The Swiss get it wrong

In a pretty decisive vote, the Swiss have approved in a referendum a ban on the construction of all new minarets.

This is a deplorable move however you look at it. It is highly illiberal and discriminatory.

More generally, though, it highlights one of the dangers that modern liberal representative democracy is supposed to avoid: the tyranny of the minority by the majority. The genius of representative democracy, as conceived in their different ways by Edmund Burke and the US constitution, is that it allows the people the right to run their own affairs while ensuring that populist dictatorship is made difficult to the point of impossible. The Swiss model of deciding some issues by referendum undermines this key principle, and its weaknesses are manifest in this decision.

Over at Archbishop Cranmer’s blog, Cranmer argues that, because the Swiss have voted in favour of a ban, that is the end of the discussion:

Switzerland is a democracy which permits freedom of speech and freedom of expression, so get over it.

The Muslim community there makes up 400,000 out of a total population of 7.5 million people. They are justifiably dismayed by this decision, but Switzerland is a democracy which is governed by the ballot box, so get over it.

This seems to me an extraordinary position to take. Morality goes out of the window, right and wrong have no place. Public opinion trumps all. This is a line of argument that leads to despotism, not democracy.


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