Daily Archives: November 21, 2007

Notes towards a new theory of Democracy – I

A few years ago, a friend of mine was working as a teacher, filling in for a sick colleague on a “citizenship” class. The teenagers in class had very little interest in the subject, as expected in normal schools. The substitute teacher found the class impossible to teach. “We know everything there is to know” they told him. “Israel is a Democratic state. That’s all there is to it, really”.
“And do you know what democracy is”? He demanded.
“Sure we do: it’s the rule of the majority”.

“Ok”. said my friend. “As you already know it all, we won’t study today. However, your teacher asked me to make sure you don’t leave the classroom a mess. So we thought maybe we’ll make a simple arrangement. I propose this: as of today, and throughout this year, all pupils sitting in rows 1-2 will stay a few minutes after school is over, to clean the classroom. Next year it will be rows 3-4, and the year after that it will be rows 5-6”.

Naturally, rows 1-2 were vehemently resentful. So he proposed a vote. Democracy, right? The class agreed, and naturally enough rows 3-6 were for, rows 1-2 against, so the proposal won by 2/3.
Rows 1-2 were now very upset. They declared the result “undemocratic”. “But the result passed by a majority!” claimed the teacher. So a discussion ensued, in which rows 1-2 spoke and the others had very little to say. Eventually they agreed that the vote violated the right for free speech, because they didn’t have a chance to discuss it properly.
He gave them 10 minutes. The second vote was identical to the first. Rows 1-2 were baffled. It seemed awfully undemocratic to them, but they couldn’t spell out the reason.
Neither could most people.

This blog is mainly about that reason. What exactly is Democracy? What is it good for? What can it do for you and how can you use it and improve it?