I heard Lord Lawson of Blaby last night, speaking on the ‘Outcome of the European Union Referendum’. I was very struck by the similarity of the language he used to language used by David Maxwell-Fyfe at the time of the genesis of the European Convention on Human Rights in 1950. (David Maxwell-Fyfe was the U.K.’s Deputy Chief Prosecutor at Nuremberg, and a key negotiator in the Council of Europe after the Second World War, and spoke for the U.K. at the signing ceremony). I wondered whether Lord Lawson was aware of the similarity of language and was deliberately evoking it; but what struck me equally forcefully was how the contexts were almost polar opposites. Continue reading Brexit and Beacons→
“The people have spoken, and their wishes must be respected.” We have been hearing a lot of this recently, and not only from the majority who want to see what they voted for realised. There seems to be a broad acceptance of the proposition by the minority also.
I do not want to question democracy itself – as Churchill once famously observed,
No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…
But I do want to cast the spotlight on this curious understanding of what democracy means: that a bare majority of those voted on a particular day must prevail in the argument.
As an understanding of democracy, I think this is both reductive and insular. Reductive, because it is just not as simple as that in a modern social democracy. Insular, because it is not like that in many other modern social democracies. Somehow, it seems that winners and losers alike have caught onto a notion that the bare majority of those who voted on a particular day must prevail; seemingly unaware of the counter-arguments that regularly prevail elsewhere. Continue reading Brexit and the misunderstanding of Democracy→
Imagine a sea-voyage on which all who are travelling feel entitled to claim the helm. Though the captain is a good navigator, he isn’t good at convincing the others that he is, and those who shout the loudest and make the most confident claims, though they know nothing of the skills of navigation, will get a go… Jonathan Wolff in his Introduction to Political Philosophy summarizes Plato’s argument like this: Ruling is a skill, like medicine or navigation. It is rational to leave the exercise of skills to experts. In a democracy, however, the people rule, and the people are not experts…
The reference to experts may make people both nervous and critical. Siegel and Kotkin write with concern about the “clerisy”, an elite comprising academia, the prestige press, and leaders in IT, finance and culture, assuming a superior position and holding the population in contempt. They paint the idea of rule by experts as unattractive, and of course anti-democratic, though this seems to be the position Plato would favour.