A ‘Herrenvolk democracy’ is a term describing a political system where a supposedly democratic system excludes a significant number of people outside it, while the system and the population that is included claims to be and inside this hallowed circle acts, as a democracy.
The ruling group usually claims to be differentiated ‘racially’ and culturally from the excluded, whether this is real or not. Obsession with miscegenation is typical of the ‘Herrenvolk democracy’, which will sometimes try to represent social and class differences as ‘racial’.
Examples have been Sparta during antiquity, United States during slavery, Ireland during the British rule (where a priest consecrating marriage between Irish and Anglo-Irish could be executed based on a 1725 law; similar laws were at the same time made to stop ‘racial mixing’ in Britain’s American colonies), Apartheid-era South Africa and currently Israel ( as historian Ilan Pappé argues), which fits all the main points a ‘Herrenvolk democracy’ includes.
‘Herrenvolk democracies’, although authoritarian and oppressive towards the excluded, tend to officially declare their devotion to liberty and (classical) ‘Republican’ values. They and their external and internal propagandists see no paradox, no contradiction in oppression and enslavement of large part of a population and the official doctrine of liberty.
The oppressed simply don’t count – except that through their oppression the oppressor becomes even more devoted to his or her own freedom and the cause of the society and state in which they practice oppression and enjoy of their own freedom, like the Anglo-Irish philosopher and politician Edmund Burke(1729-1797) declared in his defense of the slave-owners in the United States, who he saw as the representatives of highest form of liberalism and love of freedom.
With this we got to the core of that peculiar ideology called ‘Liberal Zionism’ and the endless eulogies the representatives of its Christian and Jewish wings make in public. “The Only Democracy in the Middle East”, “The Beacon of Freedom” (Tony Blair), “The Beacon of Tolerance” (Theresa May) and so on.
Like Burke praised the slave-owners, so is Israel praised by the current ‘Western’ elites and the political descendants of Burke in the so-called ‘Western’ media. The Palestinians’ suffering doesn’t much of the time lessen the praise heaped on Israel – it often seems only to increase it.
In the hallowed circle of ‘Herrenvolk democracy’, the excluded and the oppressed, the enslaved and the occupied, the ethnically cleansed simply don’t matter. They are not part of the society, they are not really its members or the citizens of the state. They exist only in the periphery, as a danger to the ‘Herrenvolk democracy’, something which it needs to define itself, to unite its real members and make them forget the social and class differences they have.
In the ideology of the ‘Herrenvolk democracy’ like Israel, the excluded are not to be integrated, even slowly. They are only to be kept at bay until they can be eradicated or pushed farther – first to the refugee camps and bantustans in the case of the Palestinians living on the western side of the Green Line, and to segregated townships on the western side – until at some point the full removal of the excluded is possible to consecrate the purity of the ‘Herrenvolk democracy’.
Few ‘Herrenvolk democracies’ ever get that far – they need the excluded as a labour pool. Less than human ‘machines on two feet’ like Abbé Sieyès(1748-1836) called the poor labouring classes of France. Sparta, as much as it feared the Helots, needed their labour. So did the British the Irish as cheap labour in their new industrial society and so did the Americans the enslaved Africans.
And so, at least for now, does the ‘Herrenvolk democracy’ par excellence of our era, Israel, of the labour of the occupied and oppressed Palestinians. As its politicians in public loudly dream of even more ethnically and religiously ‘pure’ Greater Israel, while enjoying of the endless praise and support of foreign governments, politicians and press in the ‘West’.
For the non-Palestinians belonging to the ‘lower classes’ in their own countries, the praise from your own politicians and media to Israel is an indication of what they think of you behind the scenes and what, if they could, they would do to you: Exclude you.
Losurdo, Domenico: Liberalism: A Counter-History
(2011; Controstoria del liberalismo, 2005).