Democracy is synonymous with civil liberties and human rights. A government by the People is, after all, predicated on the freedoms of individuals and their ability to freely express their interests. It is, therefore, easy to forget that both civil liberties and human rights are embraced to place limits on government. For democracies, this means civil liberties and human rights are intended to defy the will of the People whenever democracy undermines the freedoms of individuals.
Indeed, the Civil Rights Movement and the work of great men like Martin Luther King Jr. were very much in opposition to the status quo and the will of the majority at the time. One might even say the struggle for equal protection under the law was undemocratic in nature. It was, however, also necessary to ensure freedom for all. In failing to offer some protection to woman and minorities from institutionalized discrimination and mistreatment, the legal system was shielding those perpetrating the persecution of the disenfranchised, which undermined the promise of democracy.
The problem with democracy is that it gives people the power to undermine their own freedoms and the freedoms of their neighbors. Like the military and judicial system, human rights and civil liberties are undemocratic institutions that exist to protect democracy from the fallacies of people. By placing limits on the power of government and ensuring the freedoms of citizens, democratic nations are able to secure and balance the will of the People and the freedom of the People. Democracy is, after all, about balancing the interests of a nation’s entire population.
Democracies are supposed to be ruled based on the majority viewpoint. When we share the majority view, democracy provides the best opportunity for our interests to be addressed by government. When we share a minority view, civil liberties and human rights safeguard our freedom to express our minority views from those in power and our fellow citizens who are offended by our views. It is easy for individuals in the democratic world to assume free people will choose the policies that best reflect their interests. Vladimir Putin, for example, has pursued economic, foreign, and military policies that have hurt Russia, yet he has rarely pursued unpopular policies.
In Europe, the Syrian Refugee Crisis and growing anti-Muslim sentiments across the continent are generating political pressure to take action against Muslims, including European citizens. Both failing to protect Muslims from reprisal attacks and guarding their civil liberties, as well as the human rights of refugees, demonstrates a situation where democracy may well help undermine the freedoms of individuals. The failure to protect minority views, which are offensive and inconvenient to those in power, is equivalent to punishing dissent. Over time, this offers public officials and affluent individuals the power to suppress all dissent, which is evident in “democratic” countries like Turkey and Iran.
Consequently, democracy can only be sustained as long as the freedoms of individuals are protected. Whether discussing minorities disenfranchised by the majority or the majority disenfranchised by powerful, special interest minorities, civil liberties and human rights must be supported to limit the power of government. The failure to defend the civil liberties of one is a failure to defend the civil liberties of all. This is particularly true when it is inconvenient or offensive to do so. For the sake of ease and self-interest, it is tempting to simply reason away the rights of others, or even deny their existence, yet the failure to defend the freedoms of others undermines the freedoms of everyone.
Read old posts