Minority rights in a democracy

A democracy consists of two fundamental principles: 
(1) The majority rules.
(2) The minority enjoys protective rights.

This blog came into contact with the latter issues - minority rights - twice lately. 
One time someone demonstrated in comments that he misunderstood the freedom of speech as a privilege to publish one's opinion against the will of the publisher. That was nonsense, of course.

Freedom of speech is a protection against sanctions for speech. He cannot be punished for speaking out (unless he crossed certain limits, such as libel). He may find a publisher who publishes his opinion or he may become his own publisher. His freedom of speech does not entitle him to get his opinion published in the publication of his choice against the will of the publisher.

The other example was about the idea that religious freedom might entitle people to mutilate others. This was nonsense as well, of course.

Minority rights in a democracy are protection rights. They do not privilege the minority to do something that's still illegal to do for the majority.
An ethnic minority (say, a hypothetical tribesman from Africa who wants his newborn son scarred) or a religious minority are not entitled to mutilate others while the majority is not entitled to it. Their minority right is that the state must not outlaw the songs of a specific ethnic and it must not outlaw the mass of a specific religion, for example.
THESE are minority protection rights as they belong to every true democracy.

Adopted by General Assembly resolution 47/135 of 18 December 1992, Article 8:
2. The exercise of the rights set forth in the present Declaration shall not prejudice the enjoyment by all persons of universally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Constitutional ("Basic Law") situation in Germany as it concerns what was mentioned above:
Article 1 includes the protection of dignity of humans
Article 2 includes the right to physical integrity
Article 3 includes Equality before the law
Article 6 includes the duty of parents to care for their children and the state's duty to watch over this.
Article 14 includes a (interestingly conditional) guarantee for property

(All first 20 articles of the Basic Law have a special, most powerful status.)

Minority rights are protections against oppression, not privileges to infringe on other's rights (such as property, health etc).

S Ortmann

related: Democracy Web(site) .


  1. "A democracy consists of two fundamental principles:
    (1) The majority rules.
    (2) The minority enjoys protective rights."

    Democracy is base on social contract. The government gets legitimacy from the consent of the people it rules. This is one reason why you have elections time to time. Minority rights should be looked at as something you give a minority so that they will remain in your government, instead of them forming their own. If a minority (or a majority) feels that the government no longer does what is just, that the common good is no longer being served by the government, and that their liberty is no longer being protected, then can you say that the minority's rights are being protected? Why should they give that government their democratic legitimation? If you have to hold the government together by force, then how democratic is it really?

    Example the US presidential elections are in Nov. Most everyone knows that Obama (Democrat) and Romney (Republican) are running, but most don't know that there are others as well*. There are some debates for president suppose to take place in Oct., but I doubt any party will be in the debate except for the Republican and Democratic paties picks.

    *There is the Reform party, Libertarian party, Socialist party, Constitution party, Green party, and others. The Libertarian party and Green party last I heard did have access to enough states so that in theroy at least they could have the 270 electoral votes needed for election. The above parites might pick up even support more if they were allowed to share their views.

  2. The social contract is only a philosophical model, but you're right about how people might react unfavourably to unpopular governing.

    "If a minority (or a majority) feels that [...], then can you say that the minority's rights are being protected?"
    That's democracy, suck it up. The minority doesn't get to make the rules, period.

    You're overly concerned about the minority and its feelings here. I suspect you're not like that on other topics. In fact, you sound A LOT as if you bend your view on democracy here a lot since you're sympathetic to what has become a minority opinion in Germany.

    Majority rules, minority is protected.
    Minority is not entitled to harm others and minority status does not turn illegal action into legal action, for that is not the meaning of "protection". It's really simple. You just don't like it in the specific case.

    Shall I make it easier to become accepting?
    OK, how about this? Some (hypothetical) Papuan headhunter cannibals emigrate to your country and demand their right to hunt you, cook you and eat you for their manhood ritual.
    Have fun trying to tell me how you think they should be entitled to harm others (you) under the veil of culture or their minority status.

    Too gross? OK, they don't want to eat you, just your cock. Or part of it. Maybe they don't eat it, just take it as trophy. Still too gross and brutal?

    Are you still concerned about their opinion of your government?

  3. Although murder and circumcision aren't the same, but let me see if I can help you understand.

    I don't know if any headhunters are still alive today, but lets say that in Papua New Guinea some still existed. Would I invade them to stop them, no. I don't invade others except in self-defense. If they attacked us would I fight them, yes.

