THE TYRANNY OF THE MAJORITY (Posted 3rd Time)

François Gérard, The French people demanding destitution of the Tyran on 10 August 1792 (from here)
François Gérard, The French people demanding destitution of the Tyran on 10 August 1792 (from here)

Reason for latest repost:  This comment:

mastersamwisesays:

You would rely on the charity of a people that Alexis De Tocqueville described as practicing “self interest rightly understood?” It is an inescapable aspect of human nature, popularized by Peter Singer’s thought experiment, that a given person will prefer not to help people in need unless the need is immediate, dire, and right in their face. As my old humanities professor would say, “man is ambitious, rapacious, and vindictive.”

You can only get the Early Church if you had the society set up like the Early Church.

What  is trying to justify is using the power of government to force people to be charitable. However, such a solution poses a logical conundrum. If we cannot trust the people to be charitable, what makes us think we can trust leaders the people have chosen with the power to steal from some people to give to other people? Of course, we cannot. That is why we are losing our republic.

Reason for repost on : I first posted this extract from Democracy in America December 14, 2009. Nonetheless, some thoughts stick in the mind. So when I got into a furious debate with Tony at this post, SHOULD CHRISTIANS PARTICIPATE IN POLITICS?, Alexis De Tocqueville‘s words came to mind.

We live in an era almost like any other in America’s history. Our flesh tempts us to shout our opponents down or make our opponents look like fools. In the extreme, when we allow our pride and our fears dominion, we will name our opponents the enemy of the People. 

What we believe becomes a part of us. So when another disagrees, we feel rejected, and we angrily return that rejection. Therefore, this rejection of another human being is the instinctive and predictable response of our animal nature. What can we do to resist?

Usually we do not think of majority rule as tyrannical.  Alexis De Tocqueville, however, had no such illusions.  He understood that more than one republic had passed into despotism because of majority rule.  And from his observations of 1831-32 America, he also understood just how tyrannical the majority might be.

What follows is an excerpt from  Democracy in America, Chapter II, Section 1 Volume 2 (of 2).  In this excerpt, Tocqueville explains the frightful power with which the majority can enforce its will.

When the ranks of society are unequal, and men unlike each other in condition, there are some individuals invested with all the power of superior intelligence, learning, and enlightenment, whilst the multitude is sunk in ignorance and prejudice. Men living at these aristocratic periods are therefore naturally induced to shape their opinions by the superior standard of a person or a class of persons, whilst they are averse to recognize the infallibility of the mass of the people.

The contrary takes place in ages of equality. The nearer the citizens are drawn to the common level of an equal and similar condition, the less prone does each man become to place implicit faith in a certain man or a certain class of men. But his readiness to believe the multitude increases, and opinion is more than ever mistress of the world. Not only is common opinion the only guide which private judgment retains amongst a democratic people, but amongst such a people it possesses a power infinitely beyond what it has elsewhere. At periods of equality men have no faith in one another, by reason of their common resemblance; but this very resemblance gives them almost unbounded confidence in the judgment of the public; for it would not seem probable, as they are all endowed with equal means of judging, but that the greater truth should go with the greater number.

When the inhabitant of a democratic country compares himself individually with all those about him, he feels with pride that he is the equal of any one of them; but when he comes to survey the totality of his fellows, and to place himself in contrast to so huge a body, he is instantly overwhelmed by the sense of his own insignificance and weakness. The same equality which renders him independent of each of his fellow-citizens taken severally, exposes him alone and unprotected to the influence of the greater number. The public has therefore among a democratic people a singular power, of which aristocratic nations could never so much as conceive an idea; for it does not persuade to certain opinions, but it enforces them, and infuses them into the faculties by a sort of enormous pressure of the minds of all upon the reason of each.

In the United States the majority undertakes to supply a multitude of ready-made opinions for the use of individuals, who are thus relieved from the necessity of forming opinions of their own. Everybody there adopts great numbers of theories, on philosophy, morals, and politics, without inquiry, upon public trust; and if we look to it very narrowly, it will be perceived that religion herself holds her sway there, much less as a doctrine of revelation than as a commonly received opinion. The fact that the political laws of the Americans are such that the majority rules the community with sovereign sway, materially increases the power which that majority naturally exercises over the mind. For nothing is more customary in man than to recognize superior wisdom in the person of his oppressor. This political omnipotence of the majority in the United States doubtless augments the influence which public opinion would obtain without it over the mind of each member of the community; but the foundations of that influence do not rest upon it. They must be sought for in the principle of equality itself, not in the more or less popular institutions which men living under that condition may give themselves. The intellectual dominion of the greater number would probably be less absolute amongst a democratic people governed by a king than in the sphere of a pure democracy, but it will always be extremely absolute; and by whatever political laws men are governed in the ages of equality, it may be foreseen that faith in public opinion will become a species of religion there, and the majority its ministering prophet.

