Let’s re-invent the wheel again. How many times do we need to learn that democracy is not the same thing as freedom, that the majority will does not necessarily (in fact almost certainly doesn’t) represent the will of absolutely everyone, that in fact majorities are perfectly capable of deciding to oppress minorities? John Stuart Mill seems to be widely read, judging by the number of copies of On Liberty one sees in used bookstores, and yet we still go on telling each other with an air of innocent surprise that democracy in Iraq could possibly mean that people will vote in an oppressive fundamentalist Islamic government. Well yes, it could mean exactly that.
Nicholas Kristof pointed this out in the New York Times a few weeks ago:
Paradoxically, a more democratic Iraq may also be a more repressive one; it may well be that a majority of Iraqis favor more curbs on professional women and on religous minorities. As Fareed Zakaria notes in his smart new book, “The Future of Freedom,” unless majority rule is accompanied by legal protections, tolerance and respect for minorities, the result can be populist repression.
It’s not really even paradoxical. Just for a start, the U.S. democracy elected pro-slavery president after pro-slavery president in the 19th century. Of course majority rules needs to be accompanied by legal protections in order to avoid populist repression. For that matter, we don’t always entirely avoid it even with those protections, do we.