Authentic Democracy Is More Than Majority Rule

Elections are a vital part of any democracy, but majority rule alone does not guarantee a truly democratic society. The rule of law is fundamental to democracy and this includes respect for minority opinions as well as a rejection of violence as a means to obtain political power. 

An authentic democracy must be animated by core values. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (par. 407) indicates these values include: upholding the dignity of every human person, respect for human rights and the unwavering commitment to the common good. “If there is no general consensus on these values, the deepest meaning of democracy is lost and its stability is compromised.”

Calls for majority rule can, in fact, undermine authentic democracy. In defending the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, Stephen Douglas championed “popular sovereignty,” arguing the people in the new territory should decide for themselves whether to accept the institution of slavery. Abraham Lincoln looked deeper: “When the white man governs himself that is self-government; but when he governs himself, and also another man, that is more than self-government – that is despotism.”

In taking this position, Lincoln was applying the wisdom of the American founders to the new controversy surrounding slavery. In Federalist Paper #51 James Madison explained the importance of protecting the rights of the minority: “It is of great importance in a republic, not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers; but to guard one part of society against the injustice of the other part.” 

Seen in this light, abortion is an attack of one part of society against another part. No rhetoric touting “full reproductive rights” can hide the fact that abortion destroys unborn human life and denies its victims the right to enter into and participate in society. Demagogues, likewise, set one part of society against another; as, for example, blaming all Muslims for terrorist attacks. This is the road to tyranny, as one by one different groups are disparaged and then silenced, all in the name of a strong country.

For over 200 years political thinkers across the globe have marveled at the ingenious structure of the American government with its checks and balances among three branches. However, this system of government is just that, a system; demagogues can subvert it through cunning and lies. Only the vigilance of a virtuous people can preserve authentic democracy.

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