The social liberal elite celebrated on Friday as the Court struck down an attempt by politicians in France to ban so-called “burkinis”, deeming it “seriously and clearly illegal” under the constitution.
There was no real cause for celebration, however.
To be clear, the ban on burkinis was outrageous, sexist and pretty much racist. The obvious point – that nuns or even motorcyclists could walk around on a beach fully clothes but Muslim women could not – was widely made. The notion that women should be instructed on what to wear was rightly compared with a century ago, or Nazi occupation. That anyone would even think of such a thing is cause for alarm.
And yet the ban was popular. It was, after all, implemented by those elected by the people. Polls showed it had significant support, and not just in France but also in Germany (if there is any country which should know better about such things, surely Germany is it). Former (and perhaps future) President Sarkozy has come out broadly in favour of it, moving it into the mainstream.
It took educated members of the elite to point out the obvious – that in a land of liberte, egalite and fraternite, such a bad was clearly unconstitutional. Yet that educated elite is increasingly a minority, and a disparaged one at that. Ask people who have spent time gathering education and knowledge what they think, and they will say one thing; ask people who are ignorant what they thing, and they will say another. Increasingly, it is the latter which is coming to represent “popular opinion”.
Right here, we are facing a crisis of democracy. Democracy is not just about reflecting the popular will. It is about the Rule of Law, fair play for all (including protection of minorities), and indeed the prevalence of basic common sense. It is therefore not just about one person one vote, but also that recognising the one person’s ignorance is not equal to another person’s knowledge, and that one person’s prejudice is not equal to another person’s merit-based decision-making.
But the burkini thing was a defeat for democracy, overturned only by the derided elite. We are in serious trouble.