Democracy, if it’s done right, is mob rule. It’s easy to forget but we get the odd reminder. Recently the local elections provided the slumbering British media with a horror story in the form of the BNP. The press love this kind of story, but only because they can spin it as the rise of the British Nazi.
The Nazis, like the terrorists, do make great bogeymen; we’ve put a lot of time and effort into making them so. It’s always easier to characterise people we dislike as somehow sub-human because then we can deny any similarity between them and us.
But this smoke screen is there to take our attention away from the real problem: that democracy is a flawed system. We are fed the story that our democracy would be fine if it wasn’t for those pesky neo-Nazis. We are too rarely reminded that the real Nazi party (the NSDAP) was democratically elected with over 40% of the vote.
Just because a majority of people believe something does not make it correct. The mob is easily swayed and just as easily confused. This is beautifully demonstrated in the TV game show “Who want’s to be a millionaire” with the ask the audience lifeline. Three cases commonly occur:
- when the answer is well known, the majority shows the correct answer;
- when the answer is commonly misunderstood, the majority shows the wrong answer;
- and when the answer is not widely known, those who know the right answer are drowned out by the those who are guessing.
In the case of an obvious choice, a majority opinion is superfluous. In all other cases it is of no use or, worse, misleading.