Helpless at the hands of the majority

Fri, 23/08/2019 - 10:30 -- James Oakley

As part of my sabbatical study, I've been reading the late Mike Ovey's book, Your Will Be Done: Exploring Eternal Subordination, Divine Monarchy and Divine Humility.

I'd forgotten Mike's love of the writings of Alexis de Tocqueville, and his concept of "the tyranny of the majority".

On page 119, Mike has a pertinent quotation from De Tocqueville's Democracy in America, I.xv:

"When an individual or a party is wronged in the United States, to whom can he apply for redress? If to public opinion, public opinion constitutes the majority; if to the legislature, it represents the majority, and implicitly obeys it; if to the executive power, it is appointed by the majority, and serves as a passive tool in its hands. The public force consists of the majority under arms; the jury is the majority invested with the right of hearing judicial cases; and in certain States, even the judges are elected by the majority. However iniquitous or absurd the measure of which you complain, you must submit to it as well as you can."

Strikingly, in context, De Tocqueville is talking specifically about the United States of America from his period, and is contrasting it to European democracy (or, possibly, to how European writers perceived democracy in the USA, which implies the same contrast):

In my opinion, the main evil of the present democratic institutions of the United States does not arise, as is often asserted in Europe, from their weakness, but from their irresistible strength. I am not so much alarmed at the excessive liberty which reigns in that country, as at the inadequate securities which one finds there against tyranny.

I say strikingly, because things have moved on, and I can certainly recognise the feeling of helplessness he describes as applying in modern Britain. If you find yourself out of kilter with "the majority", there's not a lot you can do.

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