Friday, 12 November 2010

Student Riots: The Ochlocratic Challenge

**Apologies in advance for any spelling or grammar errors in this piece. It's late and I'm using a French-configured computer. I'll try to amend it later.**

The riots and demonstrations organised by the NUS on Wednesday demonstrate what I have discovered is a remarkable bend in student thinking, at least amongst the protest class. In spite of all the high-blown rhetoric about democracy and support for PR you might find on campuses, if the motives of these people are to be taken in good faith (as opposed to imagining them to be self-indulgently enjoying being 'protestors') then many of these people must be ochlocrats.

Ochlocracy = mob rule. Sound like a harsh judgement? Consider the logic behind the 'Stop the Cuts' protests: if we get some tens of thousands of people onto the streets, we should try to use that mass to overturn the policy of a government elected by over seventeen million people. This is the logic behind this sort of protest even when you don't factor in such things as the assault on Millbank Tower on Wednesday.

Nor is this sort of thinking confined to students. When the million marchers against the Iraq war failed to change government policy, its organisers and participants were outraged. How could the government just ignore them like that? The obvious answer - that the government had been elected by many millions of people, that polling going into the war showed the public in favour and that the marchers did not confer upon themselves greater enfranchisement simply by the act of marching - never appeared to occur to them.

Student sit-ins, huge marches and political strikes all operate with this belief in mind - that a certain minority of the citizenry (who have all been able to express themselves at the ballot box with everyone else) should attempt to impose their will upon the government via coercion, intimidation or in some cases outright force. Not only is this deplorable in principle but it is also extremely counter-productive. After all, none of the cuts proposed by the coalition could possibly be worse for the country than for the government to allow the angry mob to seize the reins.

On campus, the phrase used is that students must "take democracy back into their own hands". But democracy is supposed to reside in everybody's hands - that's the point of it.

No comments:

Post a Comment