November 3, 2018

“Tyranny of the majority” vs. “tyranny of the minority” … Is one worse than the other?

Alexis de Tocqueville 2         


“Tyranny of the Majority.” (“Tyrannie De La Majorité”)
       Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859)
       French historian and political pundit 
       Title of a section in Chapter XV of his book Democracy in America (1835)
       Tocqueville’s use of the phrase “Tyranny of the Majority” in his famed book about his travels in America is often credited as its origin. However, he didn’t coin it. There are several documented uses that predate his. For example, it appears in one of the “Letters of Agrippa,” the American
anti-federalist documents believed to be written by James Winthrop in the late 1780s. The Agrippa letter dated February 5, 1788 says: “A bill of rights...serves to secure the minority against the usurpation and tyranny of the majority.” Two decades before that, Voltaire wrote about concept of the tyranny of the many (“tyrannie de plusieurs”) in his Philosophical Dictionary (1764). He said: “One distinguishes the tyranny of one and that of many…Under what tyranny would you like to live better? Under none; but if it were necessary to choose, I would hate less the tyranny of one than that of many."


“The tyranny of the minority is infinitely more odious and intolerable and more to be feared than that of the majority.”
       William McKinley (1843-1901)
       U.S. Congressman and 25th President of the United States,             
In an address to the House of Representatives, January 1886


“The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or rather that of the party...that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections.”
       Lord Acton (John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton; 1834-1902)
       British historian, politician and writer 
       In an article in the Quarterly Review, 1879; reprinted in the posthumously published book collecting some of his writings, The History of Freedom (1907)


“There can be a tyranny of the majority or a tyranny of the minority, tyranny of the government or tyranny of the people through government. Majority and minority, governing and nongoverning, factions seek power and produce evil.”
       Manus I. Midlarsky
       Professor of International Peace and Conflict Resolution, Rutgers University
       In his book Handbook of War Studies III (2009)


“I don’t like the expression ‘tyranny of the majority’ as we live in a democracy. Whether we like it or not, the will of the majority is the foundation of democracy. This does not prevent individuals from expressing dissent...The best form of leadership is a mix of the collective and the individual. It cannot be one or the other because it is by taking the best aspects of each that we find success.”             
       Rachida Dati
       French politician and Member of the European Parliament
       In an interview posted on the Leaders League website, October 31, 2018


“There has been a disturbing trend lately where the tyranny of the minority is now holding sway more and more in the halls of Washington, D.C., thwarting the will of the majority...In health care, the will of the people was thwarted; on the Arizona Immigration issue, the will of the people again was thwarted; and now the will of the people was thwarted in California, which bans same sex marriages.”             
       An editorial on the now defunct conservative blog, August 5, 2010 
       Criticizing the Obama health care legislation, a court decision overturning the anti-immigration law in Arizona, and a court decision overturning the anti-Gay marriage law (Proposition 8) in California


“A word like ‘tyranny’ is interesting for its inevitable conjuring up of concerns about the tyranny of the majority, a misstep of democracy that judges – in their independence from the political process – are able to correct.”             
       Chris Geidner
       American journalist and blogger
       In his commentary on the court decision overturning California’s Prop 8 in the Gay & Lesbian news magazine
The Metro Weekly, August 5, 2010

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Related reading about tyranny and tyrants…

October 26, 2018

“Every nation has the government it deserves” – and the criminals, drugs and donuts…