Thus intellectual authority will be different, but it will not be diminished; and far from thinking that it will disappear, I augur that it may readily acquire too much preponderance, and confine the action of private judgment within narrower limits than are suited either to the greatness or the happiness of the human race. In the principle of equality I very clearly discern two tendencies; the one leading the mind of every man to untried thoughts, the other inclined to prohibit him from thinking at all. And I perceive how, under the dominion of certain laws, democracy would extinguish that liberty of the mind to which a democratic social condition is favorable; so that, after having broken all the bondage once imposed on it by ranks or by men, the human mind would be closely fettered to the general will of the greatest number.

If the absolute power of the majority were to be substituted by democratic nations, for all the different powers which checked or retarded overmuch the energy of individual minds, the evil would only have changed its symptoms. Men would not have found the means of independent life; they would simply have invented (no easy task) a new dress for servitude. There is—and I cannot repeat it too often—there is in this matter for profound reflection for those who look on freedom as a holy thing, and who hate not only the despot, but despotism. For myself, when I feel the hand of power lie heavy on my brow, I care but little to know who oppresses me; and I am not the more disposed to pass beneath the yoke, because it is held out to me by the arms of a million of men.

“For nothing is more customary in man than to recognize superior wisdom in the person of his oppressor.”  Consider some examples.

  • Do you believe in global warming?   Are you familiar with the argument that global warming must be true because it is supposedly the overwhelming consensus of scientists?  Consensus?  Is that the way science is suppose to work?
  • Do you think the two-party system consisting of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party is best?  Why?  What would be wrong with a multi-party system?
  • What is the importance of polls?  Do you feel reassured that you are right only when you are in the majority?
  • Why was the idea of Negro inferiority so difficult to overcome?
  • What is the basis for the argument supporting same-sex marriage?  Does it have anything to do logic or “majority consensus”?
  • Why do political advocates work so hard to “prove” the majority sides with them?
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19 thoughts on “THE TYRANNY OF THE MAJORITY (Posted 3rd Time)

  1. I’m only semi-qualified to respond to one of your examples, because I’m a trained scientist (physics), though not a climate scientist.

    Yes, consensus is exactly how science works, prior to proof, while a subject is still under study. If we get enough evidence of a vaccine’s efficacy, we don’t wait for the proof process to be complete before trying to protect people from the relevant diseases. We all believed in the mechanisms of gravity for centuries, based on consensus about Newton’s theories, until Einstein was able to prove it mathematically. We currently believe in evolution on the same basis, while evidence is still being compiled. The causes of climate change aren’t yet empirically proven, but the vast majority of evidence supports the hypothesis that human industrial activity accelerates increasing rates of weather instability.

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    1. Actually, consensus is not how it works. What matters is results.

      Here is a silly example. Supposedly, scientists once proved that bumble bees cannot fly => http://www.snopes.com/science/bumblebees.asp. Lots of people have believed that scientists once proved that bumble bees cannot fly. That was the consensus.

      However, bumblebees can obviously fly.

      The scientist theorizes, but the engineer applies theories. If theories don’t work in practice, the scientist has to go back to the lab and figure out why. Meanwhile, the engineer just continues doing whatever works.

      In practice, the Theory of Evolution does not matter. Is there really an application? No. Whether The of Evolution is true has more religious than immediate, practical significance. Yet, scientific consensus demands we consider the theory a scientific fact.

      In practice, the theory of Global Warming is a scare tactic. It gives politicians an excuse to control trillions of dollars. Thus, Global Warming is a useful scam. Until people recognize they are being tricked, the scam works based upon consensus, and nobody will ever go to jail because of it. Nevertheless, when enough people finally recognize the predicted temperature increases have not happened, the consensus will change because the theory doesn’t work.

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    2. novascout

      It’s very refreshing when knowledgeable people like IM start from a position of admitting that, for all their knowledge, there are things they don’t know or don’t know as well as others. We often see, particularly in the blog world, but also in society at large, a kind of inverted pyramid, where vociferously stated opinions rest precariously on tiny stores of fact. IM starts out with more knowledge than many of us have on a subject, but is modest and terribly polite about how he applies it. I like that.

