Democracy fails when majority follow their top leaders blindly

Mobs ride on instinct and raw passion to bring about terrible outcomes. [iStockphoto]

The thought that the majority should have their way and the minority their say in critical contested public issues, ridicules what is good and noble.

History teaches us that the majority have often been ridiculously wrong on the great questions of the day. In point of fact, this thought of way and say only justifies brutality through thoughtless numbers. Victorious cynics sometimes celebrate this as a tyranny of numbers. I see it as the rule of the mob – mobocracy, or ochlocracy. And it often gives way to kakistocracies – or rules by the worst elements of society.

The mobs ride on instinct and raw passion to bring about terrible outcomes. For, even the most intelligent person loses the ability to reason and act rationally, once he becomes a part of the multitude. The way of the mob is, accordingly, an irrational path to damnation.  You have often heard politicians say, “Bring it to the House. We have got the numbers.” The message is that discourse is a waste of time. Great questions should simply be framed and put before the voting mob in the House. The rest then is a matter of who has numbers and who has not. 

Such is what Kenya’s Parliament has become – a majoritarian voting machine. Nothing very useful comes out of this place anymore. Majority members suspended their right to think, and capacity for anything rational. They look above and wait to be told how to vote. And they do it.

Those with remnants of rational thinking and conscience are, meanwhile, captives of fear. Big Brother is watching them. And so they stay away from the House at the most critical moment, when their voice counts most. Their cowardice doesn’t significantly distinguish them from the mob that has voted. 

They will tell you this rule of the mob is, in fact, democracy. But we have a problem. A big problem, as a matter of fact. Democracy has traditionally been understood to be the choice of the majority. The assumption is made that what the majority decide is right and good for the entire populace, including for those who voted against the whims of the irrational majority.

It is a dead-wrong assumption. Entities in the guise of majoritarian democracies have produced some of the worst happenings in the world. Jesus Christ was lynched by a democratic mob. We read in the good book about Pontius Pilate, where it has been said, “Pilate still wanted to let Jesus go. But they shouted, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’” (Luke 23:18–25). 

It is a wild crowd that shouts you down. While they claim that you should have your say, as they have their way, they will not even allow you to open your mouth. Eventually, the wild screaming leads you to surrender. You release Barabbas, the murderer, and hand over to them Christ, to do with howsoever they may wish. 

Great minds through vast historical times and spaces have had problems with this manner of settling issues. That, he who shouts loudest, or mobilises the most numbers of non-thinkers will carry the day? The great Socrates was decidedly afraid of rule by such mobs, disguised as democracy.

He would sooner have a meritocracy than a mob-driven rule, calling itself a democracy. It is difficult to disagree with him. Voting on critical decisions is far too important to be left to the random intuition and impulsive appetites of the ignorant. The Kenyan Parliament as it exists today is a microcosm of the broader intuitive mob randomness that has placed the country in the present hopelessness. We vote at elections through nativist energies. We lace these energies with lazy appetites for freebies. The results are the stomach processed outputs of the kind that we must now live with as our laws. 

As a midpoint between the elusive meritocracy and the rule of the mob, our election laws provide for voter education. It has been hoped that if the voting crowds could be sufficiently sensitised on the import of elections, they could give us more conscientious leaders and Parliament than we have.

Regrettably, the electoral authority has steadily dropped voter education from its activities, especially so under the now-ended Wafula Chebukati watch. Going forward, intense and continuous voter education should be a priority for Kenya’s civil society – whatever the difficulties may be. From the majority way and the minority say, merit must have both its say and sway.