Democracy as Defense Against Dangerous Disorders

Democracy places limits on those in power. It reduces the scope for recourse to violence. It forbids the abuse of state power against individuals and against sub-sections of society. It reduces inequalities in wealth and power and seeks to provide equality of access to the law and equality of political participation. A democratic society demands that its members limit the pursuit of their self-interest to the extent that the rights of their fellow citizens require it. It requires that citizens treat each other with the respect due them as autonomous individuals with the right to pursue their lives as they see fit. And it requires a commitment to the common good. In return for complying with these demands, democracy produces the public goods that people of all nations have struggled for centuries to achieve, namely peace, justice, freedom, equality, and community.

People with these disorders are unable to accept the constraints of living within a democratic society. The language of democracy – fairness, equality, autonomy, freedom of conscience, freedom of thought, freedom for every individual to find meaning in life, the right to dignity, and equality of social relationships – is a language which is utterly incomprehensible to them. People with these disorders struggle to live within democracy’s moral strictures and, should the opportunity arise, will gladly tear down the constraints which democracy imposes upon them.

One psychologist who has stressed the role that democracy plays as a defense against those with psychological disorders is psychoanalyst and leadership expert Manfred Kets de Vries. He writes that benevolent dictatorship is a theoretical possibility but adds:

“rule by a solitary leader typically ends in servile obedience to authority and abuse of human rights. In contrast, democracy (though flawed) safeguards human dignity, protects individual freedoms, assures free choice, and gives people a voice in decisions that affect their destiny, allowing them to work for a better future for their children. Humankind’s desire for justice and fair play makes democracy possible. Humankind’s capacity for injustice makes democracy necessary.”

The system of democracy which has been built over centuries by successive generations can best be seen as a system of institutions and practices, based on fundamental moral principles, which serve to protect societies from a psychologically disordered minority, and from our own worst natures. The history of democracy has been a history of human moral and spiritual development. While equating democracy with morality may sound arrogant or imperialistic to some, from the view point of the victims of history’s tyrants, and the many who still suffer under tyranny, it will simply appear as a self-evident fact.

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