Liberal democracy is just the tyranny of the majority. Discuss with reference to at least two concepts from liberal political thought.

Authors Avatar

        “Liberal democracy is just the tyranny of the majority.” Discuss with reference to at least two concepts from liberal political thought.

        We all live in a liberal democratic country. Most of us appreciate it. The United Kingdom may not be perfect but at least we have democracy. We are free, we have thousands of possibilities to achieve success in our lives – what more could we want? Well, what if we are wrong? What if liberal democracy is nothing more but the tyranny of the majority? Maybe we are not free at all because in fact the majority decides what we can and cannot do. In my work I am going to try to answer the question: “Is liberal democracy just the tyranny of the majority?”.

        The issue of the tyranny of the majority goes back as far as Plato's famous work titled Republic. In 399 B.C. Plato's master, Socrates, was sentenced for death and executed. 56% of the jury, which consisted of 500 male citizens of Athens, found him guilty of disbelieving the gods recognized by the state, and corrupting the youth. It was the reason why Plato was against democracy – he thought the mob has no knowledge enough to lead a country and believed the state should be ruled by a philosopher king who knows what people's needs are. In Republic he says: 'Till philosophers become kings, or those now named kings and rules give themselves to philosophy truly and rightly … states will have no rest from their troubles … and … man will have none. Only then will this our republic see the light of day.' (Richards 1966: 97) and “... those who are without education and true knowledge will never be able rulers of the state.” (Richards 1966: 127)

        The first person who used the term tyranny of the majority was the French historian and political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville. In his most famous work, Democracy in America, in the chapter titled Tyranny of the Majority he says: 'I regard it as an impious and detestable maxim that in matters of government the majority of a people has the right to do everything, and nevertheless I place the origin of all powers in the will of the majority.' (Lawrence 1969: 250)

        The first concept of liberal democracy that I am going to describe is the rule of the majority. There are two main types of democracies – direct (also known as 'participatory') and indirect ('representative'). In the trial of Socrates there is a perfect example of direct democracy. In direct democracy people represent themselves, and have a huge influence in decision making. However, all liberal democratic countries today have representative democracy. It means that people vote for their representatives who then defend their interests. An example of direct democracy in a contemporary liberal democratic country is a referendum, when the government wants to know the citizens' view on a certain topic (for example, voting on the ratification of Treaty of Lisbon) and in this way citizens can establish a new law or make the government make a certain decision. Is it true that the majority only cares what is good for it? Does the government do what the majority tells it to do? Are minorities completely forgotten? Are majority's decisions always good? Let me bring an example. It is absolutely fake and, hopefully, it will never happen. Bill Gates – the richest man in the world. Let's say that the American government initiates a referendum through which the nation will decide whether the Gates' estate will be given out to the people or not. Everyone votes 'yes'. Everyone but Gates himself. Does it mean that if the majority (no matter how great it is: 51% - 49% or 99,9% - 0,1%) of people decides something, it is always right? Can majority make arguable decisions? The history proves that yes, it can.

Join now!

        A very good example of the tyranny of the majority is a long process of establishing “Jim Crow” laws in the United States, which began after the American Civil War. Those laws were supposed to segregate black people from white Americans. For instance, marriages between white and black people were forbidden, schools were racially segregated, there were separate seats on buses, etc. (an example of one of the laws established in the state of Alabama: 'It shall be unlawful for a negro and white person to play together or in company with each other at any game of pool or ...

This is a preview of the whole essay