“Every nation has the government it deserves.”
(“Toute nation a le gouvernement qu’elle mérite.”)
Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821)
       French-speaking Savoyard philosopher, writer, lawyer and diplomat
       Comment in a letter he wrote in August 1811, later published in Lettres et Opuscules Inedits (1851)
       Whenever Election Day draws near, I am reminded of this famous quote by Joseph de Maistre. He wrote this aphorism in 1811 when he was serving as the King of Piedmont-Sardinia’s envoy to Russian Czar Alexander I. At that time, Alexander was introducing reforms that were moving Russia toward a European-style constitutional government. It’s ironic that Maistre’s quote is now commonly used to suggest that citizens should get more involved in politics, actively push for more democratic governments and rebel against tyrants. Maistre disliked democracy and believed that hereditary monarchies were a divinely-sanctioned, superior form of government. For example, he opposed the French Revolution and supported restoration of the French monarchy. And, in his 1811 letter, Maistre was actually expressing his negative views of Alexander’s reform policies in Russia. He said a European-style constitutional system would be “over the heads” of the Russian people.
One early translation of Maistre’s aphorism in that letter was: “Every nation has the government which it is fit for.” This paternalistic translation may best capture what Maistre really meant. The more familiar translation — “Every nation [or ‘country’] has the government it deserves” — is often wrongly attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville and Abraham Lincoln. They never said it. Maistre did, but what he meant by it is probably different than what most people think.


“Society has the criminals it deserves.”
(“La société a les criminels qu’elle mérite.)
       Alexandre Lacassagne (1843-1924)
       French physician and criminologist                   
       A remark he made in his article “L’homme criminel comparé a l’homme primitif,” in the Bulletin du Lyon médical (1882)
       This quote by Lacassangne is often translated as “Every society has the criminals it deserves,” to parallel Maistre’s quotation. It actually comes from a longer comment Lacassagne made about the justice system: "Justice shrivels up, prison corrupts and society has the criminals it deserves." (“La justice flétrit, la prison corrompt et la société a les criminels qu’elle mérite.”)


“Every society gets the kind of criminal it deserves. What is equally true is that every community gets the kind of law enforcement it insists on.”
Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968)
       U.S. Attorney General and Democratic politician
       In his book
The Pursuit of Justice (1964)


“At 50, everyone has the face he deserves.”
George Orwell (1903-1950)
       Last words in his notebook, April 17, 1949
       Published posthumously in
The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters of George Orwell (1968)


“Everybody gets the drugs they deserve. Everyone gets the god they deserve. Everyone gets the electrons they deserve. Go for it all.”   
Dr. Timothy Leary (1920-1996)  
       American psychologist, writer and psychedelic drug guru 
       In the spoken word piece “Fifty Million Years,” on his posthumously released CD
Beyond Life (1996)


“Not every generation gets the politics it deserves. When baby boomer journalists and politicians talk about engaging with youth politics, what they generally mean is engaging with a caucus of energetic, compliant under-25s who are willing to give their time for free to causes led by grown-ups...We need to being to formulate an agenda of our own.”
Laurie Penny 
       British journalist and social activist
       In a chapter she contributed to the multi-author book Fight Back!


“Every nation gets the pornography it deserves…and if we forbid the writing of erotica to all but those willing to break the law, we have no complaint if the results are mean and inartistic.”
Ralph Ginzburg (1929-2006)
       Pioneering American author, editor, publisher and free speech advocate
       In his book An Unhurried View of Erotica (1958)


“A godless people will chose a godless leader. A democratic people gets the kind of government it deserves!”
Father Charles E. Coughlin (1891-1979)
       Controversial American radio evangelist
       Comment made on
his radio show on January 7, 1940, in one of his rants attacking President Franklin D. Roosevelt


“Every era gets the psychos it deserves, at least in art. Our own violent culture has splattered us with real-life assassins and serial killers who have pervaded our consciousness through television and newspapers and left a disturbing, revealing, often entertaining legacy of fictional lunatics.” 
       Caryn James

American film critic
       In an article about modern psychokiller movies
, published in The New York Times, March 10, 1991


“Every civilization gets the theatre it deserves.”
Michael Feingold 
       Theatre critic for The Village Voice
       Quoted in
Directors and the New Musical Drama (2008)        


“Was it Alexis de Tocqueville or Jonathan Gold who said, ‘Every city gets the donuts it deserves’? Either way, you have to wonder what Houston did to deserve Shipley Do-Nuts. The Shipleys may be lovely people, and the corporation gets much respect for being active in the community and maintaining its Houston roots. But their donuts are consistently mediocre.”
Matthew Dresden   
       Food critic and journalist
an article posted on, February 10, 2011

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Related reading: books of quotations about politics and government….