    Now lets us say some of them moved into my government (a democracy). They would soon understand that murder was frowned upon, they would have to form their own government, because they wouldn't consent to mine*. I wouldn't stop them from having their own government. Lots of governments in the world I don't like what they do, but I accept that it isn't for me to force them to fit my values. I don't like lots of things that happen in China, but I'm not going to invade them to force them to change either. If China attacked me than I would fight them.

    The large gap in my 1st comment is due to not finishing it before I goofed and hit the "publish" button. The "Example the US..."was going to form apart of a somewhat different thought, but maybe it is just as well.

    *that doesn't take into consideration any immigration policy that I would have in place. I am not foolish enough to allow just anyone in when I already know that we won't agree very much.

    1. Look, this is not the place to discuss anarchy, where everyone forms his own government when he doesn't like the one in place.

      Try to lay out your position without refraining to "sovereign citizen" attitudes or let it be, please.
      Besides, you don't impress me with your emphasis on tolerance. Your tolerance is about mutilation of newborns. NOT noble.

      By now it should be obvious that the (in Germany) constitutional right to physical integrity, the parents' constitutional duty to care for their child, the #1 constitution priority of human dignity, the democracy principle of majority rule and the government monopoly on violence form in my opinion an alliance that leaves no invisible friend's commandment a chance to defeat them.

      Anybody who thinks otherwise has a point of view where cultural acceptance obfuscates the view on the issue.

    2. I'm not a sovereign citizen nor do I support them, nor do I go for anarchy. I think more than a few of them would change their minds if they ever got what they wanted and would decide that giving up a few things is worth the advantages of having a government. I do believe in having a government.

      I'm not trying to impress you. I am in part trying to show you how the same arguments you are using to force them to accept your opinion could also be used to force you to accept someone else's opinion no matter how unjust you thought it was and that if you didn't remove the self-determination part of democracy you both could have a govenment of like mind people and not have to spend all your time fighting each other.

      One culture becomes the other culture's oppressor. They believe that their so called "invisible friend's commandment" (they would consider such a use of words an insult) is the supreme law, the source of right and wrong, and therefore German law (nor any law) can not override it, even a majority. Your source of ideas is invisible. You are making them chose to share your opinion or suffer for not sharing it on something they believe right, just, and part of their freedom of religion.

      That the democracy principle of majority rule can only apply if they consent to that democracy, considering it just, for the common good, and etc... Most would agree that an unjust law is not valid. What is unjust depends who you ask (many or few).

      What minority can have rights if they never had the chance to tell/say what they value?

      It maybe from the US, but the part about people tend to put up with evils while they are sufferable tends to be true, many would just put up with things, than try and right themselves by changing the forms to which they are accustomed. Only when it became untenable would most people really start to think about changes in government.

      "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security." -United States Declaration of Independence

      "Anybody who thinks otherwise has a point of view where cultural acceptance obfuscates the view on the issue." - SO

      Even in the military culture matters, men are not cogs in a machine, but people that believe in something. If you take away the human aspect of war you will never understand war, war is more than just machines and tactics. War is human. Just because you don't believe in God doesn't mean you can make them place an opinion held by others over what they believe. Multi-cultural democracy only works when the cultures in that democracy have tolerance for others. That minority is not protected, since they can not accept what is ask of them without forsaking their beliefs/culture. Should self-dertermination be looked at as a bad thing in a democracy.

      With this I think we have both made our points now. So I am done.

  4. Reading German opinions about human rights is... educational, at least. Weaselly and disturbingly euphemistic, but interesting.

    Freedom that can be taken away the minute an angry majority claims that it is "harming" someone is no freedom at all. A failure to understand that is the reason for Germany's censorship problem, and for your disclaimer on the "duties of a blogger in Germany".

    The people whose customs you insult will always be welcome in my country. Presumably they will be allowed to emigrate without having their assets confiscated?

    1. Seriously, there is no question that cutting off a piece of another person's body without its consent is harming, not "harming".

    2. Many actions harm others, directly or indirectly, and yet can not be criminalized in a free society. These may be civil wrongs against individuals, but not crimes against the state.

