But Now You Know

The search for truth in human action

The Tyranny of the Majority, vs the Unanimity of Liberty


T
he Founding Fathers despised democracy:

They called the idea of 51% voting to impose its will the “violence of majority faction“. In fact, poor Thomas Jefferson spent a great deal of effort and political capital proving he wasn’t a closet democrat.

When writing the now-famous Democracy in America, French philosopher Alexis DeToqueville coined the phrase Tyranny of the Majority as an attack on democracy, referring to an idea from Plato’s Republic.

Majority rule imposes the will of a mere half of the population, plus one vote, upon minorities in each issue.

It is just as wrong to violate someone else's rights, even if you outnumber them and have a vote

It is just as wrong to violate someone else’s rights, even if you outnumber them and have a vote

You need only to look at how this impacted blacks in the US to understand how evil majority rule over the minority is.

The Founders sought to solve this problem, by using the Constitution to ban democracy in the Federal government, setting up a Republic where the majority could not legally vote to violate the natural rights of the minority. The only powers allowed to the Federal government were those listed in the Constitution, with the 9th and 10th articles of the Bill of Rights forbidding it from doing anything else, even if the majority voted for it.

Majority as Consensus

Of course the Federal government has been corrupted enough to overstep its legitimate authority, but that’s another article.

The modern apologists for majority rule, who unfortunately have managed to get the word “democracy” spun into a positive thing in public schools, defend their tyranny over minorities by saying “hey, at least we can be sure that there isn’t a larger group who opposes a vote, than the group who supports it”.

Advocates of liberty, though, object that you still should not violate the will of ANY people, in a free society. They say that you have no more authority to violate the rights of another because you are a large group, than if you are one man trying to impose your will on your neighbor. At least not legitimately.You can watch a beautiful animated video explaining exactly why, called The Philosophy of Liberty. Take a few seconds to watch that.

Of course, the obvious retort is “hey, the only way to solve the problem of having minorities on issues is to have a unanimous vote…and that’s impossible! If we depended on unanimity, then nothing would ever get accomplished at all!”

majority-rule-orourkeBut this isn’t true:

Unanimous Self-Government

Every decision you make, if left free to decide for yourself, is purely unanimous.

This is because the fundamental principle of liberty is your own control over your private property:

Each person is a government of one, over his rightful possessions, starting with his own body.

You decide what to eat, and you eat it. That is a unanimous decision.

But if someone wanted a vote on what everyone in the country is going to have for supper tonight, the odds are that he would not be able to get everyone to agree on the same thing. So if this were a power of the government, up to half of the population, minus one vote, would have their right to choose what to eat violated.

Of course that’s if there are only two options…which is a sort of farce of an election in the first place. With a real selection of all things people might reasonably desire for supper, probably more than 99% of people will be forced to eat something they would not have chosen.

And, let’s face it, with how goofy people are, you’re almost always going to end up being forced to eat something you don’t even like, much less want for tonight.

Eccentric sitcom character Mrs. Slocombe used to emphasize a decision by saying "and I am unanimous in that!"

Eccentric sitcom character Mrs. Slocombe used to emphasize a decision by saying “and I am unanimous in that!”

On the other hand, if each man governs his own life, as in a free market, then you may choose not only exactly what to eat, but even when to eat it.

Every time you are hungry, there is a vote, and you are unanimous. Sure, it’s limited to what you can afford, but what better way to determine what a meal is worth than that? Imagine if the majority were always voting themselves caviar and steak, bankrupting society.

With majority rule, you only get rare input at all, and only one option is selected, with most people being losers in the process.

But with a free market letting you choose for yourself, you vote every instant, of every day, and are able to reverse yourself at will.

Of course, this also applies to private groups, organizations, companies, and charities, not just individuals, because their membership is purely voluntary, unlike an authoritarian government:

Sure, your chess club or paintball team may have majority votes, but your participation in them is purely consensual. Each moment of your life, you are free to leave, and if you stay you are voting unanimously for your own membership.

democracy.sucks

Ironically, the name of the BOTH ruling parties today come from Jefferson’s opponents trying to discredit him by referring to his followers as “democrats”, an obviously bad trait, while his supporters denied the name and called themselves Republicans. Eventually, his party (which came to be known as the Democratic Republicans) split in two, to dominate all of politics.

If you leave an organization in a free society, they are not going to blockade your house until you’re forced to fire on them, and then claim you started a hostilities, invade, and conquer you.

If the majority of your local town council votes to condemn your perfectly sound family home, just to put up a strip mall that will bring them more tax money and campaign contributions, it does this in violation of the unanimity of private property rights, and you can’t simply withdraw your membership.

Don’t worry; in two years you’ll be allowed to cast a single vote against at least one of those politicians who stole your home…if you still live in town, and at a legal residence, not in a cardboard box.

You might even try to get 51% of all voters in your city to set aside all other issues and vote for the single challenger to each of those bad politicians.

Of course, if your private property rights were protected as they should be, you wouldn’t be in this predicament. Maybe you should just push for laws protecting those rights in general, so such things couldn’t happen in the first place.

While majority rule imposes tyranny over minorities, capitalism, through private property rights, protects even the smallest minority, that of the individual, with unanimity.

Words of the Sentient:

The political principle that underlies the market mechanism is unanimity. In an ideal free market resting on private property, no individual can coerce any other, all cooperation is voluntary, all parties to such cooperation benefit or they need not participate.

— Milton Friedman, The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits, The New York Times Magazine

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, Federalist Papers #10

Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There was never a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.

— John Adams, , letter to John Taylor, April 15, 1814

(This Page was originally published as an article of the same name, but its idea is universal enough and the article popular enough that it’s now being re-published, with a little editing, in permanent form. That article, too, was based loosely on one written by the same author a decade earlier, called True Democracy).

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