August 6, 2010

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


THE MOST FAMOUS HISTORICAL USE:

“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. In fact, it had been used before. 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 had used the similar phrase “tyranny of the many” (“tyrannie de plusiers”) in his Philosophical Dictionary (1764).


MAJORITY VIEWPOINT:

“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,
       Comment to the House of Representatives, January 1886


MINORITY VIEWPOINT:

“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 (1834-1902)
       British historian
       In an article in the Quarterly Review, 1879; reprinted in the posthumously published book collecting some of his writings, The History of Freedom (1907)


THEY BOTH SUCK VIEWPOINT:

“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-New Brunswick.
       In his book Handbook of War Studies III (2009)


CONSERVATIVE VIEWPOINT:

“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.”
       Editorial on the conservative blog Damego.com, August 5, 2010 
       Criticizing the Obama health care legislation and recent court decisions overturning the anti-immigration law in Arizona and the anti-Gay marriage law (Proposition 8) in California


LIBERAL VIEWPOINT:

“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.”
       Writer Chris Geidner
       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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