Majority rule is not democracy

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A group of partisans burst into the Council Chamber and summarily killed the leaders of the opposing party, which represented the majority. The year was 427 BCE and the place was Corcyra, modern Corfu. The parties were divided over whether the Demos—the people–or the Oligoi—the wealthy few—should rule, as well as over specific issues of justice and foreign relations. Our source for this, Thucydides, wrote that the cause of the civil war was “the desire to rule out of avarice and ambition.” Both sides plunged into atrocities as civil war spread out and continued to flame until the leaders of the Oligoi had all been slaughtered. Civil war is a colossal failure of democracy. In Corcyra, this failure began long before the killings, with an abuse of justice. What is democracy? Pundits have been writing recently that democracy is majority rule, but that is wrong, dangerously wrong. Corcyra came apart because the majority was using legal machinery to abuse its wealthy opponents, the Oligoi. And those opponents saw no way apart from violence to defend their interests. Majority rule was ultimately to blame for this civil war.“Pundits have been writing recently that democracy is majority rule, but that is wrong, dangerously wrong.”Democracy is rule by the people and for the people. The majority is not the people. We cannot say this too often: rule by the majority is not rule by the people. For the people to rule, they need to meet a number of conditions. Of these, the rule of law stands out, because it is the rule of law that stands between democracy and the tyranny of the majority. Minorities must be included in the people, and so the law must give them ways to defend their interests. Beyond law, the culture of a democracy must be inclusive.The ancient Greeks found their way to create a form of democracy in Athens after a period of rule by tyrants. They were able to do this because they were developing a culture that was. . .

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News source: OUPblog » Philosophy

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