7th April 2021
Over at the American site National Review there is a call – in all seriousness – for the franchise to be restricted.
(‘Don’t give oxygen to such things,’ demand those unaware that ‘not giving oxygen’ to Trumpism and Brexit did nothing to stop the rise of such notions – but this is a law and policy blog and it exists to offer comment on such developments.)
The contention at the National Review moves from the fact that as there are certain restrictions on voters – for example, felons – to urging that there should be other restrictions.
The entire piece is a practical exercise in political sophistry.
Yet it was commissioned for and published on a well-known website.
It is an attempt to re-open debates that one would have thought were long settled.
It is nothing less than an effort to re-impose Jim Crow type voting restrictions.
It is a dangerous development.
This law and policy blog is written from a liberal rather than a democratic perspective.
That is say that there are certain things – such as fundamental human rights – that should not be subject to votes.
Even if a majority of people supported the torture of one human being, that torture would still be absolutely wrong.
Such a liberal perspective is alert to and wary of the consequences of populism and demagogues and majoritarianism.
Democracy can be illiberal – and just because a thing has a democratic mandate, it would not make a thing that is fundamentally illiberal right and proper.
When things are subject to democratic oversight and control, then the votes should be equal and the franchise as universal as possible, and there should not be ‘super-voters’ with more democratic power than others.
In the United Kingdom, it actually used to be the case that such privileged voters did exist – those with more of a ‘stake’ in the community would/should have a better chance of a vote – and these were bog-standard arguments in the lead up to the 1832 reform act.
In the United States, such arguments were used to in effect disenfranchise slaves and those descended from slaves.
The anti-democratic arguments now being put forward have not really been put forward so earnestly and with such force since the 1800s.
It is almost as if the ‘march of democracy’ has not only halted but is now retreating – a corrective to the simple notion of linear political progress.
Authoritarianism and anti-democracy, like illiberalism, has never really gone away – it just was not so prominent for a while, at least in the United Kingdom – making liberals and progressives complacent.
Perhaps such anti-democratic views are just a blip – and we will carry on heading towards the right side of history.
Or perhaps there is no natural line of political progression – and every generation has to win the arguments for liberalism and democracy afresh.
The post-2016 anti-democratic, illiberal turn is not over yet.
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