One Man, One Vote, One Time
There was a joke that once went the round of programmers which posed this challenge. "Write a procedure to determine whether power has been cut off to the CPU." Like many jokes, especially Polish ones, it relies upon the existence of an implicit contradiction. Look for the implicit contradiction pointed out in this observation from Samizdata, which is unfortunately in deadly earnest:
Venezuela is a case study of how democracy is no sure defence against tyranny and how it can actually be the means by which it comes about. I realise we already have the example of Germany in the 1930's, but unlike the NSDAP, the democratic majority for Chavez was far less ambiguous than the ones that incrementally brought Hitler to power.
The issue is whether men are institutionally free to give up their freedom; whether a majority of the electorate can, in this instance, elect a tyrant who will set about dismantling democracy. Is One Man, One Vote, One Time an allowable proposition within the syntax of democracy?
I suppose it is, although in countries like the US the dismantling of democracy would formally have to take the form of a Constitutional change which demands far more than a bare majority to achieve. The famous logician Kurt Godel was apparently convinced in the existence of a legal loophole through which a tyranny could emerge in US democracy. At Godel's citizenship examination, Albert Einstein and Oskar Morgenstern (who must be the most illustrious pair of sponsors ever to accompany an immigrant to a such a proceeding) were barely able to keep him from blurting it out to the judge.
At the interview itself, the judge was suitably impressed by the sterling character and public personas of Gödel's witnesses and even broke with tradition by inviting them to sit in during the exam. The judge began by saying to Gödel, "Up to now you have held German citizenship." Gödel corrected this slight affront, noting that he was Austrian. Unfazed, the judge continued, "Anyhow, it was under an evil dictatorship ... but fortunately, that's not possible in America." With the magic word dictatorship out of the bag, Gödel was not to be denied, crying out, "On the contrary, I know how that can happen. And I can prove it!" By all accounts, it took the efforts of not only Einstein and Morgenstern but also of the judge to calm Gödel down and prevent him from launching into a detailed and lengthy discourse about his "discovery."
In Godel's view at least, it was possible to construct a well-formed statement of political suicide within the framework of the Constitution. I think Einstein dismissed the possibility as wildly improbable. One tack is to rely on the extreme unlikelihood of a suicidal but allowable statement within a functioning democracy. An alternative approach which may be found in Turkey is to prohibit the legality of certain propositions themselves even within a democracy. In other words, limits itself were placed upon freedom by a group within society which asserted that certain propositions could not be allowably formulated.
In some cases, elements of the bureaucracy have opposed policies of the elected government on the grounds that they threatened the secular state. For this reason, some political parties were banned. In other cases, some doctors,lawyers, teachers etc who insisted on showing their religious orientation, usually by opposing to fundamentals of state, were fired. Furthermore, the Army officials whose family members bear Islamic cover were expeled without any pension, on the grounds that one who applies to be an army member is a priori accepting these rules. A recent European Human Rights Court decision found Turkish army right about such a case.
As a practical matter what may happen in the case of Hugo Chavez, as occurred with Adolph Hitler, is that the budding tyrant may cause the whole democratic system to crash by corrupting or abolishing any means for unelecting them from power. This will force the political process outside of the democratic space into the shadowy realm of conspiracy and underground opposition. In other words a putsch will be met by a revolution. The operating system, having encountered a fatal error, must be reset. Whether things will go so far in Venezuela is far from clear. But it might, and if it does then we will know what to expect.