James Dryburgh

Whatever the case, the intensity of disgust at the Lennon Government is growing almost by the day, as almost by the day we receive further reminders of the their contempt for democracy and a shared future on this island. They are losing traditional support and apathy is being stirred.
JAMES MADISON, fourth President of the USA wrote a lot on democracy. In 1956 Robert Dahl wrote a landmark book A Preface to Democratic Theory which critiqued or updated much of Madison’s work.

Whilst there is no democratic theory only democratic theories, at a minimum Dahl would argue that it is “concerned with processes by which ordinary citizens exert a relatively high degree of control over leaders.” A vote every few years is but a very small component of democracy. Madison’s 6th Hypothesis: “frequent popular elections will not provide an external check sufficient to prevent tyranny.”

Dahl looks in to the situation of an apathetic majority and a minority with strongly held preferences. “No solution to the intensity problem is possible through constitutional or procedural rules”.

There is no democratic solution to this democratic issue, the vote of one who doesn’t really care either way is equal to the vote of one who cares passionately about their governance. One can only hope that as the intensity of feeling grows and gradually spreads, awakening more and more of the apathetic in its wake, the wave will eventually break.

This arguably happened in the last federal election. There may have been many for which the difference between Howard and Rudd was insignificant, but there were also huge numbers of people who had grown so disgusted with the Howard government, that the intensity with which they wished his reign to end was like nothing I have seen.

I heard many people say they would move to New Zealand if Howard got back in. The euphoria so many felt the night that not only his Government was voted out, but he too lost his own seat, was a tangible joy so rarely associated with politics.

Howard had gone too far, even some of the apathetic and traditional supporters were stirred in to reacting. They were moved by a growing collective intensity of feeling.

This is happening in Tasmania, but unlike the Federal election we don’t have a credible opposition. The Liberals don’t know where to go, as their traditional conservative, right-wing, look after big business approach has been stolen by Labor. Decades of lies and spin about the Greens promoted at every opportunity by both major parties, and many other influential businesses, organisations and individuals, contribute to the fact that the Greens are unlikely to win an election in the immediate future.

Tasmania seems to me more inclined to intensity of political feeling than most other places I have been, certainly with regard to environmental issues. This must in part be due to our near-unique polarisation of the community in to green or anti-green, an oft sad, counter-productive and delusional polarisation.

Whatever the case, the intensity of disgust at the Lennon Government is growing almost by the day, as almost by the day we receive further reminders of the their contempt for democracy and a shared future on this island. They are losing traditional support and apathy is being stirred.

Madison defines tyranny as severe deprivations on “natural rights” of citizens. Unfortunately he does not clearly define what rights are “natural rights”. However, access to truth and the allowance to speak it without fear of retribution would surely, by most, be considered “natural rights”. Whatever political, religious or spiritual beliefs you hold, truth is fundamental. In Tasmania we are governed by minority tyranny, a minority tyrannising over a majority.

It seems our democratic institutions are not strong enough to protect us from a democratically elected government, which sadly has no regard for democracy or the majority of the demos. Dahl would argue, this should have been assumed. It is the “social checks and balances, which are ultimately more important than the institutional ones.”

What are our social checks and balances? They are the thousands of people around Tasmania who care about the state of our democracy and our beautiful island, now and in to the future, well past the next election. People with the courage that comes with knowing you are doing the right thing.

I believe in ‘tipping points’. Moments we can see throughout history when enough people have had enough. The point when the intensity of feeling grows to an extent that tolerating tyranny is no longer an option, when change has become so vital that one will not give up until a new direction is forged.

Where they can corrupt process and governance, create special legislation to subvert due process, law and democracy, they can not control social movement, they can not control a collective mind-shift.

It is the qualities inherent in most people, taught from an early age, truth, respect, fairness and compassion that will protect our democracy, not our disease ridden institutions.

“In the absence of certain social prerequisites, no constitutional arrangements can produce a non-tyrannical republic”.

These social qualities being the only, or most important, protection of our democracy, we must fully utilise and invest in them. We must engage in respectful dialogue with traditional foes, with those who do not understand our views, and whose views we do not understand.

We must be the image we want to spread. We must seek and expose truth. We must create our collective mind-shift.

We must bring on the tipping point.

Dahl, Robert A. A Preface to Democratic Theory 1956, University of Chicago Press.