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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