BANGKOK-Over the past century, Thailand has endured colonial aggression, two world wars and neighboring civil wars on every one of its borders. It has survived extreme nationalism, home-grown fascism, aggressive communism, and stifling dictatorship. It has persevered through 18 military coups, survived economic collapse, withstood periods of widespread starvation and navigated a ubiquitous regional drug trade. And after all that, Thailand has emerged as the region’s second-largest economy, with the broadest-based prosperity in its history.
But where do we find ourselves? For the third time in four years, a coalition of urban elites and their allies have taken to the streets wearing bright yellow shirts to force from office a leader that was elected by an overwhelming plurality of the electorate. It’s the equivalent of having the Tea Party allies of Sarah Palin march on Washington, bar entry to federal buildings, paralyze the work of Congress and insist that the 2012 election of Barack Obama be vacated and turned over to a small council of unelected elites. It might just lead to civil war.
It has taken 180 years, but the lesson of Alexis de Tocqueville has finally come to Thailand. Tocqueville was a French citizen who toured America in the 1830s. In his classic work, “Democracy in America,” he tells the story of a mob that destroyed the printing presses of a newspaper that came out against U.S. efforts in the War of 1812. For their protection, the paper’s editors were brought to the local jail-only to have the mob break in and kill one of the journalists as the police stood by. When the mob leaders were brought to trial, they were acquitted by a jury of their peers. Reflecting on the incident, Tocqueville argued that the greatest threat the United States faced was “tyranny of the majority.”