The Tyranny of the Majority

In 1787, James Madison, writing as Publius in Federalist No. 10, warned against majority rule in pure democracy: “Such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”

It is just this type of tyranny of the majority that lends support to demagogues such as Bernie Sanders. When Sanders says that it is “immoral” for the “top 1 percent” to have as much wealth as the “bottom 90 percent combined,” what is he advocating? For that matter, what did Hillary Clinton mean (other than that she was trying to lean as far to the left as possible) when she tweeted, “The top 25 hedge fund managers make more than all of the kindergarten teachers in America combined. That’s not acceptable.” What is she proposing that the teachers (the majority) do to the top 25 hedge-fund managers (the minority)? Donald Trump, who decided to call himself a Republican about five minutes ago, is no less a demagogue than the other two when he appeals to the silent “majority” who have been taken “advantage of.” All three are suggesting that the “majority” punish the “minority.”

Madison, like so many of the Founding Fathers, worried deeply about the dangers of pure democracy. Federalist No. 10 is devoted to mitigating the tyrannical effects of majority rule; Madison wishes to achieve this through factions (parties or other interest groups that arise naturally due to human nature). “The inference to which we are brought is, that the causes of faction cannot be removed, and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its effects.” The Constitution, drafted largely by Madison, creates a divided government in which power is intended to be balanced. We do not live in a democracy, and so long as we follow the Constitution, we can avoid the dangers inherent in such a form of government.

Maynard Thomson (Letter to the editor of the Granite State News, March 31) is right to ask us, “If 51 percent of the voters want something, are they justified in using government to force the other 49 percent to support that undertaking?”

Published in General
Max Ledoux

Author: Max Ledoux

I've lived in Tuftonboro since 2014. I grew up in Lisbon Falls, Maine (the Moxie capital of the world). I run tuftonboro.net.

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