Notice I did not ask “Republicans or Democrats”, I asked “republicans or democrats”. This post is about political philosophy and its applications to India, not about the American political parties (though they do seem to be named correctly, at least on economic issues)
Now the Indian Constitution says that we are amongst other things a “democratic republic”. I have always found it telling that we are a “democratic republic” and not a “republican democracy”. The main word seems to be republic and democracy is but the adjective. (Ignore for a moment the constant description of our country just as a “democracy”, and also ignore the later addition of the word “socialist” to our Constitution by Indira Gandhi)
You might say I am splitting hairs. But this is extremely important.
A republic believes in the rule of law, and not the rule of men – the republican philosophy is against the rule of dictators or kings, but also against the rule of momentary majorities. A democracy too is against tyrants, but it by definition supports the rule of the majority.
Now the majority decision-making is absolutely necessary and correct when we must select say the president of our country, or enter some international agreement, and even use force to protect life and property or quell communal secession. This represents the idea not of a pure unrestrained democracy, but of a democratic republic or a liberal democracy where “liberal” refers to supprting individual rights. (see Nitin’s Liberal Nationalism, and my op-ed in Pragati about liberal soultions to Kashmir).
In other words, democracy seems to be the best way of operating the republic. But the idea of democracy becomes counter-productive when it used against republicanism itself. If a republic is against the rule of men, and it represents the actualization of an implicit social contract which assumes pre-existing individual liberties – then not all majority decisions carry legitimacy.
Now that is obvious in some cases – if say half or two-thirds of people voted that X must be executed just because he drew cartoons against some religion, the rest of us would be rather horrified at such a prospect. We would say that is not the kind of democracy we believe in, that is naked majoritarianism – implicitly admitting that what we really believe in is a Lockean republic which does not believe in prosecuting someone unless he has violated Mill’s Harm principle and hurt some one else’s life, liberty or property.
But how is voting to prevent someone from drawing cartoons any different in principle from voting to prevent you from voluntarily transacting with foreign businessmen, or voting to prevent you from having sex with somebody of the same gender, or voting to prevent you from selling kidneys, or voting to prevent you from starting a school which does not have a playground.
Now you might say you never voted for these laws and regulations, your representatives did. True. And that is why despite our constitutional proclamations, we are no longer a real republic but a partially constrained semi-majoritarian democracy. That is why we need to remove the word “socialism” from our constitution, reinstate private property as a fundamental right and more broadly speaking understand that too much of everything is bad – including democracy.
Constitutional weaknesses show over time. Today the UK can be described as a benevolent totalitarian state, whereas the US can even today, depite all slidebacks, said to have lived up to Benjamin Franklin’s challenge in response to an American’s question regarding what kind of government did their Constitution beget: “A Republic, if you can keep it”