Margaret Thatcher famously opined that "referendums are the tools of dictators and demagogues".
Strangely the position today seems uncannily similar to the days when Edmund Burke penned his famous lines about representative government. The French Revolution produced circumstances, which in the immediate aftermath provided very unstable government, leading to the reign of Robespierre and the terror.
However long before the Revolution occurred, this is part of the speech which Burke made to the electors of Bristol on 3 November 1774:
Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
Also instructive here is the work of the Austrian political scientist Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950). The Wiki entry on his Democratic Theory runs as follows:
In the same book, Schumpeter expounded a theory of democracy which sought to challenge what he called the "classical doctrine". He disputed the idea that democracy was a process by which the electorate identified the common good, and politicians carried this out for them. He argued this was unrealistic, and that people's ignorance and superficiality meant that in fact they were largely manipulated by politicians, who set the agenda. This made a 'rule by the people' concept both unlikely and undesirable. Instead he advocated a minimalist model, much influenced by Max Weber, whereby democracy is the mechanism for competition between leaders, much like a market structure. Although periodic votes by the general public legitimize governments and keep them accountable, the policy program is very much seen as their own and not that of the people, and the participatory role for individuals is usually severely limited
Are there examples of referendums that later impinged on core civil rights, and that while popular at the outset, were later over turned or became increasingly unpopular due to unforeseen circumstances? Likewise, are there examples when politicians blocked a referendum that thwarted the will of the people, or that perhaps could not have been expected to pass through the standard legislative process?