Minority Rule: The power dynamic of social liberalism

A few weeks ago now I started using a different name. First, I told my close friends and family about the change, then mentioned it in passing to acquaintances who asked how to address me, then I changed my Facebook, Twitter, email adress, all of my public facing profiles and simply began to expect people to use it as if it was the name I was baptised with. Yet curiously, even the most classically liberal of my classical liberal friends tolerated this action. Without consulting them, I made a decision about how they would use language, informed them of my choice and simply expected them to obey. Why did they accept this blatant disregard for their liberty to refer to me however they wish?

This seems like a sarcastically ridiculous question, and it is. But don’t get me wrong I’m not trying to disparage classical liberalism, it is an honourable and consistent ideology; I agree with classical liberals that the government is a necessary evil we just disagree on how necessary an evil it is. My friends accepted that I wanted to be called something different because they know me and know I can call myself what I like. Calling me by my new name isn’t obeying a command, it’s respecting a person. Why do so many transgender celebrities not get granted the same courtesy? Why doesn’t the same principle apply to trigger warnings? Why are things different when someone asks you to remove a Facebook post because they think it’s deliberately abrasive? Because when these requests come from a faceless entity rather than a friend, it can look like minority rule. And here’s the challenging part: it is.

I hope it’s not too much of a surprise to learn that I believe in democracy, though probably for rather unusual reasons. I don’t believe in democracy because it makes good decisions, In my experience any history book will tell you total democracy is as likely to give you a great leader or a tyrant as total monarchy is. Being elected into power gave us Franklin D. Roosevelt and Clement Attlee as well as Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. Being born into power gave us Catherine of Russia and Empress Theodora as well as Ivan the Terrible and David Cameron. I believe in democracy because at its best it neuters the tyranny of the minority and satiates the tyranny of the masses. In my mind, the perfect democratic state would be a huge bloated bureaucracy with no real leader or direction with politicians flying in and out of office so quickly they’re virtually incapable of doing anything except keeping the roads paved, the schools running and preventing any major crises.

However in 2013 I watched my country’s small elitist government debate whether or not I should have the right to marry who I want, and in 2015 I watched the government of Slovenia host a referendum on whether or not Slovenians should be able to marry who they want. The minority rulers of my home country said yes, the people of Slovenia said no. It seems the great libertarian question of our time is how to balance freedom with security, from Edward Snowden to this week’s tragic terrorist attacks in Brussels. Perhaps the great democratic question of our time is how to balance what is popular with what is right. Maybe I’m obtuse for thinking my being able to marry who I want is a right rather than a privilege, maybe the majority of Slovenians holding that opinion means they should all be subjected to it. Or maybe we should see civil liberties and requests for courtesy like a friend asking to be called by a new name, maybe rather than demanding they justify their request to us, we should ask ourselves if we can justify denying them.

* The author is a member of the Liberal Youth and a candidate for its executive committee

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5 Comments

  • Matt (Bristol) 24th Mar '16 - 1:45pm

    Just reading this more fully but just: ‘ I believe in democracy because at its best it neuters the tyranny of the minority and satiates the tyranny of the masses.’ That is a peculiarly ‘whiggish’ view…

    Interesting article, though, Eden.

  • Eddie Sammon 24th Mar '16 - 2:05pm

    This is an incredibly thoughtful artical. I have questioned recently whether Liberal Democrats are getting the balance right between rights and what I called mandates, or what you might call privileges. We have a similar debate on whether to impose gay marriage on NI, like the US had recently with the Supreme Court and their states.

    A way to get around this is what I do with my republican views. I say I personally believe in having an elected head of state (or simply boosting the power of the Prime Minister), but I wouldn’t put it in a manifesto because it wouldn’t be popular yet.

    At its worst the debate between minority and majority rule, or rights versus mandates can lead to civil war, such as the English or Irish civil war. I’d like to know more about who has supreme power in our country because there are a few disputes that I think could get very messy if it isn’t clear who is actually in charge and there is also the question whether our constition is democratic and whether in certain circumstances the right of revolution should override it. Constitutions can be oppressive if they don’t get the balance right between rights of the majority versus the minority.

  • Ahhhhh the tyranny of the majority. Like so much else it all goes back to Mill

  • People change their names in Thailand, nothing much to do with democracy.

  • Jayne Mansfield 25th Mar '16 - 9:20am

    It is all a bit above my head, Eden.

    I would call anyone by the name they wished to be called by. I see that as common courtesy.

    I don’t know what trials and tribulations ‘celebrities’ face. From what little I do know, don’t have much respect for any of them. What have they done to deserve filling up so called ‘newspapers’?

    My understanding of how a minority government reached it’s decision on gay marriage was because there was majority support for it. ( just look at some of the opinions expressed by the Boris Johnsons etc, before that became the case and they had one eye of electability. Once more, politicians whatever they like to claim, were behind the curve.
    Something can be popular and ( in my opinion) right. It is all a matter of persuasion.

    I believe in Democracy because it is the best form of bad government. No more, no less.

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