Wednesday, February 01, 2006

A weakness of the new democracies

In the wake of Hamas winning the Palestinian elections, there is a lot of hand wringing going on over our support of democracy in rough and tumble parts of the world. It is worth noting that our own founders not only put checks and balances in place on the various branches of government, but they also put checks and balances on the populace. Today we enjoy direct elections of our senators, but at the time of this country's founding, Senators were chosen by state legislatures. This meant that the Senate acted as a check on the people's house, the House of Representatives. The Electoral College was also a very different beast. Electors in the college had much more discretion than they are traditionally allotted today. All of this is because our founders did not trust the passions of the people, and they wanted to put mechanisms in place to prevent the tyranny of the many. As we've grown, matured, and stabilized as a society we've cast off many of those checks. History will judge the wisdom of that for us, but in many of the new democracies in rough and tumble portions of the world, there are no such checks. Many, if not all, of these new democracies are parliamentary systems with no checks on the people. This makes them highly susceptible to irrational passions of the electorate, and their societies are not stable and developed enough to place checks on themselves. This is part of the reason we should worry about many of the world's emerging democracies. It is very politically incorrect to say that checks need to be placed on the will of the populace in a democracy, but even our founders understood it to be true 200 plus years ago. The lack of checks on the passions of the people in new democracies may end up being the downfall of the world's current democratic movement.

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