What is this thing that politicians call “will of the people?”
I had earlier predicted that the ruling Saenuri Party would lose the July-30 by-elections. Ruling parties almost never win in by-elections. However, the Saenuri Party has surprised everyone by having won a super-majority in the National Assembly, including a seat in the South Jeolla province, which has been a liberal stronghold for decades. The Saenuri Party now holds 158 out of 300 seats in Korea's unicameral legislature.
But does this electoral win mean that President Park or Saenuri lawmakers have gained a mandate of some sort? Only 32.9 percent of eligible voters turned out to vote in the by-elections.
To quote a line from a TV show that I like, it's true that decisions are made by those who show up. And to the victor goes the spoils. But a mandate? To put it mildly, that seems like a stretch.
As for the New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) Party, with its two co-chairmen Kim Han-gil and Ahn Cheol-soo having all but officially given up their roles as party leaders, the party leadership has fallen onto the shoulders of Park Young-sun. Due to her party's diminishing popularity, in her very first press conference as de facto party chief, she pledged “to do her utmost to rebuild the largest opposition party by winning the hearts and minds of the people, saying that the NPAD 'failed to honor their will.'”
However, what neither Saenuri nor NPAD lawmakers seems to understand is that there is no such thing as “the People.” As much as politicians may wish to simplify everything into quantifiable polls, it does not change the fact that though there are millions of individuals who all have different wants, needs, and priorities; this ridiculous concept of a single blob-like People is actually non-existent.
So what the hell do politicians mean when they talk about “the will of the People?”
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However, let's say for the sake of argument that there is such a thing as “the People” and let's say that they have Borg-like characteristics and all have a collective mind.
Is it a good idea to obey their every whim? Yes, one of the central tenets of democratic republicanism is majority rule. But has no one in the National Assembly ever even heard of Tocqueville? His book “Democracy in America,” details the perils of democracy by pointing out the dangers of majoritarianism and mediocrity, and that the people in their ignorance tend to meekly obey despots that are disguised as democratically elected leaders.
Or have they read Tocqueville but decided to embrace all the things that he warned against?
More than majority rule, the most important thing about a stable democratic republic is the absolute importance of the rule of law. And the rule of law requires principles. It requires sober and rational thought. It requires a system of morals and ethics.
What it most certainly does not require is gross and unthinking populism.