Can democracy be used to take freedom and liberty from a people? Last Sunday, the Swiss government called a referendum for the population to decide for or against the health passport that was introduced in September. Apparently, the majority of the Swiss took the blue pill and essentially green-lighted the government’s plan to restrict their own civil liberties even further.
The Swiss public firmly rejected a plan to abolish the country’s COVID certificate. Sixty-two percent of voters said ‘Yes’ to keeping the health pass, which was introduced in September, and not seek major amendments to Switzerland’s COVID law. (Source)
This is the second time the Swiss government asked the population about policies and measures to contain the pandemic this year:
Sunday’s poll was the second time in less than six months that the Swiss public has voted on the government’s response to the pandemic. In June, 60% of voters approved prolonging national measures. (Source)
Reading about the Swiss referendum reminded me of other relatively recent cases in which the population has been called to decide on seemingly relevant issues, and ended up in fact more polarized and in an overall worse situation than before. I’ll talk about it in a moment so stick with me.
Switzerland is a direct democracy
Hence, the population being asked to decide on policies and initiatives is common and frequent. Sunday’s referendum was the third in 2021 and hundreds have been called since the 1848 Swiss Constitution.
Now, even if the Swiss government doesn’t use Sunday’s referendum as a mandate to tighten restrictions – the implementation of approved measures isn’t mandatory – they now have this option validated. The people have decided that a divisive and restrictive initiative against their own people is legitimate.
It’s fair to assume the reason this came out so perplexing and got splashed all over the news is the fact that the Swiss are traditionally a conservative people. They prize independence, individual freedom, and civil liberties above all. Is it a sign of the times they let something so menacing to all that come to pass? I suspect it is, and that’s what this article is about.
The power-grabbing script
Governments only take power by force in countries with weak and unstable institutions and populations. With all the advancements that have taken place in the last 20 or 30 years, violent coups and dictatorships only happen in some very specific places and circumstances (is it seeing a comeback?).
In more advanced democracies, the power-grabbing schemes follow a more sophisticated script – one that has been used successfully many times throughout history by governments and authorities looking to increase their power. Rights are taken bit by bit, through all kinds of Machiavellian manipulations to divide the population, rarely enrolling its support.
- Stoke fear among the population.
- Throw in measures to test waters.
- Politicize issues to promote divisiveness.
- Return the question to the population to reveal it on the open, solidify the polarization, and give civil approval to authoritarian initiatives.
Once the camel’s nose is under the tent, people become more willing to accept, comply and conform to (perhaps even demand) further and more restrictive policies that more often than not work against themselves.
Doesn’t always work, of course. But this time it seems the stars have aligned and fear is working its magic. The power-grabbing script stuck in one of the bastions of independence and freedom – though I guess with everything that’s going on in Australia, Austria, New Zealand, Canada, Germany, US, UK and many others (I’ve lost count already), perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised.
Are referendums good or bad for democracy?
First, let’s look in more detail at these forms of public consultation.
A referendum is “a general vote by the electorate on a single political question which has been referred to them by the electorate for a direct decision”. In other words, it’s called after the publication of a law to validate it or not. This is the case of Switzerland on the health pass, and also Brazil in 2005 on gun rights.
Plebiscites on the other hand are a vote by the people to decide on some issue. It’s called before the enactment of a law. One example is the Brexit, when the British were called to decide if they wanted the UK to be part of the EU. Though by a tight margin, the majority voted for leaving. The parliament then negotiated the terms and enacted the exit, which is still ongoing.
At the surface, the idea of letting the people manifest their will and decide about something that impacts them directly may seem “good”, a sign of a healthy democracy. But beyond the fact that this strategy has been used in recent history to subvert the very principles and causes of democracy, nothing speaks more eloquently than the results of these processes.
When Brazilians lost their gun rights
In February 1997, then-president Fernando Henrique Cardoso sanctioned the first law that restricted firearms ownership and illegal carrying of weapons. Up to that point, it was a right warranted by the Brazilian Constitution and essentially a non-issue.
A heated debate followed in the political and civil spheres, stoked by the left’s parties and executive that took office in 2002, who did its best to sway the public opinion. In 2003 the congress enacted the Estatuto do Desarmamento (Disarmament Statute), severely restricting the commerce, purchase, ownership and carrying of firearms, ammunition and other products.
Among these and other anti-gun propositions, the Statute envisaged a referendum to be held in October of 2005, when the population would decide for, or against, the Statute itself – specifically, the article that prohibited the commerce and purchase of firearms by law-abiding and clean-file citizens.
In short, the way the whole deal was proposed and presented muddied the issue and confused the population, completely reversing the question and consequently botching the results. In the end, 63.94% of the population voted “NO”, believing they were rejecting the prohibition – when in fact they were voting in favor of the Disarmament Statute. I tell you this: once it’s gone, it’s bye-bye, baby. Ask anyone in South America.
When the British were called to decide about the Brexit
Though not about rights, the Brexit plebiscite of 2016 was equally controversial, polarizing, and botched. The whole thing is utterly complex and it’s not my intention to discuss it further here.
There’s also a smorgasbord of info and analyses on it everywhere, for all tastes and on all angles, so I’ll just quote one of the best and most down-to-earth descriptions I’ve ever found about the results of the UK/EU withdrawal process.
Nearly three years after the Brexit vote – and a snap general election, multiple cabinet resignations, and the biggest government defeat in parliamentary history later – it is clear that the political climate in the UK will not recover for generations from the deep divisions that the referendum created. The country has teetered on the brink of a constitutional crisis ever since the vote, as the long-standing system of representative democracy butts heads with a direct instruction from the electorate.
