Tyranny of the majority

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Tyranny of the majority
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{{short description|The situation in which decisions made by a majority place its interests above those and at the expense of an individual or minority group}}{{about||the form of democracy|Ochlocracy|the Flesh Field album|Tyranny of the Majority (album)}}{{Democracy}}The tyranny of the majority (or tyranny of the masses) is an inherent weakness of majority rule in which the majority of an electorate can and does place its own interests above, and at the expense of those in the minority. This results in oppression of minority groups comparable to that of a tyrant or despot, argued John Stuart Mill in his 1859 book On Liberty.John Stuart Mill. On Liberty, The Library of Liberal Arts edition, p. 7American founding father Alexander Hamilton, writing to Thomas Jefferson from the Constitutional Convention, argued the same fears regarding the use of pure direct democracy by the majority to elect a demagogue who, rather than work for the benefit of all citizens, set out to either harm those in the minority or work only for those of the upper echelon. The Electoral College mechanism present in the indirect United States presidential election system, and the phenomenon of faithless electors allowed for within it, was, in part, deliberately created as a safety measure not only to prevent such a scenario, but also to prevent the use of democracy to overthrow democracy for an authoritarian, dictatorial or other system of oppressive government.WEB,weblink The Electoral College is anti-democratic—and that's a good thing, As articulated by Hamilton, one reason the Electoral College was created was so "that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications".WEB,weblink The Avalon Project : Federalist No 68, The scenarios in which tyranny perception occurs are very specific, involving a sort of distortion of democracy preconditions:
In both cases, in a context of a nation, constitutional limits on the powers of a legislative body, and the introduction of a Bill of Rights have been used to counter the problem.A Przeworski, JM Maravall, I NetLibrary Democracy and the Rule of Law (2003) p. 223 A separation of powers (for example a legislative and executive majority actions subject to review by the judiciary) may also be implemented to prevent the problem from happening internally in a government.


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.While James Madison referred to the same idea as "the violence of majority faction" in The Federalist Papers, for example Federalist 10, the phrase "tyranny of the majority" was used by John Adams in 1788.John Adams, A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, Vol. 3 (London: 1788), p. 291. It was also used by Edmund Burke in Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), where he said that "The tyranny of a multitude is a multiplied tyranny." It was further popularised by John Stuart Mill in On Liberty (1859). The Federalist Papers and the phrase (in translation) is used at least once in the first sequel to Human, All Too Human (1879).See for example maxim 89 of Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human: First Sequel: Mixed Opinions and Maxims, 1879 Ayn Rand wrote 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 "the smallest minority on earth is the individual".Ayn Rand (1961), "Collectivized 'Rights,'" The Virtue of Selfishness.In Herbert Marcuse's 1965 essay "Repressive Tolerance", he said "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".The Repressive Tolerance by Herbert MarcuseIn 1994, legal scholar Lani Guinier used the phrase as the title for a collection of law review articles.Lani Guinier, The Tyranny of the Majority (Free Press: 1994)


Critique by Robert A. Dahl

Yale political theorist Robert A. Dahl argues that the tyranny of the majority is a spurious dilemma (p. 171)BOOK, Democracy and Its Critics, 1989, Dahl, Robert, :

Trampling the rights of minorities

Regarding recent American politics (specifically initiatives), Donovan et al. argue that:}}

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 Mancur Olson in The Logic of Collective Action, who argues instead that narrow and well organised minorities are more likely to assert their interests over those of the majority. Olson argues that when the benefits of political action (e.g., lobbying) are spread over fewer agents, there is a stronger individual incentive to contribute to that political activity. Narrow groups, especially those who can reward active participation to their group goals, might therefore be able to dominate or distort political process, a process studied in public choice theory.

Vote trading

Anti-federalists of public choice theory point out that vote trading can protect minority interests from majorities in representative democratic bodies such as legislatures.{{Citation needed|reason=no example is given of such anti-fedarilsts making such claims|date=May 2014}} They continue that direct democracy, such as statewide propositions on ballots, does not offer such protections.{{Weasel inline|date=June 2013}}


{{Original research|section|discuss=Talk:Tyranny_of_the_majority#Original_Research|date=June 2016}}(File:Illustrating-ConcurrentMajority-fig1.png|thumb|320px|A collective decision of 13 voters in a deliberative assembly. Result: 8 votes for X (blue) and 5 votes for Y (red). X option wins, because it has a majority (more than half).)The "no tyranny" and "tyranny" situations can be characterizated in any simple democratic decision-making context, as a deliberative assembly.

