“Measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.” James Madison (1751-1836), Federalist Paper #10
Majority rules. That is a phrase that is often used in today’s society as justification for a particular action, usually against those who don’t agree with that action. And, most recently, the U.S. Senate has used that same excuse in order to justify changing the rules regarding the filibuster of executive appointees and lower court justices, including those of the DC appellate court, which happens to hear cases against government bureaucracies. Up until that time, over 200 years of precedent allowed the filibuster as a check against the tyranny of the majority, what Thomas Jefferson likened to “mob rule”. Now, the voice of the minority can easily be ignored when it comes to appointees who would have direct influence on everyday American lives. Instead of a Senate of 100, reflecting the interests of all of America, we will have a Senate of 51, representing the interests and agenda of the Executive branch.
It was this fear of the tyranny of the majority that led our Founders to set American government up as a Constitutional Republic, as opposed to a simple democracy where majority rules. They believed in the idea of individual liberty, as opposed to a collective will, as under the latter the rights of the individual are rarely protected, and sometimes even punished. Unfortunately, I fear that this distinction is rarely taught in schools now, let alone practiced in our halls of government. The interests of the collective are the new excuses for legislation, regulation, and sometimes, judicial rulings. Under simple democracy, the inalienable rights of the individual are often lost. However, under a Constitutional Republic, the duty of government is to not only protect the people as a whole, but their individual liberty as well. Liberty exists only in the individual; it is never part of the collective nor can it be achieved by majority rule.
German philosopher Immanuel Kant once said that “democracy is, properly speaking, necessarily a despotism, because it establishes an executive power in which ‘all’ decide for or even against, one who does not agree.” Who would have thought that democracy could ever align itself with despotism? It seems a contradiction in terms does it not? Yet, one need only discuss the effects of democracy with those living on the minority side, after the majority has exerted their collective will. Do you think that they are feeling “the blessings of liberty” for themselves or “their posterity” when that happens? When one is not free to pursue happiness without a majority first giving permission, there can be no liberty.
Yet, there is still a need for order of course. Sometimes the vote of the majority is required in order to get things done. We are a nation of diverse needs, interests, and beliefs, and we will never be able to please everyone. However, majority rule was never intended to be applied over areas where government was not supposed to have jurisdiction in the first place. Our government was intended to be small, with clearly defined limits as outlined in the Constitution, in order to allow freedom to reign. Yet, it has now expanded far outside its boundaries, where majority rule decisions not only now undermine our Republic, but our inalienable rights as well. The Affordable Care Act was imposed by majority rule, despite its attacks on religious liberty. Same sex marriage laws were imposed by majority rule, either in the courts, the legislature or the ballot box, and now Christian wedding businesses are starting to be criminalized for refusing to run them in violation of their faith. Gun control is being imposed by legislative majority rule in some states, despite clear violations to the 2nd Amendment (and ironically, in opposition to the real will of the people). When individual rights are ignored in favor of the opinion of the majority in power, there is no longer liberty. There is tyranny.
Our Founders carefully crafted a Constitutional Republican government with the intent to protect individual liberty by checking power with itself. They set up three branches of government, with the legislative branch having two distinct houses, the executive branch having the power to veto the legislative, and the judicial having the ability to be a check on both. They set up the Electoral College, which protected the rights of the smaller states. They set up the requirement for Constitutional Amendments to be ratified by 2/3 of Congress and ¾ of the state legislatures. Our Founders clearly did not want a tyranny of a majority any more than they wanted a tyranny of a king. Do we really want leaders who can no longer tell the difference?
“Wrong does not cease to be wrong because the majority share in it” ~ Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), Russian author