      That Germany feels it can criminalize everything that causes (or might cause) harm is the reason you may not be able to play airsoft much longer, and why you have a federal agency keeping a secret list of censored books, movies, and games.
      You are at the mercy of any pressure group that can use the massive and intrusive apparatus of the state as a weapon against its enemies.

    3. Most harm done is not illegal if it's done with consent. A newborn cannot consent, and quite often it loudly protests when cut.

      Your secret list stuff is in part off-topic nonsense, in part a challenge every country experiences: Keep government on track. This blog is a lot about it.

      We the people warded off internet blacklists (which are being kept secret in some Western countries, and already exist there). We have a rating system for movies and games and it basically only makes it harder to view/buy them (illegal only to minors).

      What we don't have is a president who can tell a government agency to kill a citizen with a mere executive order, much less without court approval.
      So we're obviously not even close to the greatest depths of Western civilisation.

      What you didn't seem to get is why I wrote this blog post in the first place: Liberties need to be well-defined, and it can do great harm to inflate them beyond reason. This "reason" being usually about other's rights.

      In case of the cut newborn, the newborn enjoys a right to physical integrity under our constitution. Other people's religious ideas must not infringe this. Furthermore, parents have privileges and obligations. None of these privileges is about doing permanent physical damage to their child, while one of their duties is about caring for it.
      Finally, it's the state's constitutional mission to watch over them as they fulfil their duties, and the current legal situation (a judge has declared that circumcision is illegal) is perfectly in line with the constitution.

    4. Yes, assassination by presidential order is horrific, but we are at least ashamed of it, and are working as best we can to end it.

      We are obviously not going to make any progress in convincing each other. Good luck fighting the next wave of moral panic that targets YOU.
      But if you remain unwilling to work with people whose cultural habits you dislike, you may end up fighting alone. Perhaps against a public who judge your gun ownership as a monstrous abuse children by glorifying violence? :)

      As an aside, the Index of Harmful Materials appears to do rather more than just that. Although I apologize for my error: only the list of "virtual" works is kept entirely secret. The main list is simply illegal to republish or distribute.

    5. You're viewing the circumcision issue so much from the parent's point of view that you perceive my stance as permitting of intrusion into other's rights.
      I see the circumcision issue from the point of view of the newborn, and think of my stance as being about enhancing protection.*

      I used this example before, but let's give it another try - maybe it shows you how YOUR stance is endangering yourself:
      Your neighbour builds a cult, gets it officially recognised as religion, declares his god tells him to cut you with a knife for your poor morals. Will you defend him as him only exercising his religious freedom? I suppose no.
      What's the difference to parents cutting their newborn 8or telling someone else to do so)? Parent-child special relationship?

      Well, this special relationship does not include the privilege to do harm to the child. In fact, a constitutional duty to care for the child says the exact opposite, and the same constitutional article says the state has to watch over them as they do so - thus ranking protection of the child against abuse as high as the parent's privileges.

      There's really no human rights, civil liberties or constitutional problem with the outlawing of circumcision for underage persons. The only problem people appear to have with this outlawing is that they have the veil of cultural acceptance between their reasoning and the rights/liberties/constitution thing.

      I suppose you think there's a problem because you think parents have a cultural privilege to cut their newborn.

      This idea is not a majority idea in my country any more and frankly, it's annoying when this idea is being presented as if it was a civil liberties issue.

      *: I suggest you make a thought experiment if you're a U.S. conservative: How would you handle all this if there's a cult (officially recognised as church) that demands abortion by underage mothers? Would you choose "religious freedom!" over a rejection of abortion?

  5. Apologies for the errors in my last post. *"abuse of children", etc.

  6. our freedoms are at stake. we really have no more privacy today all over the place as it gets worse and worse for us all week by week, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second... the cameras all over either hidden or visable, the ids around your neck imbedded with all types of micro chips for what ever reason chosen while not truly disclosed, all the microchips, various type of animal and human tagging, micro chip or dna blood id profiling and locators, cell phone & id conversations with no security, compromising your private right of location, watching your every step by step, private document and all electronic info screening, school location id, computer reading, face profiling, license plate reading, street cameras, face recognition software, loss of the second amendment rights to a legal law abiding citizen, and even more perfected smaller drones who can easily see and hear through walls and do just about anything against anyone at anytime with no knowledge

    (Sven here; this comment by an anonymous person was originally posted on the Italian paras topic. I moved it to this place, for I think it was meant for this post.)