September 12, 2018

Different drummers, from Thoreau, Flo, Snow and more...


“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.  Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”   
       Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
       American essayist, poet, philosopher and social activist
       A famous passage in the concluding chapter of his book Walden; or, Life in the Woods (published in 1854)
       This quotation from Thoreau’s Walden became famous within a few decades after the book was published and used to describe someone who is somehow special, different or iconoclastic. It also came to be used as words of encouragement urging people to pursue their own paths. Eventually, Thoreau’s quote morphed into the modern idiomatic sayings “march to a different drummer” and “march to the beat of a different drummer,” now often used without reference to him.
       Those sayings are often applied to people who are leaders in their fields or on a higher level than most people in some way. But, ironically, Thoreau’s quotation, when read in the context of the sentences before and after it, seems to have almost the opposite meaning. It seems to suggest that it’s OK to accept having a humble status as long as you find satisfaction in the path you decide you want to follow.
     “Some are dinning in our ears that we Americans, and moderns generally, are intellectual dwarfs compared with the ancients, or even the Elizabethan men. But what is that to the purpose?” Thoreau wrote. “Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. It is not important that he should mature as soon as an apple tree or an oak...However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names.”

“I find that few men of imagination are not worth my attention. Their ideas may be wrong, even foolish, but their methods often repay a close study. Few honest passions are not based on some valid perception of unity or some anomaly worthy of note. The different drummer often beats a fruitful tempo.”
       Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2001)

       American paleontologist, evolutionary biologist and science historian
       Commenting on past theories of pioneering scientists that are now viewed as wrong, in his book The Panda’s Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History (1980).

“Even my different drummer had a different drummer.”
Florence King (1936-2016)

       American journalist, novelist and columnist             
       I first saw
versions of this quip attributed to King as a description she gave of herself in one of her books and it does seem apt. Florence was a conservative, bisexual feminist who was critical of both the “rubes” in the Southern U.S. culture she grew up in and of liberal Democrats. Some sources suggest the line is in her most popular book Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady (1985), but I her original use may have been something she wrote about someone else in another book. In With Charity Toward None: A Fond Look At Misanthropy (1992) she says of the 18th Century American Puritan Jonathan O’Dell: “even his different drummer heard a different drummer.” I suspect she did say “even my different drummer had a different drummer” when describing herself to interviewers and others, but I’m not sure it’s in one of her books. If you can confirm that she is, please send me an email

“Small town residents march to a different drummer. Their lives are slower paced. They seem to be slower to anger, quicker to forgive, more at peace with the deck of cards that life has dealt them.”
A.C. Snow

        American journalist, newspaper columnist and editor
        This positive view of small town residents comes from
Snow’s May 9, 2018 column in the Raleigh, North Carolina News & Observer. Some people who grew up or spent some time in small towns may not agree with it. (Florence King, for example.)

“When you think of the ‘drummer’ type, you think of someone like Ringo Starr, or Charlie Watts, or Alex Van Halen. Guys who are not the flashiest or most attractive, or even the most talented, but nonetheless are ‘part of the band.’ If you are attracted to ‘drummers,’ it is because you are insecure and don't think you deserve any better. You want a man to ‘set the pace’ for you, but you can’t commit and are always looking to ‘march to a different drummer.’ Your choosing a drummer is unfortunately a ‘cymbal’ of your unwillingness to ‘get on the stick’ and make your own choices!”
Cathryn Michon

       American writer, actress, filmmaker and stand-up comic
       Self-help advice, of a sort, in her book
The Grrl Genius Guide to Sex (With Other People): A Self-Help Novel (2005)
“I Don’t March to the Beat of a Different Drummer, I’m the Whole Band: Perceptions of a Bipolar Life ”
       Leslie Jay (born Leslie Jay Lytton)

       This is the witty sardonic title of the short book Jay wrote about the struggles he faced from being, and a life spent in and out of psychiatric facilities. It was published in 2004. Leslie died on 2016.

