The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or rather of that party, not always the majority, that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections.

— The History of Freedom in Antiquity, 1877


In spite of my deep disappointment and despair at the outcome of last week’s referendum, I’ve been very reluctant to speak out on the issue. As a conductor, one feels a tremendous amount of pressure not to divide one’s audience or alienate potential friends or supporters. One doesn’t want to do or say anything that could have a negative effect on the orchestra or its finances, but, even more importantly, it’s vitally important that concerts be a place where people of diverse views can come together in constructive ways.  Music ought to be a unifying presence in our communities whenever possible.

In this instance, there is so much at stake for my children that I feel I have to speak my mind. After all, protecting our children’s future is every parent’s highest priority. My children were born in possession of EU citizenship. I can scarcely think of a more valuable asset to come into the world with- the right to live, study and work in 28 of the most dynamic, culturally vibrant and affluent nations that have ever existed. As a result of last week’s appalling vote, they now stand to lose that citizenship and all the rights, privileges and opportunities that come with it.

To all those who shrug their shoulders and say “well, it’s democracy, we have to live with the result,” I would point out that referendums have been considered the lowest and most dangerous form of democracy since Greek times. Please read and share the Wikipedia article on the “Tyranny of the Majority,” which concisely describes the long history of how societies have tried to protect themselves from the most obvious risk of representative democracy. The right of the majority to rule must be limited to protect the fundamental rights of the minority in any democracy, or society crumbles. The Wikipedia article illustrates how  Herbert Spencer in “The Right to Ignore the State” (1851), pointed the problem with the following example[14]

« Suppose, for the sake of argument, that, struck by some Malthusian panic, a legislature duly representing public opinion were to enact that all children born during the next ten years should be drowned. Does anyone think such an enactment would be warrantable? If not, there is evidently a limit to the power of a majority. »

In a free and democratic society, one person or group is not, or should not be, allowed to strip another person or group of their fundamental rights, and citizenship is such a right- it can usually only be stripped by government for serious cause, after due process.  Governments have huge latitude over when to grant citizenship to both individuals and classes, but the nature of citizenship is that once bestowed, one’s rights as a citizen are protected in the same way as one’s fellow citizens. In this case, it is legally absurd that a British person’s EU citizenship can be retracted without their consent while a French or German person’s EU citizenship is safe.

The referendum was undemocratic (because the rights of the minority were not protected) and unconstitutional (because it imposes a loss of fundamental rights on a minority).

If membership in the EU was simply a matter of being part of a trading organization that shared certain laws, trade agreements and treaties, one could make the case that voting to extract the nation from those treaties is a relatively simple matter. Voting to strip your friends, neighbours and their children of their EU citizenship is not only not a simple matter, it’s clearly illegal and deeply immoral. It is no less absurd than stripping people of their British citizenship because they grew up on the North side of their street, or stripping people of their American citizenship because they were born on a Tuesday. Stripping an EU citizen of their citizenship because they were born in Dover instead of Calais is equally wrong and unfair. A second referendum ought to not be necessary- I should think the UK Supreme Court would be able to rule the referendum result as invalid, as would the EU Court of Human Rights.

Now is not the time for restraint or resignation when it comes to protecting minority rights of all kinds- Western society, from Europe to the Americas, is closer to fracture and mob rule than at any time in the last 70 years.  The economic implications of Brexit have already proven to be far worse than even the most dire predictions of those who advocated a “Remain” vote: world stock markets have seen their biggest-ever two day fall, and the Pound is at a 30 year low as I write. There are reports of widespread acts of racist abuse across the UK. Far Right political parties are more powerful now than any time since 1945, or should I say 1939?

Our politicians’ reaction to this crisis has been shockingly casual- this is not the same thing as losing a football match on a questionable call and accepting the result as a matter of sportsmanship.  Lives, societies, economies and fundamental human rights are at stake. A multi-party statement including key members of both Leave and Remain groups can and should be issued which says that while the referendum has shown the urgent need for reform of European institutions, and demonstrated the huge risks to the world economy and European stability of a failure to reform, that the invocation of Article 50 would be unconstitutional, a violation of widely accepted human rights law, and would cause irreparable damage to the British and European economy and social order, and that, therefore, Article 50 must never, and will never, be triggered.

The world is watching and history is already judging. Shrug and the window of opportunity to stop this madness may close. When we make mob rule the law of the land, everything is over. If and when people realise that nobody is going to stop Brexit, I fear the events of the last 72 hours are going to look quaint.





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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

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6 comments on “Blogxit”

  1. katy

    I completely agree with this. I have written to a number of MPs, gone to two marches, and spread my views – what else to do?

  2. Susana Iglesias

    Yes, i agree with every word. And i do indeed feel like this does not feel like democracy at all when because of others choices i am to be stripped of European citizenship as a British passport holder ( not Spanish obviously, well not yet anywsy! ) and even worse the feeling that i have to shut up and put up otherwise i am being intolerant and undemocratic and aparantly a sore loser!! The irony!! This is a very good blog. But what can we do?? It seems we are muzzled and hands tied behind our back with no option but to walk into a disastrous and unfair situation and none of the politicians seem to be fighting our corner, a rather large corner at that, because 48% is hardly a large minority.

  3. Andrew

    Ken, I’m curious what you think about the Rotherham scandal. I’ve heard very little mention of it in the press. To put it bluntly, is it racist or “right-wing” to endeavor to prevent such things from happening again? What about the rights of the children and young women who were abused? There were more than 1,000 of them in one city, and that sort of thing is happening all across the country.

  4. Sylvan Moir

    Susana Iglesias,

    Tim Faron has said I believe that the lib dems will be fighting the next election on a platform of remaining in the EU or at least
    making the decision in parliament by vote there. Also the labour mp David Lammy is standing for a 2nd referendum or decision in parliament…..There is a slim chance that Nicola Sturgeon can and will decide to try and block the UK leaving the EU on the basis of Holyrood being opposed……
    On the side of the majoriatarian result here NOT being an automatic done deal democratically is the fact that this referendum gives advice only, it does not command parliament , and , it seems , the formal triggering of article 50 would also require another parliamentary vote ( could not be done by the prime ministers` decision for instance) .
    What we can do – if we feel impelled -…. is to help bring these things into the public arena more – so it is more commonly known that the issue is not quite settled yet….

  5. Kenneth Woods

    Hi Andrew

    I’ve been saying for a while that the problem in Britain is not immigration but integration. The horrific situation in Rotherham should never have happened and must never happen again, but I don’t think it has anything to do with the EU. Rotherham shows that even a relatively small number of people living outside the boundaries of broadly accepted norms can do enormous damage.

    When people come to a new country (in this case the UK) it’s important for them to feel welcomed and supported, but also to have clear guidance about what it means to live here. For instance, in the UK, men and women are equal under the law- if someone is coming from a patriarchal culture, part of the process of settling in the country ought to include education about gender equality. The mingling of religion, race, nationalism and culture has always been the main driver of most of society’s most dangerous problems. If there is a failure of the multicultural project, it is that it has allowed religion a grossly over-exaggerated special status. No government in my time here has ever had an integration strategy- the Left have traditionally been too paralyzed by the need to appeal to identity politics to win votes, and the Right have always been rooting for failure.

    Horrific as Rotherham was, evil infects all religions and races equally. Including many sectors of British society that have been part of our social fabric for many centuries.

  6. Andrew

    That was a very thoughtful and even-handed response. Thank you.

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