How far is it justifiable for governments to make decisions without the support of the majority?
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Political legitimacy and authority are foundational concepts in modern political philosophy that determine how justified decisions are made. Disregard for the general will, a concept that has seen a resurgence due to the Brexit brouhaha, is only one of several ways any decision-making can be decried as politicians are out of sync with the electorate, and their decisions therefore unjustified. As William Howard Taft the 27th President of the United States (1909–1913) and as the tenth Chief Justice of the United States said: “You cannot have a decent, popular government unless the majority exercise the self-restraint that men with great power ought to exercise.”
Populist politics may be more of a bane than a boon. Decisions that do not benefit the people may inevitably be unpopular, howbeit, such actions may have been imperative for the greater good of the country and the people. What is favoured by the people may not be the best for the nation moving forward, hence it is justifiable for the governments to make decisions without the support of the majority.
It is not justifiable for governments to make important decisions without the support of the populace, especially when it concerns the environment.
In order for a country to have greater energy independence and less dependence on importing crude oil from a volatile Middle East region, the government supported alternative energy sources despite a majority of its citizens who opposed it because of the environmental ramifications.
Background information for teaching purposes in relation to this question (Note: during the exam, you do not need to put in this info as an example, unless you are writing on environmental damage).
For many years, America has been importing Crude Oil from Saudi Arabia and after the catastrophic 9/11 terrorist attack where 15 of the 19 perpetrators were from Saudi Arabia, United States had to re-evaluate its energy policies i.e. importing less crude oil from the turbulent Middle East and started to look at Shale Gas.
Shale Gas can be found in Texas and Pennsylvania where it is buried to depths of up to 9,000 feet. To obtain the Shale Gas, HYDRAULIC FRACTURING is used, where millions of gallons of SAND, WATER, and CHEMICALS are pumped underground to break the rock and release the gas.
In a 2011 study by the Manhattan Institute called The Economic Opportunities of Shale Energy Development, a single Marcellus well generates an average of sixty-two jobs and $5.46 million in economic output. It generates more job opportunities and economic growth for cities.
EVALUATION OF EXAMPLE:
Insofar as the need for the government to create more jobs and gain greater energy independence, the US government has to take into serious consideration:
When unburnt methane is released into the atmosphere, it is twenty times more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping heat and it could linger in the air for the next 9 to 15 years, exacerbating global warming.
Methane also poses health hazards to humans. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a part of the US Department of Health and Human Services, as the concentration of gas increases it can cause headaches, then nausea, brain damage, and eventually death.
Postulating the argument of bringing the US unemployment rate down and ignoring the “red flags” vehemently raised by scientists and environmentalists from Greenpeace decidedly shows that it is not justifiable for the government to make decisions without the support of the majority, particularly when it concerns clean drinking water and the quality of air.
When the government makes a unilateral decision without the support of the majority to serve politicians’ vested interests, it would be seen as a surreptitious agenda by the international community.
Whilst international law is for the most part consent-based governance, sovereign states that are members of the United Nation and hold prominent positions in the principal organs should be held to an exacting standard.
The P-5 Permanent Members of the UN Security Council enjoy privileges such as veto powers to block substantive resolutions and should be beholden to the same principles. Conversely, President George W Bush Junior defied the UN Security Council and the counsel of the international community and waged a senseless war in Iraq on the pretext that Saddam Hussein had “Weapons of Mass Destruction” and could be used against American interests.
EVALUATION OF EXAMPLE:
The establishment of the UN is to maintain international peace and security, developing friendly relations among nations and promoting social progress, better living standards and human rights. The US being the “hegemon” (Superpower/ dominant world power) was supposed to exercise diplomacy first, but went against the P5 Members’ vetoes and went to war in Iraq, hence setting a bad precedent = case.
When the Bush administration made the unilateral decision to invade Iraq without the unanimous support of the Security Council and General Assembly; thereby indiscriminately= anyhow killing innocent Iraqi children and women, the US lost its credibility amongst its allies= member countries and its military actions in Iraq are morally reprehensible (blameworthy).
It is justifiable for governments to make important economic decisions for the country, even in the face of public opposition.
Governments possess all the critical economic data and they are fully privy to the bilateral relationships and the importance of trading within a single bloc.
EXAMPLE No. 1:
This is best epitomised by an anti-migrant poster unveiled by Nigel Farage (UKIP – United Kingdom Independence Party) that incites racial hatred and breaches UK race laws. It shows a queue of mostly non-white migrants and refugees with the slogan “Breaking point: the EU has failed us all. We must break free of the EU and take back control of our borders.” FREE MOVEMENT OF PEOPLE. Leave campaigners have exaggerated and descended into the gutter in an attempt to frighten the working class= BLUE COLLAR WORKERS into voting to leave the EU by pretending that migration to the UK is only about people who are non-white.
