Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Quick Thoughts on Egypt and the Difference between Majoritarianism and Democracy

 I don't want to provide any extensive commentary on the events in Egypt right now because I am not an expert on the Middle East.  I have no fondness for Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, which represent a combination of neoliberal economics, conservative religion, and authoritarianism characteristic of center-right/right-wing parties; however, I harbor a deep skepticism of the ability or willingness of the military to effect a peaceful transition of power and hold elections in the near term.  Militaries, by their nature, are neither liberal nor democratic, and they tend to seek to expand their power and reach within the country and, in the case of the US in particular, in others. 

This morning, Samer S. Shehata, an associate professor of international studies at the University of Oklahoma, published an op-ed "In Egypt, Democrats vs. Liberals" in the New York Times. Shehata's point is encapsulated in the following line: "Egypt has a dilemma: its politics are dominated by democrats who are not liberals and liberals who are not democrats."

Although I think the piece is interesting, I think the argument suffers because the author equates "democracy" with "majoritarianism," a conflation which is both true and untrue at the same time. The US has a majoritarian democracy, but our democratically-elected officials often legislate in anti-democratic ways, heeding the wishes of well-moneyed interests rather than the more amorphous "public." ( It is much easier to find out what Citi wants on Dodd-Frank than what the 230-odd million voting-age U.S. residents want.) Moreover, the key concept behind democracy, as I see it, is that everyone is of equal worth (your public worth is the same even though your private value may differ), and majorities can easily vote to deny the equal worth or dignity of the minority--a majoritarian but undemocratic result.

Consensus democracy, participatory democracy, and deliberative democracy all differ from the majoritarian democracy that prevails in the U.S. because they place more value on the equal worth and inclusion of all all voices in determining policy.

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