortment of races, cultures and religions (Kymlicka & Bashir, 2008). Even as the trajectories of modern democracies appear to foreground the ethnicisation of its politics, it does not amount to a full-fledged ethnicisation of the communities at large. A thoroughly united community, if there is one, looks real only in the realm of imagination.

Even normatively, the concept of majoritarian democracy, singularly dominated by a numerically superior community, looks logically flawed. Going by the way the democratic decision-making happens, one does not usually find individual interests coalescing into a collective interest. Suppose a person wants to buy a car and has an option of choosing from two models: an expensive model that comes fitted with a pollution control equipment, and a cheaper model that is without such an equipment. In such a case, buyer is surely not going to pay more to own the expensive model just because it is good for environment. She will, as it were, end up buying the cheaper model even if she favours the pollution control measures in her individual capacity (Hardin, 1990). In other words, a person is focused more deeply on what benefits her individually than the collective benefits resulting from her actions.

Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem

The roots of the argument that individual rankings do not get converted to collective ranking go back to public choice theory associated with Condorcet's ‘Problem of Cyclic Majorities’ and Kenneth Arrow's ‘Impossibility Theorem’ (Sen, 1979). Public choice theory establishes in clear terms that democracy cannot just be a tool to incorporate majority opinions. Arrow’s Theorem is about the inadequacies of the voting systems and it posits that it is impossible to have fair elections using voter’s ranking preferences. Now, the three important conditions of this theorem in respect of democracy are: non-dictatorship, unanimity and independence of irrelevant alternatives. Arrow’s theorem says if there a voting system that collects votes based on ranked preferences of the individuals, then it has to violate at least one of the conditions of Theorem (Morreau, 2016). That is, in order to have best among the three existing conditions of theorem, the voting system should discard either one or both conditions. So, because dictatorship is no option in a democracy, the individual voter is likely to discard either unanimity or the independence of irrelevant alternatives, or both. Mostly, it is unanimity that becomes a sacrificial goat for the electoral process to avoid dictatorship. The logical corollary of this is what is also called the ‘favourite betrayal’, which means rather than voting for their most favourite candidate, people vote against their least favorite candidate. Of course, Arrow’s Theorem, as he himself admitted it, does not establish most voting systems work badly all the times, but the possibility that they can all work badly at times cannot be ruled out.

Arrow’s Theorem at least hypothetically proves genuine democracy would be impossible under the present voting system, because no voting system, regardless of its efficiency and utility, can be true representative of the voters. Given this imperfectability, one might be tempted to ask whether having such a skewed voting system is good or bad for the democracy. Ironical it might sound; the fact is Arrow’s concern may actually make the democracy healthier in the ethnically divided societies by helping it dispense with its majoritarian hue. Since individual interests, in keeping with the postulations of the Theorem, do not aggregate to collective interests, the likelihood of the so-called absolute community coherence founded on the totality of racial, cultural or religious identities remains far from realisation. By way of an example in Indian context, the social and political behaviour of two prominent minorities –Dalit and Muslim– illustrates how the horizontal heterogeneity underlying the communities militates against the prevalent notion of their ethnic or cultural cohesion.

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Список литературы Majoritarian Democracy Reassessed

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