Example No. 2:
For instance, there is convincing evidence of Russian interference in the Brexit referendum. A UK parliamentary committee was commissioned in 2016 to investigate whether foreign government agents sought to use social channels to drive Brexit propaganda and sway voters, yielding positive results. It turned out that Russian-backed accounts had been used to try to influence voters in the June 2016 in/out EU referendum.
David Cameron, the then UK Prime Minister, had also publicly accused the Russian government of seeking to “weaponize information” by planting fake stories and photoshopped images to try to meddle in elections and sow discord in the West.
EVALUATION OF EXAMPLE:
Since a Referendum binds the government to its outcome, the UK government has to bear the brunt of the results. Leaving the European Union has severely diminished the UK overall trade volumes, and seminal (leading) surveys from leading economists show overwhelming agreement that Brexit will likely reduce the UK’s competitiveness (NOTE: Leave out your Economics terminology – real per-capita income level!)
It is defensible for Prime Minister David Cameron to make the decision on behalf of the British public to stay on in the EU without calling for a Referendum when he was fully cognisant of the economic benefits that the UK derived from being in the EU.
It is justifiable to make decisions without the support of the majority to achieve greater progress in living standards.
A duly elected government has a duty of care to attend to the needs of society. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, physiological needs and safety needs are paramount. Hence, a government should prioritise lifting its citizens out of poverty, providing public services and instilling public order, over society’s robust debate on major policies founded on liberal values, even if the public is opposed to it.
The case in point, in China, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) published a White Paper on democracy in 2005, in which the postponement of democratic reforms was justified partly on the grounds that economic development and the achievement of better standards of living took precedence.
Some 1.5 million residents of Beijing were displaced/ faced displacement (politics – Syrians and Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar) for the 2008 Olympics, many of them were evicted against their will. The Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) said residents were often forced from their homes with little notice and little compensation, as the government embarks on a massive city redevelopment to accommodate the Games. After demolition, inhabitants were often “forced to relocate far from their communities and workplaces, with inadequate transportation networks adding significantly to their cost of living.”
EVALUATION OF EXAMPLE:
According to the Beijing Municipal Statistics Bureau, the Beijing Olympics in 2008 generated 1.8 million new jobs for the city, therefore the majoritarian principle to create more jobs is an acceptable argument.
All in all, a government that disregards the minority group is but a small price to pay for a booming economy and astronomical improvements in living standards.
To ensure that the tenets of a civil society are maintained, it is justifiable for governments to use legislative interventions to achieve that.
By definition, the principles of Civil Society – allowing divergent and dissenting voices to be heard, must be present in a liberal-democratic society. With global social attitudes changing, a socially conservative government can make the decisions that are suited for its country.
As more Western countries progressively sanctioned same-sex marriage and recently Australians voted 61% to allow same-sex marriage, with 38% who voted against (Nov 2017).
The Singapore government has retained Section 377A of the Penal Code that criminalises homosexual sex. A Singapore delegation to the United Nation, led by Ambassador-at-Large Chan Heng Chee, cited that Singapore is a conservative society.” We have to manage such issues sensitively and in a pragmatic way without fracturing our society.”
She further commented that Section 377A will not be enforced. Singapore’s Civil Service hires LGBT people, while the country makes it legally permissible to host the Pink Dot event. (2015 govt banned foreign companies from sponsoring, citing locally sensitive issue, 2017 foreigners cannot attend the Pink Dot event, must show IC).
Additional info: Last year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a BBC interview with Stephen Sackur argued “if there were a referendum on whether to remove Singapore’s law criminalising gay sex, he believed that most Singaporeans would want to keep the statute.”
EVALUATION OF EXAMPLE:
One can construe (interpret) that retaining S377A legislation is determined in line with public consensus, owing to the public’s largely conservative nature. Hence, Parliament will not call for the repeal (abolition) of S377A anytime soon.
Singapore government is very particular about maintaining social fabrics because they view that as sacrosanct (especially of a principle, place, or routine regarded as too important or valuable to be interfered with) in a very diverse society.
(T1) Governments are fully in the know with regards to the workings behind closed doors, armed with such extensive business data, they are able to make a well informed economic decision on behalf of the country.
(T2) In addition, undesirable decisions may at times be beneficial for society’s welfare as a whole, elevating the country’s standard of living.
(T3) Governments are also able to make decisions irrespective of the majority so as to uphold the social and racial harmony of a civil society.
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