Gideon Rahat

Government of the people means government of ALL the people

This battle is not left vs. right, it's between those who embrace democracy and those seeking to institute majority rule
Illustrative: The crowd cheering during a live reunion concert of Rami Fortis and Berry Sakharof in Raanana, on June 12, 2021. (Yahav Gamliel/Flash90)
Illustrative: The crowd cheering during a live reunion concert of Rami Fortis and Berry Sakharof in Raanana, on June 12, 2021. (Yahav Gamliel/Flash90)

According to the advocates of the regime change, the majority is the people – the two are synonymous. But this is not how “the people” is defined by the two main rightwing ideologies, the liberal (in the European sense, of course) and the conservative. Liberals maintain that decisions must be made by the majority because this group includes more individuals than the minority. But government of the people must also protect all individuals and minority groups, and there are some things that even the majority cannot deprive them of. In short, according to liberals, “the people” includes both those currently out of power and those who voted for those who now hold the reins of government.

Conservatives expand the definition of “the people” to include members of past and future generations. Based on their commitment to the wisdom and heritage of those who came before them and to the wellbeing of those who will follow them, they are opposed to radical decisions, even if taken by the majority. They are even suspicious of, and reject, any extreme change and prefer to move forward one step at a time. Because of their inclination to preserve the status quo, conservatives are extremely fond of checks and balances and of decision-making based on a super-majorities.

So, who is supposed to stand firm against the rule of the elected majority in order to ensure that rule by the majority will not be dictatorship of the majority? The courts. According to liberals, their role is to defend individuals and minority groups. For conservatives, the judiciary has a lofty role. Drawing on the accumulated wisdom embodied in laws, rules, and judicial precedents, it is intended to embody the commitment to past and future generations.

Who in history came up with the sly idea that rule by the majority could be the path to revolution? It was one stream in the socialist movement, which believed that the working class could use general elections to gain a political majority and launch the revolution to which it aspired. Indeed, most of the left became much more liberal and adopted the label “social democratic” as its essence, rather than as a means. However, it seems, that the heirs of this notion are to be found among the ranks of those who now call themselves “right wing” or even “conservative.” This is reflected not only in their understanding of democracy as rule of the majority, as a means and not as a goal, but also in their appropriation and recasting of concepts that bloomed in the gardens of the radical left, such as hegemony and the deep state (a remake of “superstructure”), as well as the postmodernist discourse that calls the very existence of “truth” into question.

The current battle in Israel is not between left and right. It is being waged between those who embrace democracy and those who want to make one last use of democracy to institute majority rule. The proponents of this coup have to acknowledge that it is not truly democratic because rule of the people is not – and cannot be–  rule of the majority. Such honesty would make it easier for the citizens of Israel to choose a side. Alternatively, the revolutionaries should abandon their assault on democracy and instead strive to improve it. If they work towards reasonable changes, they will find themselves with many partners in this effort.

About the Author
Prof. Gideon Rahat is a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute and a professor in the Department of Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.