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Tyranny of the majority

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Tyranny of the majority

The phrase "tyranny of the majority" (or "tyranny of the masses") is used in discussing systems of democracy and majority rule. It involves a scenario in which decisions made by a majority place its interests above those of an individual or minority group, constituting active oppression comparable to that of a tyrant or despot.[1] In many cases a disliked ethnic, religious or racial group is deliberately penalized by the majority element acting through the democratic process.[2][3]

Supermajority rules, constitutional limits on the powers of a legislative body, and the introduction of a Bill of Rights have been used to counter the problem.[4] A separation of powers may also be implemented to prevent the problem from happening internally in a government.[4]

Contents

  • Term 1
  • Public choice theory 2
  • Vote trading 3
  • Concurrent majority 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7

Term

A term used in Classical and Hellenistic Greece for oppressive popular rule was ochlocracy ("mob rule"). Tyranny meant rule by one man whether undesirable or not.

The phrase "tyranny of the majority" was used by John Adams in 1788.[5] The phrase gained prominence after its appearance in 1835 in Democracy in America, by Alexis de Tocqueville, where it is the title of a section.[6] It was further popularised by John Stuart Mill, who cites Tocqueville, in On Liberty (1859). The Federalist Papers refer to the broad concept, as in Federalist 10, first published in 1787, which speaks of "the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority."

The term was widely employed in mid-nineteenth-century America in conjunction with a series of moral questions (Sabbath, temperance, racial equality) that gave rise to organized minority groups in American political life.[7]

Lord Acton also used this term, saying:

The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or rather of that party, not always the majority, that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections.
— The History of Freedom in Antiquity, 1877

The concept itself was popular with Friedrich Nietzsche and the phrase (in translation) is used at least once in the first sequel to Human, All Too Human (1879).[8] Ayn Rand, Objectivist philosopher and novelist, wrote against such tyranny, saying that individual rights are not subject to a public vote, and that the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and that the smallest minority on earth is the individual).[9]

In 1965, Herbert Marcuse referred to the tyranny of the majority in his essay "Repressive Tolerance" on the idea of tolerance in advanced industrial society. He affirmed that "tolerance is extended to policies, conditions, and modes of behavior which should not be tolerated because they are impeding, if not destroying, the chances of creating an existence without fear and misery." and that "this sort of tolerance strengthens the tyranny of the majority against which authentic liberals protested."[10]

In 1994, legal scholar Lani Guinier used the phrase as the title for a collection of law review articles.[11]

Public choice theory

The notion that, in a democracy, the greatest concern is that the majority will tyrannise and exploit diverse smaller interests, has been criticised by public choice theory.

Vote trading

Anti-federalists of public choice theory point out that vote trading, also known as logrolling, can protect minority interests from majorities in representative democratic bodies such as legislatures. They continue that direct democracy, such as statewide propositions on ballots, does not offer such protections .

Concurrent majority

American Confederate Secession was anchored by a version of Subsidiarity, found within the doctrines of John C. Calhoun. Antebellum South Carolina utilized Calhoun's doctrines in the Old South as public policy, adopted from his theory of concurrent majority. This "localism" strategy was presented as a mechanism to circumvent Calhoun's perceived tyranny of the majority in the United States. Each state presumptively held the Sovereign power to block federal laws that infringed upon states' rights, autonomously. Calhoun's policies directly influenced Southern public policy regarding slavery, and undermined the Supremacy Clause power granted to the federal government. The subsequent creation of the Confederate States of America catalyzed the American Civil War.

In the 21st century, indirect affirmation of Calhoun’s Anti-Federalist tyranny posture came by way of noteworthy academic Dr. Walter E. Williams, who contrasted early American Federalism with states’ rights behind the American Civil War. He indicated in 2015 that the Treaty of Paris (1783) recognized each of the original colonies as “sovereign countries,” presuming rights to secede to circumvent tyranny of the majority imbalances. Dr. Williams was earlier published stating:

The War between the States settled by force whether states could secede. Once it was established that states cannot secede, the federal government, abetted by a Supreme Court unwilling to hold it to its constitutional restraints, was able to run amok over states’ rights, so much so that the protections of the Ninth and Tenth Amendments mean little or nothing today. Not only did the war lay the foundation for eventual nullification or weakening of basic constitutional protections against central government abuses, but it also laid to rest the great principle enunciated in the Declaration of Independence that 'Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.[12]

19th century concurrent majority theories held logical counterbalances to standard tyranny of the majority harms originating from Antiquity and onward. Essentially, illegitimate or temporary coalitions that held majority volume could disproportionately outweigh and hurt any significant minority, by nature and sheer volume. Calhoun's contemporary doctrine was presented as one of limitation within American democracy to prevent traditional tyranny, whether actual or imagined.[13]

See also

References

  1. ^ John Stuart Mill. On Liberty, The Library of Liberal Arts edition, p.7.
  2. ^ https://publius2013.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/tyranny-of-the-minority/
  3. ^ -Hamilton writing to Jefferson from the Constitutional Convention argued the same.
  4. ^ a b A Przeworski, JM Maravall, I NetLibrary Democracy and the Rule of Law (2003) p.223
  5. ^ John Adams, A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, Vol. 3 (London: 1788), p. 291.
  6. ^ Vol. 1, chap. 15. Earlier, Edmund Burke, in Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), said that "The tyranny of a multitude is a multiplied tyranny."
  7. ^ Volk, Kyle G. (2014). Moral Minorities and the Making of American Democracy. New York: Oxford University Press.
  8. ^ See for example maxim 89 of Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human: First Sequel: Mixed Opinions and Maxims, 1879
  9. ^ Ayn Rand (1961), "Collectivized 'Rights,'" The Virtue of Selfishness.
  10. ^ by Herbert MarcuseThe Repressive Tolerance
  11. ^ Lani Guinier, The Tyranny of the Majority (Free Press: 1994)
  12. ^
  13. ^ Lacy K. Ford Jr., "Inventing the Concurrent Majority: Madison, Calhoun, and the Problem of Majoritarianism in American Political Thought", The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 60, No. 1 (Feb., 1994), pp. 19–58 in JSTOR

Further reading

  • Volk, Kyle G. (2014). Moral Minorities and the Making of American Democracy. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Alexis de Tocqueville on Tyranny of the Majority from EDSITEment from the National Endowment for the Humanities
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