      Scout

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      1. @scout

        I think Invisible Mikey was just trying to say he was not making an argument based upon authority. He is, after all, “Invisible Mikey.”

        However, you are welcome to do the same thing. You could begin by admitting you don’t know anything about Conservatism.

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        1. novascout

          I know a bit, Tom, having been a conservative since the early 1960s and being reasonably well read in the relevant materials on the subject as it has developed in England and the United States over the past 275 years or so. I certainly don’t know everything, but I do know enough that, while my conservatism is well-grounded and carefully considered, I am not your kind of “conservative”. I think that a rather good thing, actually, as I am sure you do also.

          Scout

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        2. Well, thank you for that admission.
          While I do wish you were my kind of Conservative, it is well that you at least understand you are not.

          As I understand the philosophy, Conservatives try to imitate what they see as virtuous in others. Liberal-Progressive Democrats, on the other hand, think virtue is something only the unwashed masses need to acquire. Such believe that the vanguard of the proletariat rules because of its superior ability to reason, not its superior virtue.

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      2. Oh, gee, *scout found another pregressive to praise. A fellow believer in the Global Warming Will Kill Us All meme, who *scout thinks is “knowledgable” despite referring to “proof” in empirical sciences.

        That is not how science works, *scout. Proof works in mathematics; in the empirical sciences, one can only have increasingly well-supported hypotheses that can nevertheless be useful but reflect (ideally) only a “best understanding of the moment.” And that best understanding process can get, and has been, corrupted by ideological and financial pressures.

        In the long term, the process of the scientific method will sort out and sift out the corruptions introduced by human scientists, whether mistaken, sloppy or actively evil. But that can take a while. The current meme of “increasingly unstable weather” (like “more hurricanes” and “less Antarctic sea ice”) is simply one of many predictions that failed, which in normal science would have sent the global warming hypothesis out of the game to the bench for rework.

        But in this case, they simply insist that “increasingly unstable weather” is really happening, despite all the evidence. The data shows them to be speaking falsely, and their torturing of statistics (coupled with lack of knowledge of statistics) make revealing the falseness quite straightforward.

        The reasons that such duplicitousness get any traction are:
        (1) people’s short memory, particularly about weather,
        (2) mainstream media’s support for the meme as the PR arm of government,
        (3) government direct support for the meme through financial and career pressures,
        (4) the unwitting support of unknowledgeable people willing to praise catastrophists as “knowledgeable people.”

        ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

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        1. novascout

          Actually, Keith, I don’t know a thing about Invisible Mikey’s political orientation. He said nothing about it and I haven’t encountered him elsewhere. My comment was based solely on his comment at the top of the thread. Perhaps you have had exchanges with him/her elsewhere in which he has identified a political persuasion. I took his comment, however, to be based largely, if not exclusively on his scientific training.

          I do agree with you that people have short memories about weather. Everytime someone talks about “remember how cold it was in January 2009” or some such thing, my mind casts back futilely. I hardly remember what the weather was like last week, unless something really, really dramatic happened (blizzard, tornado, hurricane, etc.).

          Scout

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  2. This has been an interesting discussion to follow, Tom. I do find myself siding with mastersam’s words, because as unpleasant as the truth of human nature is to face, people are really not charitable at all, not even Christians. In every church there may well be a dozen people genuinely serving Christ, but if you watch it will be that same dozen people every time. The other 240 members are busy enjoying the Lord’s favor, which these days seems to mean prosperity. That is a jaded and anecdotal perception of modern Christians, but it is the truth. The poor stay poor and the rich get richer, right in the middle of our churches. Many of those who do give money, give for their own selves, give to alleviate guilt, give to justify their own decadence. Biblical values like taking care of your own are hardly known today and it is not uncommon for someone’s parents to be on soc sec and food stamps while one’s grown children vacation in the South of France.

    Sadly, this is quite true, “You can only get the Early Church if you had the society set up like the Early Church.”

    Conversely this is also true, “…what makes us think we can trust leaders the people have chosen with the power to steal from some people to give to other people? Of course, we cannot.”