In both cases, the population came out of the debate and public consultation deeply divided.
As with most everything in a democracy, the merits of each option and decision can be argued ad infinitum. Sometimes we get things right, sometimes we screw up. That’s all part of the game. But the results of some initiatives deemed democratic speak for themselves.
The guns right debate is still raging on in Brazil, almost two decades later. And I mean, literally: the population is highly divided and polarized about the issue. Strangers, friends, relatives, families, elected officials arguing and fighting over the right, efficacy, and risks of owning and carrying guns (while criminals – who couldn’t care less for the law- keep carrying and using firearms freely, of course).
Proof that the referendum itself was controversial in the first place is the fact that something which should be a cut-and-clear, indisputably democratic manner to put a definitive stone on the matter (or any matter) still gets questioned, and worse: confounds the population and the legislative. It removed a constitutional right through a questionable process, with questionable results. Only the polarization is unquestionable.
It’s the same with the Brexit
Everyone saw the fumbling. The consequences will unfold and ripple through decades. Maybe it was inevitable, maybe it was for the best and this will become evident in time. But is that the point? Does the victory margin being so small puts the whole process in question? Beyond all that, look at the results in the life of the population.
Which makes one wonder what will come from the Swiss referendums. COVID fighting policies are already dividing society in such explicit and extreme ways, pitting one side against each other definitely. The governments will accrue even more power with that, and the population weakened in part by their own choice. Those are the immediate results.
It’s important to pay attention to how they’re using democracy to TAKE AWAY freedom.
Gun ownership was warranted by the Constitution in Brazil. Then, a whole situation was created around a non-issue to reverse a constitutional right, until it became an issue. Everything felt somewhat “engineered” to produce the desired result. The Brexit deal came out slightly different, but the strategy is basically the same – and as we can see the results were also similar.
Again it can be argued that it’s all part and parcel of democracy. It may well be, but we must be vigilant and look beyond the simple and immediate objectives of some proposals, even democratic ones. And focus on what’s really at stake, the long term implications. Sure, change is important and necessary. But in times like these, authoritarianism and populism are lurking and we must be careful.
“Never let a good crisis go to waste”
Crises are a godsend for authoritarians. They create the perfect climate for the implementation of freedom-killing plots and initiatives. It’s expected and natural that a pandemic creates some turmoil and concern. What should raise suspicion is the extrapolation of the problem and the disproportionate responses. It’s hard to think this is not deliberate and somewhat concerted to achieve a bigger goal or conceal some other issue (like the end of the financial system maybe? We’ll see…).
The timing is also revealing. It may be just a coincidence the Swiss referendum being realized right at the beginning of the discovery and announcement of the new Omicron variant. But if someone like you or me can establish a connection, isn’t it logical to assume the powers that be would think of that with a strategic perspective?
It raises other concerning questions as well…
What if this strategy of asking high-charge questions to the population as a form of validating questionable initiatives becomes the norm? There’s a whole pack of controversial and potentially explosive issues already lined up to be used for this purpose: climate change, gender equality, crime and justice systems, education, race, and reparations… Could this cause the complete fragmentation of society? In many ways, it’s already happening.
And we the people will vote, believing we’re expressing our will and deciding “democratically” when we’re “democratically” being used, swayed, and manipulated to surrender our rights. Judging by what history shows, one thing seems certain: more radicalization and politicization will ensue. And this is never good.
The winds of change
That’s what governments everywhere want. When people wake up to this it may be too late. But it can be argued that maybe that’s also what the people want today. In all the cases presented here – guns rights in Brazil, the Brexit in the UK, and now the COVID laws in Switzerland, there’s a clear “zeitgeist” component.
What I mean by that is, maybe it’s really the sign of times. Maybe these examples only provide evidence that we are already incapable of a conducting a civilized debate and agree minimally on what’s best for us. So there’s also a chicken-and-egg aspect there as well, and the authorities aren’t the only ones to blame for what’s happening: we are, too.
It’s not a good sign, especially in view of the current political, economic, and social climate. But if people are willing to surrender freedom in exchange for illusory safety, this is a much broader, deeper movement. We’re left with trying to warn people and raise awareness and consciousness as much as we can, and this is what we at The Organic Prepper try to do. For more suggestions on how to fight this tyranny and others like it, check out our free QuickStart Guide to Starving the Beast.
What are your thoughts on using democracy to take away freedom?
People love to use the word “democracy” like it’s an assurance of freedom, but is it really? What are your thoughts on how “the majority” is taking away the rights of the minority? What about whether or not the “majority” is being manipulated? Let’s talk about it in the comments.
Fabian Ommar is a 50-year-old middle-class worker living in São Paulo, Brazil. Far from being the super-tactical or highly trained military survivor type, he is the average joe who has practiced self-reliance and outdoor activities since his youth. Fabian also chooses to practice the practical side of balancing life between a big city and rural/wilderness settings. Since the 2008 world economic crisis, he has been training and helping others in his area to become better prepared for the “constant, slow-burning SHTF” of living in a 3rd world country.
Fabian’s ebook, Street Survivalism: A Practical Training Guide To Life In The City, is a practical training method for common city dwellers based on the lifestyle of the homeless (real-life survivors) to be more psychologically, mentally, and physically prepared to deal with the harsh reality of the streets during normal or difficult times.
You can follow Fabian on Instagram @stoicsurvivor