Monday, July 30, 2012

Individual Freedoms versus Majority Rule

Which is more important to a self governing society?

Majority rule or individual freedoms?

The blessings of liberty would argue for individual freedoms, and I would agree.

Long ago the tyranny of the majority was held out as an existential threat to a free society.

It's worth remembering that our individual freedoms are the underpinnings of both American government and our inalienable rights as human beings.

Notable & Quotable offers still timely food for thought from an incisive commentary written long ago by Auberon Herbert in "The Right and Wrong of Compulsion by the State" (1894):

"We are fast getting rid of emperors and kings and dominant churches, as far as the mere outward form is concerned, but the soul of these men and these institutions is still living and breathing within us. We still want to exercise power, we still want to drive men our own way, and to possess the mind and body of our brothers as well as of our own selves. The only difference is that we do it in the name of a majority instead of in the name of divine right. . . .

In this case the possession of power would necessarily confer upon those who gained it such enormous privileges—if we are to speak of the miserable task of compulsion as privileges—the privileges of establishing and enforcing their own views in all matters, of treading out and suppressing the views to which they are opposed, of arranging and distributing all property, of regulating all occupations, that all those who still retained sufficient courage and energy to have views of their own would be condemned to live organized for ceaseless and bitter strife with each other.

In presence of unlimited power lodged in the hands of those who govern, in the absence of any universal acknowledgment of individual rights, the stakes for which men played would be so terribly great that they would shrink from no means to keep power out of the hands of their opponents. Not only would the scrupulous man become unscrupulous, and the pitiful man cruel, but the parties into which society divided itself would begin to perceive that to destroy or be destroyed was the one choice lying in front of them."

Summing Up

The virtues of majority rule are overrated.

The tyranny of the majority is a real and always clear and present danger.

With respect to governments, 19th century commentator Lord Acton perhaps said it best, "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

But Lord Acton said another thing about government that to me is even more profound, "The danger is not that a particular class is unfit to govern; every class is unfit to govern."

And so it is.

Thanks. Bob.

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