    I really have no idea how you fix it. I do know that the gov is a terrible vehicle for charity, because they tend to waste money and create more problems then they solve. What I would like to see is something more akin to the attitudes we once saw during the war effort, where people actually sacrificed things like nylon for the good of the country, so we could build parachutes. There was a voluntary coming together, where people voluntarily collected for the war effort. In the hands of modern gov right now, that would be a disaster, but it is that same spirit that needs to be earned from the people and felt by us. Most of us resent taxes because we know our money is just poured into a giant hole.

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    1. Do I have a solution? No. I just know that two wrongs don’t make a right. When we try to force other people to do the right thing, we are not solving a problem. We are just being busybodies.

      Look at the Federal Budget. Because we tried to force each other to charitable and responsible, we now risk tyranny, and government spending is out-of-control.

      2 Corinthians 9:7 New King James Version (NKJV)

      7 So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.

      I think that if we give it a chance the problem will solve itself.

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    2. Part of this is that the government has almost crowded out the general public from the charity sphere. Would you be as inclined to give $10 to support the homeless person down the street if you recognized that your taxes are paying the government $200 to accomplish the same thing? (I have seen government budgets versus private charities they replaced at 20 to 1.)

      But separately, and crucially it seems to me, you do not increase a person’s virtue by forcing them to do something. Especially considering how badly the government mishandles such “contributions” obtained by force, supporting their particular left-flavored charities often against the will of most of the unhappy contributors. That path destroys liberty, and when America was most free, it was also most generous. In 1900, more than a century ago, there were 1,500 charities just in a one-block stretch of downtown New York City. Now there are more than a million in Washington DC, but what they do for people (and to people) is a very different mix.

      ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

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    3. @insanitybytes22
      @Keith DeHavelle

      Keith is spot on. When mastersamwise chose to cite Alexis De Tocqueville to support his arguments, I was torn between choking off some righteous indignation and laughing hysterically. When Alexis De Tocqueville toured our nation in the 1830’s, he observed with amazement the capacity of Americans to organize and get behind a cause. Here is a sample.
      https://citizentom.com/2009/12/07/the-right-of-free-association/

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  3. mastersamwise

    Force is a strong word. But, if you define law to be “nothing other than a certain dictate of reason (rationis ordinatio) for the common good, made by him who has the care of the community and promulgated” then naturally you will conclude that if man is most man when he is virtuous, but man is most commonly vicious, then there must be something to encourage virtue and punish vice. That is the law. The America penal code does an above average job of the latter, but American law is reluctant to do the former. For good reason as you point out. Charitable giving is best when it is free, but what happens when that freedom to give is abused? Is not the abuse a vice? In America, I have noticed we don’t like people telling us what to do. In some respects, that is admirable. In others, not so much. When pastors are censured by their congregants for saying we should be like the woman in Mark 12:42, it is clear that there is a crisis that goes much deeper than the government.

    Indeed, I would be very disingenuous if I did not make clear that I believe such a law would be pointless unless it was championed by a morally upright people, at least in the majority. The law makes rational sense; if not then God himself would have been irrational which is absurd. Instead, we are a stiff-necked people.The society of the Early Church was one of mutual self-giving. It was not one of mutual self-interest. That is the first problem that needs to be addressed: the First Things. I have heard elsewhere that the nature of man is irrelevant to discussions on politics. I am emphatically disagree. I believe it is central and should always be central. A government not based and focused on man and his nature will always end in tyranny. The left fights for progress; the right fights for liberty. Who fights for man?

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  4. oldgringoinmexico

    Rodney Stark is a sociologist who is actually careful to use data, not just opinions. His book “America’s Blessings: How Religion Benefits Everyone, Including Atheists” shows that religion (mainly Christianity) goes have measurable benefits for the overall society, including better health, lower levels of criminality and higher levels of charitable giving of time and money. Not perfect, but very positive and measurable.

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    1. As an atheist, though I prefer the term “non-theist” as I don’t have the hostility associated with American atheists, I am familiar with studies like this and generally agree with them. And indeed, I have supported a number of religious charities; they do good work.

      It seems wrong-headed to me for the US government to actively discourage religious charities, but they certainly do.

      ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

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  6. “There is no virtue in compulsory government charity, and there is no virtue in advocating it. A politician who portrays himself as ‘caring’ and ‘sensitive’ because he wants to expand the government’s charitable programs is merely saying that he’s willing to try to do good with other people’s money. And a voter who takes pride in supporting such programs is telling us that he’ll do good with his own money—if a gun is held to his head.” —P. J. O’Rourke

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