No. 43




Three Dilemmas of Democracy

My doctoral thesis Pääsemine ja häving: Demokraatia mõju Soome ja Eesti julgeolekule aastatel 1918–1948 (Salvation and Destruction: Democracy’s Impact on the Security of Finland and Estonia in 1918–1948) argues that the relationship between democracy and security can be reduced to the three classical dilemmas: freedom vs. security, freedom vs. sovereignty, and sovereignty vs. security.  The aim of the article is to examine these dilemmas by providing examples from Estonian and Finnish history.

The first dilemma, which can be described as democracy’s security dilemma, is a result of freedom of opinion, the sine qua non of democracy. And yet it leads to the impossibility of achieving complete security in a democracy. There is always the possibility that conflicts caused by different views can lead to anarchy and loss of security. If people are forced to make a choice between democracy and security, most people choose security. The challenge is how to solve the dilemma in a way that both security and democracy would be preserved. In democratic Finland, the state authorities were unable to stop vigilantism and political violence in the summer of 1930, while democratic Estonia experienced violent clashes between the Social Democrats and the Union of Participants in the Estonian War of Independence in the summer of 1932. In both cases, the dilemma was solved by restricting the freedom of opinion as well as democracy. One party of the conflict was removed from the public life – the party whose removal was supported by the majority of the society. The second dilemma, which we can call democracy’s sovereignty dilemma, is based on the unlimited sovereignty of the people. If the majority of a democratic society has decided to destroy democracy – it is of no importance whether willingly or unwillingly, by its actions or inactions – it is very difficult to prevent it. The challenge is to solve the dilemma in a way that sovereignty, i.e. the power of the majority, as well as democracy would be preserved. Democracy’s sovereignty dilemma emerged in Finland in 1930, when the parties that had a majority in the parliament refused to restrict the socially divisive activities of the Communists. Estonia found itself in a similar situation in 1932 and 1933, when the majority rejected the amendments to the Constitution in referendums. In both cases, this caused a conflict between a popular movement and the parliament. In Estonia, this led to abandoning democracy; in Finland, democracy prevailed. The third dilemma, described in the Perpetual Peace by Immanuel Kant, also results from unlimited sovereignty, except not in internal but international relations. Kant attempted to envision the conditions that would guarantee the freedom and security of nations. For Kant the perfect solution would be the state of nations, but because this would clash with national sovereignty, only a “surrogate” remained possible. Kant’s federation of nations is a compromise solution, aimed at ensuring security, but in a way that would preserve sovereignty as well. In the interwar period, the perceptions of the majorities of democratic societies were such as to prevent Kant’s solution. The citizens of democracies did not want to commit themselves to fight wars in defence of other nations, and held on to their decision-making power, i.e. their sovereignty. Estonia and Finland failed to find allies who would have enhanced their security.