Abandonment of rationality

Herbert Spencer, in "The Right to Ignore the State" (1851), pointed the problem with the following example:Herbert Spencer (1851),weblink

Usual no-tyranny scenario

Suppose a deliberative assembly of a buildingcondominium with 13 voters, deciding, with majority rule, about "X or Y",{{block indent|X: to paint some common rooms (as game room, lobby and each floor's hall) with blue color.}}{{block indent|Y: to paint with red color.}}Suppose that the final result is "8 votes for X and 5 votes for Y", so 8, as a majority, blue wins. As collectively (13 voters) the decision is legitimate.It is a centralized decision about all common use rooms, "one color for all rooms", and it is also legitimate. Voters have some arguments against "each room with its color", rationalizing the centralization: some say that common rooms need uniform decisions;some prefer the homogeneous color style, and all other voters have no style preference;an economic analysis demonstrates (and all agree) that a wholesale purchase of one color paint for all rooms is better.

Federated centralization excess

Centralization excess is the most usual case. Suppose that each floor has some kind of local governance, so in some aspects the condominium is a "federation of floors". Suppose that only on the third floor the majority of residents manifested some preference to "each floor with different color" style, and all of the third floor residents likes the red color. The cost difference, to purchase another color for one floor, is not significant when compared with the condominium contributions.In these conditions some perception of tyranny arrives, and the subsidiarity principle can be used to contest the central decision.

Tyranny emerging

(File:Illustrating-ConcurrentMajority-fig4.png|thumb|320px|Minority and tyranny characterized: a coherent subset of voters with some collective action; a central decision; the subsidiarity principle can be used by minority group decision.)In the above no-tyranny scenario, suppose no floor federation, but (only) a room with some local governance.Suppose that the gym room is not used by all, but there is a "community" of regulars, there is a grouping of voters by its activity as speed-cyclists (illustrated as spiked hair), that have the gym room key for some activities on Sundays. They are acting collectively to preserve the gym room for a local cyclists group.In this situation the following facts hold:
  • There is a subset of voters and some collective action, uniting them, making them a cohesive group.
  • There is some centralization (a general assembly) and some central decision (over local decision): there is no choice of "each room decision" or "each regulars' community decision". So it is a central decision.
  • The subsidiarity principle can be applied: there is an "embryonic local governance" connecting the cyclists, and the other people (voters) of the condominium recognise the group, transferring some (little) responsibility to them (the keys of the gym room and right to advocate their cycling activities to other residents).
There is no "enforced minoritarianism"; it seems a legitimate characterization of a relevant (and not dominant) minority. This is a tyranny of the majority situation because:
  • there is a little "global gain" in a global decision (where X wins), and a good "local gain" in local decision (local Y preference);
  • there is relevant voting for a local decision: 6 voters (46%) are gym room regulars, 5 that voted Y. The majority of them (83%) voted Y.
In this situation, even with no formal federation structure, the minority and a potential local governance emerged: the tyranny perception arrives with it.

Concurrent majority

Secession of the Confederate States of America from the United States 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.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.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(File:Illustrating-ConcurrentMajority-fig2.png|thumb|320px|The global voting shows a precedent to use of concurrent majority for the "one color for all rooms" central tyrannized decision. Majority color (blue) is used at one room, and the concurrent majority at its correlated room (red).)

See also

{{div col}}
  • {{annotated link|Administrative law}}
  • {{annotated link|An Enemy of the People|An Enemy of the People}}
  • {{annotated link|Argumentum ad populum}}
  • {{annotated link|Authoritarian personality}}
  • {{annotated link|Consensus decision-making}}
  • {{annotated link|Conformity}}
  • {{annotated link|Consociationalism}}
  • {{annotated link|Dictatorship of the proletariat}}
  • {{annotated link|Dominant minority}}
  • {{annotated link|Elective dictatorship}}
  • {{annotated link|Enabling Act of 1933}}
  • {{annotated link|General will}}
  • {{annotated link|Individualist anarchism}}
  • {{annotated link|Majoritarianism}}
  • {{annotated link|Minoritarianism}}
  • {{annotated link|Minority rights}}
  • {{annotated link|Ochlocracy}}
  • {{annotated link|Populism}}
  • {{annotated link|Social anarchism}}
  • {{annotated link|Totalitarianism}}
  • {{annotated link|Tragedy of the commons}}
  • {{annotated link|Utilitarianism}}
{{div col end}}



Further reading

{{Conformity}}{{Authoritarian types of rule}}

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M.R.M. Parrott