It is widely agreed by the Western world that democracy is the best form of government available. However, with the legislations and actions of several countries’ governments coming under intense fire by citizens, we’re forced to ask the question: have we come to the end of democracy?
Democracy isn’t perfect; Winston Churchill famously said that ‘democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time’. But when I question the continuation of democracy, I am not questioning the manner in which any government is set up. What I mean is this: as the people of Britain, or the United States, or whichever democracy, are our practices and demands from governmental institutions undermining the democratic process?
Take Brexit. With only fifty two percent voting Leave, almost half of those who turned up to vote are unhappy with the state’s decision to leave the European Union. This has prompted many to call for a second vote. While on the surface, this would easily soothe people’s worries, what does a second vote actually mean for the democratic process? Well, most obviously the nation would breathe a sigh of relief as we would, having watched the government fall apart and ‘the deal’ reveal itself, vote Remain. So we would no longer need to worry about a hard or soft Brexit, no longer need to worry about the cack-handed complications that most of us aren’t even sure the government understands, let alone its citizens.
But what if we didn’t? If for some reason the majority repeated themselves and voted Leave, what would we do, keep holding referendums until we got a result we liked?
No, of course not. An argument can easily be made that even by holding one more referendum, we are undermining democracy’s hallmark feature: the vote of the people. Whether we like it or not, a (albeit slim) majority did vote to leave the EU, and to revote on the situation is to say that referendum held no weight. And frankly, if the UK decides it can redo a vote on such a divisive issue, then a staggering number of Americans will riot, wondering if they’ve been putting up with Trump against their will for the last two years in vain. If the US decided to redo the 2016 election, would the 237 years since their Constitution’s ratification then be meaningless? Would a second referendum on Brexit mean that every step toward democracy since the Magna Carta didn’t matter at all?
I suppose it’s possible to argue for a second vote as well. Today’s UK is very different from what it was two years ago. Two whole years’ worth of citizens have reached voting eligibility since the initial referendum, including myself, and the will of the people today could thus be very different. But what about this group of young people deserves special treatment? There has to be a minimum voting age, and it makes sense to set that at the age of majority. So if the results of elections that happen before we can vote go against our desires, should we just have to suck it up? That’s what everyone else in that position has done throughout history. And I suppose, if we really want to change that, we can hold a referendum on it, but will that just keep making things more complicated? I’m not qualified to answer these questions, but the news trickling out from 10 Downing Street indicates the people in power don’t seem to know the answers either.