Ilya Somin wrote a response to my post on democracy in Egypt. As Ilya notes, we largely agree on the issues, including my additional points that democracy requires both compromise and periodic elections rather than one election, and that constitutions ought to be enacted by supermajority rules. In turn, I agree with Ilya that there may be tragic choices as to whether to violently displace a majority elected government that is repressive. But I did want to clarify one point about terminology. I agree with Ilya that some people use democracy to mean government chosen by majority vote and some…
The recently published fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual contains no diagnosis for Narcissistic Polity Disorder—the book’s scope being confined to the personality disorder of a similar name—but should the editors ever wish to expand into political science, they will find an excellent case study in the interview Senator John McCain gave on CBS’ Face the Nation last Sunday. It turns out the Egyptian coup, which gave all signs of being a conflict among Egyptians about Egypt, was in fact about—well, us.
Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, Ilya Somin argues that “it isn’t inherently hypocritical for liberal democrats to – in some cases – support the overthrow of an elected government.” The reason, Ilya writes, is
because democracy is not the only important liberal value, and not always the most important one. At the very least, the liberal tradition, broadly defined, also values individual freedom, equality for women, toleration of religious and ethnic minorities, economic progress, and the prevention of mass murder, slavery, and genocide. Most of the time, democracy promotes these other liberal values better than the available alternative regimes. But not always. Democracy and liberal values conflict in cases where public opinion is highly illiberal and cases where the democratic process brings to power parties that intend to shut down future political competition. Both problems are relevant to the present situation in Egypt and at least some other nations.
I agree with Ilya, but there is more going on here. Democracy is a vague concept. A single election can be thought of as democracy, but few thoughtful people would defend it as such. Democracy, even if it is not necessarily liberal democracy, still requires a system whereby the people’s will is regularly consulted and done in a fair process. Morsi instituted decrees that purported to be unreviewable by the courts. Such absolute power is not the way to have democracy. Morsi’s defenders have said little about this.
But there is another aspect of both democracy and consensual government, and that is compromise. If a majority of the people or the legislature favors a policy, that does not necessarily mean it should be instituted, if a large minority strongly disapproves of it. This is a tricky issue, but consensual government involves compromises and it appears Morsi was having none of it.