Tocqueville: The greatest danger in a democracy is tyranny of the majority.
Tyranny of the Majority
By: George Noga – March 15, 2020
Our post of 2/2/20 about the Electoral College (There is no such thing as the popular vote) generated one of the highest open rates ever. Consequently, we followed up with a related post on 3/1/20 (Fallacy of one person, one vote), which also enjoyed uber-strong interest. Recognizing a good thing, we now continue in the same vein with this week’s post. All the aforementioned posts are available at: www.mllg.us.
In the early days of the MLLG blog, I occasionally titillated readers with a hardball version of political trivia. My favorite all-time question is: “What is the form of government of the United States“? I offered readers the following choices:
1. Constitutional republic
2. Representative democracy
3. Democratic republic
4. Direct democracy
5. Constitutional democracy
Few people (virtually no one under age 30) got it right, even though they pledged allegiance “to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands” and sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” their entire lives. Most assume the USA is a democracy, although that word never appears in either the Declaration or Constitution. Our founding documents guarantee certain (inalienable) rights and minority protections (against the majority); hence, the USA is not a pure republic.
America’s founders, extraordinarily well-versed in history, had justifiable contempt for democracy, which they regarded as a form of tyranny. Thomas Paine said, “A democracy is the vilest form of government there is.” James Madison (Federalist 10) wrote “In a democracy there is nothing to check the inducement to sacrifice the weaker party.” John Adams: “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There was never a democracy that did not commit suicide.” Edmund Randolph at the Constitutional Convention said, “In tracing evils to their origin, it is in the turbulence and follies of democracy.” Alexander Hamilton responded, “Liberty is not found in the extremes of democracy.” John Marshall: “Between a republic and a democracy, the difference is like that between order and chaos.”
Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner.
Americans regard democracy as the ideal because that’s all they hear; few have given it serious thought. If they understood democracy and the tyranny of the majority, they wouldn’t favor abolishing the Electoral College and substituting a national popular vote, nor would they support restructuring the Senate or ending the filibuster.
My research was unable to identify even one example of a democracy where the majority has not tyrannized the minority. Majoritarian tyranny is occurring throughout the world today including in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, China, Russia, Mexico, Myanmar, Sudan, the Arab world, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Bolivia, Kyrgyzstan, Indonesia, Botswana, Congo, Central African Republic and throughout most of Latin America.
During just the past century, over 100 million Europeans were slaughtered in thirty genocides, ethnic cleansings, holocausts and pogroms. I have a list available. Nearly every one of these resulted from tyranny of the majority – and this happened in “civilized ” Europe for cryin’ out loud; don’t get me started on the rest of the world.
Now what do you think about democracy, majority rule and direct elections? Do you have newfound respect for the Electoral College, the Senate and the filibuster? Forward this post to your children and grandchildren to help them understand that pure majority rule results in tyranny. Our constitutional republic – including the Electoral College and Senate – has preserved our liberty for 233 years and counting.