The Tyranny of Minorities

It was Churchill who infamously quipped, “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” In the ’50s when Adlai Stevenson stood against the military man Dwight Eisenhower, one of his supporters is said to have allegedly shouted in support, “Mr Stevenson, every thinking person in America is going to vote for you.” To which Mr Stevenson replied, “Thank you very much, but I need a majority.” Since old habits die hard, America chose Eisenhower in line with many countries — especially back in those days – that held the view that democracy needed order and who better than military men to set things in order. Both Churchill and de Gaulle had military backgrounds and were rather autocratic in nature. Post WWII, the general perception is that representative democracies take care of the poorest of the poor, and yet, one cannot help noticing the reality of glitches in the system. There is no doubt that democracies are the best model going, but it seems as though good governance is not high on our priority list. And so, our democracies have begun to serve only a certain section of people, and more often than not this is section is a minority. But this is hardly a new phenomenon.

History has recorded umpteen examples of revolutions that have overthrown monarchies and come up with models to suit certain sections of society. In 1647-48, during the English Civil War, the victorious camp wanted to finally have universal adult male suffrage. However, the then elite felt it was preposterous to allow people the right to vote merely because they were adults. In their view, only those who owned property were fit to be part of the democratic process.

About 150 years later, during the French Revolution, when the Jakobins were busy sending up a long list of people to be guillotined, one of the curious concerns of the Girondins was privileging people with property. And so, Liberty, Equality and ‘Property’ (not fraternity) were high on the agenda in France and Britain. That was then, but even today, the pernicious idea that the rich should have a bigger stake and say in the matter still lingers on in many parts of the world.

Many argue that why should the poor have a say in the matter just by virtue of existence? In other words, does the poorest he or she, have the right as the richest he or she? As things stand, the richest of the rich have managed to create a structure whereby the poorest of the poor may vote, but does that vote really make any difference to the existing structure? The poor form the largest majority, but their hopes and aspirations often go unnoticed.

Meanwhile, powerful counties remain deeply divided and history continues to written by minorities. The Brexit vote resulted in 51.89% voting to leave while 48.11% hopelessly opted to live within the EU dream. Cambridge Analytica and its dubious role in Brexit secured a slim victory for the ‘Brexiters’, leaving the ‘Remainers’ feeling lost and delirious.  Of course, the victorious exerted the right to leave, but what of their youth who are likely to remain disgruntled for years to come? Representative democracies are undoubtedly the best model going, but do we vote once in five years and expect them to represent us or do we expect our representatives to do the necessary due diligence? The more pertinent question is do we vote for a political party line? Or do we vote for a personality?

The United States of America saw Trump make his entry despite the fact that the media awarded Hilary Clinton the popular vote. They claimed she had a 6-million advantage. and yet, sections of the world woke up to the rude shock of Trump’s entry into the White House. Amidst the trauma and the triumph, rose the reality of social media targeting, and Cambridge Analytica’s strategy to win over votes by targeting undecided votes with specific information. The Guardian ran a story, but it was too little too late. As suspected by most people, the Russians were involved in ‘Project Lakta’, an organisation that pumped finances and resources into targeting people to vote for Trump.  The tyranny of minorities continues to dominate the world of politics. The average Russian may not even know of ‘Project Lakhta’ and the average Brit may not care much for Cambridge Analytica. Yet, these fringe groups wield more power and the tyranny of all sorts of minorities is likely to shape our future.