Dictators are democrats, too

When liberals face something they don’t like they’ll most likely call it undemocratic or dictatorial. The supposition that the two are synonymous is, of course, a complete misunderstanding. If democracy means legitimization by the people, then most dictators throughout history have been stout democrats. The one thing Hitler was not was an aristocrat, and the same goes to Stalin, Mao, Kim Il-Sung, or Chávez, not to mention some more recent hillbillies. All those people led mass movements, workers’ parties, people’s republics, and the like, and this was not simply a play with words, but a conscious rejection of all elitism. What is more, they all seem to have been convinced that they were expressing the will of the people, and they were supported by them; which could in most cases even be true. After all, with some persuasion and promises a sufficient number of citizens may always be convinced to support anyone. “Sufficient” is a decidedly vague word here, for it refers to the fact that in democratic thought, it is never precisely determined how many citizens will actually “represent” the whole. As we have seen last month, not even the majority of the voters – not to mention the whole adult population – is needed in order to justify a democratic government. And before I am, too, called an elitist, let me remind you that practically all critics of today’s democracies (leftists not excluded) acknowledge that in today’s informational chaos more people may be misled than any time before in history. All this is not to say that there are no different levels of oppression, or that Nazi Germany was as democratic as today’s FGR. In some ways, it was more democratic. In some ways, it was less. But to criticize a country for not being democratic, and then for being an illiberal democracy only shows how confused the whole use of the term is. (See for example: Hungary is no longer a democracy.) Why not say “unfree”, “unjust”, “unlawful”, or even simply “bad”? Why stick to the awkward term of “democracy” used by so many dictators from the German Democratic Republic to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea? Who may well have been right in implying that democracy was just a subspecies of dictatorships?

Hungarian election

Yesterday’s election in Hungary is once again a classic example of how elastic the concept of majority is. If you read headlines only, the ruling party won an overwhelming victory, a two-third supermajority, and the like. Looking at the number of voters, however, it is half of the 70 percent who cared to vote. Meaning 35 percent of the (adult) population, with 35 percent who voted against it, and 30 percent being indifferent or having no one to vote for. Yet let there be no doubt that it will be presented as the “will of the people.” As it always is.


The situation is even more complicated if we descend to details. The majority of those living in the capital voted against the government. The majority of young people presumably voted against the government. And vice versa, of course. No one will say that old people shouldn’t have the same right to choose their leaders as young people do. But the cleavage is there. Remember Brexit. The biggest problem with all sorts of majoritarianism is precisely this: that it turns the many groups of society into two, then names one of those ‘the people.’

Whose tyranny, what majority?

This is one of the messages I put forward in my recent book. In a way, its title is somewhat misleading. In fact, The Tyranny of the Majority is not about the tyranny of the majority. More precisely, it is about the real tyranny of imaginary (or, at best, artificial) majorities. As this case shows, even this 35 percent non-majority was fairly difficult to create. It needed eight years of efforts by a political elite. Which is, to be sure, what political elites always do. Build homogeneous camps of supporters out of otherwise excitingly different human beings. This is one of the lessons still to be learned from the great theorists of majority rule:

“When we say that the voters ‘choose’ their representative, we are using a language that is very inexact. The truth is that the representative has himself elected by the voters, and, if that phrase should seem too inflexible and too harsh to fit some cases, we might qualify it by saying that his friends have him elected.”

(Gaetano Mosca: The Ruling Class. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1939, p. 154.)

The majoritarian seduction

A tobbseg ereje

It’s funny how in a democratic age everyone is in the majority. I still remember the ad after our last national consultation which claimed that a 99% majority of the people supported the government. (The Hungarian version of “We Are The 99%.”) Now an opposition movement campaigns against the same government with the slogan “The Force Of The Majority.” In times like this, being MORE is evidently a seduction impossible to resist.

The will of the majority

Whoever accepts the classical doctrine of democracy and in consequence believes that the democratic method is to guarantee that issues be decided and policies framed according to the will of the people must be struck by the fact that, even if that will were undeniably real and definite, decision by simple majorities would in many cases distort it rather than give effect to it. Evidently the will of the majority is the will of the majority and not the will of ‘the people.’ The latter is a mosaic that the former completely fails to ‘represent’. (Joseph Schumpeter: Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. New York, Routledge, 2003: 272).

Will of the majority

See also Tyranny of the majority