December 5, 2021

TYRANNY OF THE MAJORITY

Today, as we witness the resolution of the latest budgetary crisis by postponing the inevitable economic chaos once again, and we witness the abuse of the majority party, in power if not popularity, towards the opponents, we might be witnessing the beginning of the tyranny of the majority predicted by Tocqueville and feared by our founders.

Alexis de Tocqueville, a French historian and political expert, traveled the United States in the 1830’s to analyze the economic and political success of the then young American experiment.    His book Democracy in America has been, since published, a must read.    Mr. Tocqueville, after traveling through the country became an admirer of our system and specifically of the strength and maturity of its citizens.

In the chapter named “Tyranny of the Majority”, he did warn of the dangers that a greater part of the population could influence the rulers to oppress any given minority.    As he cited, both James Madison and Thomas Jefferson had expressed similar concerns.    In The Federalist papers #51 Madison warns “not only to guard a society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part”.    In the same vain Jefferson warned “the tyranny of the legislature is the danger most to be feared.    The tyranny of the executive power will come in its turn, but at a more distant period”.    Tocqueville and the founders agreed that this ominous prediction might be avoided or delayed by checks and balances between the different separate powers, an educated public opinion and a mature populace.    The alternative they anticipated would be a rebellious minority and anarchy.    As stated by Jefferson, the founders feared mostly the House the Representatives, modeled after the British Parliament, so they added another chamber, the Senate, with would represent the States equally, regardless of their size, thus balancing the majority in the House.    In their scheme, most executive powers were left to the State governments, with the central federal leader responsible to execute the law, protect the Constitution, and defend the Nation.

Freedom of speech was the first and most important amendment to the Constitution that was included in the ten that made the Bill of Rights.    This right gave immense power to the press making it a “fifth power”, of extreme importance in shaping public opinion and protecting, as another check, the continuation of our Republic with a majority rule equaling in importance to the rights of the minority.    The constant that would make our forefathers ideology work, was free and frequent elections that forewarned any Party abusing its privilege that they could face the same when their opponents assumed control.    The formula that has made us the longest Democracy in history is clear.    A House of Representatives on behalf of the people, a Senate to moderate and counteract abuses from a majority of voters and a weak executive.    Rules in the Senate made easy passage of legislation difficult, limiting the number that would be sent to the President.    Since the origins of our Republic, Senators had no time limit for their speeches, “cloture” was not implemented until 1917 and votes to approve were reduced to only 60 in 1975.    Our executive was limited in power and led by assuring compromise between the different factions, and ensuring the Nation’s defense and common interests.    With the complement of an impartial press and educated public, the goal was to limit changes as much as possible, empowering the individuals to live their lives as they chose with equality of opportunity assured.

Today, as we witness the resolution of the latest budgetary crisis by postponing the inevitable economic chaos once again, and we witness the abuse of the majority party, in power if not popularity, towards the opponents, we might be witnessing the beginning of the tyranny of the majority predicted by Tocqueville and feared by our founders.    Indeed, our population has changed becoming more and more dependent on the elite rulers, our press is anything but impartial, the executive power has become stronger, and in the Congress both parties have abandoned their worthy and opposite ideologies and dedicate their energies in name calling and the desire for reelection.     Society has shifted their reliance on family, religion and moral Judeo-Christian values to instant gratification, dependency, and selfishness.    Capital is held in fewer hands, most allied in interest to whomever holds power, giving has become a central rather than a personal issue, and responsibility for ones well being ceded to others.    Can rebellion and anarchy as also predicted be forthcoming?    Is this the ultimate goal of our rulers to maximize their power and control?    It is certainly a possibility.

 

Fernando J Milanes MD

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