Is DD a Source of Tyranny and Totalitarianism?

Direct democracy has been accused of easily descending into either a “tyranny of the majority” or a “tyranny of the minority”. Obviously these charges are contradictory; they may make reference to certain risks, but more often they have been used to discredit direct democracy and, thinly veiled, democracy as such.

Direct democracy has been associated with tyranny and totalitarianism in a variety of ways:

1 Direct democracy is accused of lending itself to abuse by authoritarian governments and all kinds of dictators, from Napoleon to Saddam Hussein. It is said, that despots (and demagogues) are tempted by popular votes “partly just because they can get themselves a fig leaf of additional legitimacy by manipulating the political agenda.” In Germany and elsewhere, a common pretext for rejecting direct democracy has been to associate it with Hitler and bad experience in the Weimar Republic. It was alleged that because of the Weimar experience direct democracy was excluded from the German constitution (Grundgesetz) of 1949.

Allegation 1

Direct democracy should be rejected because it lends itself to abuse by despots and demagogues, as shown by historical experience.

2 Direct democracy is considered dangerous because, so the argument goes, it may lead to totalitarianism. In this line of argument Rousseau’s ideas, his concepts of the general will and popular sovereignty, are seen as seedlings of terror regimes, of the Jacobins in the French Revolution and later of Hitler and Stalin. Examples for this kind of accusation abound, from Benjamin Constant to Isaiah Berlin, J.L. Talmon and many more.

Allegation 2

Direct democracy is a source of totalitarianism.

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