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June 30, 2018

“Early to bed and early to rise…”

Early to Bed Ben Franklin poster


“Early to bed and early to rise,               
Makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

       Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
       American author, publisher, scientist, diplomat and Founding Father
       One of the proverbial sayings Franklin included in Poor Richard's Almanack, which he published from 1732 to 1758 under the pseudonym Richard Saunders.
       Franklin is sometimes wrongly credited with coining this familiar poetic adage. But, like most of the sayings he used in various editions of his popular almanac, he borrowed it from other sources. He wrote in the 1746 edition: “I know as well as thee, that I am no poet born; and it is a trade I never learnt, nor indeed could learn…Why then should I give my readers bad lines of my own, when good ones of other people’s are so plenty?”
       The “Early to bed...” saying is an old English proverb dating back to at least 1486. Franklin first used it in the 1735 edition of Poor Richard's Almanack.
       (The image at left is the “‘Early To Bed And Early To Rise’ motivational poster” offered on Amazon.)

James Thurber


“Early to rise and early to bed makes a male healthy and wealthy and dead.”
       James Thurber (1894-1961)
       American writer, cartoonist and playwright             
       The moral of his story “The Shrike and the Chipmunks,” originally published in the February 18, 1939 issue of New Yorker magazine, then included in his book Fables for Our Time and Famous Poems Illustrated (1940).             
       Thurber’s fables were humorous versions of Aesop’s Fables. “The Shrike and the Chipmunks” features a male and female chipmunk. The male is a slob who likes to sleep all day and doesn’t go out of their cave until after dark. One evening when the male chipmunk goes outside, a shrike decides to swoop down and try to catch him. But the bird, unnoticed by the chipmunks, “could not see very well on account of the dark, so he batted his head against an alder branch and was killed.” Not long afterward, the female chipmunk berates the male for being lazy. She makes him go outside with her for a walk in the sun to get some exercise — and they are both caught and killed by a different shrike. The story ends with the Aesop-like line: “Moral: Early to rise and early to bed makes a man healthy and wealthy and dead.”



“Remember what Pappy used to say: ‘Early to bed and early to rise is the curse of the working classes.’”
       Bret Maverick (played by actor James Garner)
       Recalling one of the many sayings of his father Beau Maverick, in “The Rivals” episode of the Western TV series Maverick. (First aired January 25, 1959)
       Sayings by Beau "Pappy" Maverick are mentioned many times during the course of the series by Bret and his brothers Bart, played by Jack Garner, and Beau (named after his father), played by Roger Moore. He is finally seen in the September 19, 1959 episode titled “Pappy,” in which he is played by James Garner.

Laurence J. Peter


“Early to bed and early to rise — till you get enough money to do otherwise.”
       Laurence J. Peter (1919-1990)
       Canadian author, educator and hierarchiologist best known to the general public for the formulation of the “Peter Principle” (“In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to the level of his incompetence.”)
       This “early to bed…” variation is one of the sayings included in his book Peter's Almanac (1924)

Early to bed - Garfield, June 25, 2018 color


JON: “I like this saying by Benjamin Franklin. ‘Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.’
GARFIELD: “And lonely, dateless and boring.”             
       The June 25, 2018 edition of the Garfield comic strip, created by Jim Davis

Early to Bed... From Earl Moran calendar Aug 1950 REV2


“Early to bed
May make you wise,
But staying out late
Will get you more guys.”

       The caption of artist Earl Moran’s “good girl art” illustration for the August page in the 1950 Paramount Oilless Bearing Co. calendar

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