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There seems to be a lack of understanding about tyranny of the majority…
We are seeing it in Congress right now, with repeated votes along party lines with simple - and tiny - majorities voting for massive changes to the way the nation works, and hoping to make even greater changes. The White House and Congress, again acting on their slim majority, have begun what may well be the most sweeping changes in the uniformed services, the Defense Department, and our national security community as a whole, with actions that risk turning oaths to the Constitution into de facto tests of allegiance to the current administration, actions which would pose the risk of stripping large numbers of senior, talented, experienced officers out of the uniformed services simply for their non-affiliation with the current regime.
Several decades ago schools in the US, in teaching American History and Civics, would include a discussion on protection of minority rights. If they were particularly diligent, the instruction would include a discussion on a fear within any democracy, specifically, tyranny of the majority. The point, demonstrated time and again throughout history, is that unless there is some particularly powerful mechanism in place, when the majority of the citizens decide such and such is to be, it matters not a tinker’s damn how that will affect the rights, liberties or property of the minority.
The Greek historian Polybius (200 BC to 118 BC) coined a word for it: ochlocracy, which literally translates as mob power. Addressing this very concern John Adams argued - successfully - for a bicameral legislature, making it that much more difficult for the majority to trample on the rights of any minority.
In a conversation between Alexis de Tocqueville and his friend Jared Sparks (who would later go on to be President of Harvard University), Tocqueville related that Sparks said: ”In this country the political dogma is that the majority is always right. All things considered, we were right to adopt this principle, but there is no denying that experience has shown it to be wrong... Sometimes the majority has sought to oppress the minority.”
Now consider the current Congress, with a thin majority of Democrats in the House, and bare control of the Senate, pushing an agenda which may not even be supported by the majority of the citizenry.
The COVID Relief Bill - $1.9 trillion above and beyond the already planned massive federal spending - the first of several additional spending bills that will be proposed by the Biden Administration. Money still remains unspent from last year’s emergency aid bills, and the bond market is showing the first signs of concern. Inflation may come slowly or quickly, but it will come. What does that do to the savings of the average American? Or to those on salaries or fixed incomes?
Additional legislation is pending to attempt to, de facto, strip the 2nd Amendment from the Constitution, making owning a firearm so expensive that only the wealthy will be able to afford them. That’s okay, we certainly don't want poor Blacks and Hispanics who live in high crime areas to have guns, do we? Only Rich White People should have guns, behind their fences and alarm systems. Cynicism aside, there’s little new here; much of the “Gun Control” legislation of the last 100 years was, in fact, designed to keep guns out of the hands of Blacks. It took generations to roll back the laws - and reduce crime rates. If someone wants to look at systemic racism, that’s a good place to start.
And Mrs. Pelosi also seems determined to re-cast Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution, erasing 232 years of precedence in order to ensure her understanding of “legal voting” becomes law. In fact, the effort by Mrs. Pelosi seeks to make law virtually every problem identified by Bi-Partisan Commission on voting in the US in 2005. The Commission, led by some guy named Jimmy Carter, had this to say about mail-in voting: “Absentee ballots remain the largest source of potential voter fraud.”
Mrs. Pelosi wishes to enshrine absentee ballots.
None of this seems to trouble either the bulk of the media or bulk of the rank and file of either party in Washington, choking it up to, in the words of one former President, “Elections have consequences.”
Yes, they do. But Congress and various Administrations used to act with restraint. That seemed to go out the door about 30 years or so ago. Love him or hate him, Trump tried to reduce government reach, but the other four administrations since the fall of the Soviet Union (and the removal of an existential threat), have engaged in a long string of actions that have undermined our liberties and turned the rule of Washington into one that is trending towards an analog of the French Revolution.
Polybius had this to say:
Similarly, it is not enough to constitute a democracy that the whole crowd of citizens should have the right to do whatever they wish or propose. But where reverence to the gods, succour of parents, respect to elders, obedience to laws, are traditional and habitual, in such communities, if the will of the majority prevail, we may speak of the form of government as a democracy … [Polybius then describes how various forms of government become perverted producing eventually an aristocracy.] …Again the latter being in the course of nature perverted to oligarchy, and the people passionately avenging the unjust acts of their rulers, democracy comes into existence; which again by its violence and contempt of law becomes sheer mob-rule.
For this reason the Constitution was drafted to limit the reach of the government as much as was thought possible. To that was then added the “Bill of Rights,” the first ten amendments to the Constitution, to more clearly define the limits of the authorities of the government.
But, over the last 230 years Congress, Presidents, and the Courts have stretched and twisted the Constitution until it is, in some cases, hardly recognizable; it seems about to get worse.
And so we now seem be caught somewhere between an oligarchy and mob rule.
Perhaps there’s still time to push back, but if so, the time is now. Remember, the sum of good government is not democracy for democracy’s sake, not to simply give people the vote; the aim is guarantee our liberties and ensure “Equal Justice Under Law.”
Or to put it more succinctly still, as Charles Carroll, Maryland statesman and farmer, and the last signer of the Declaration of Independence (died in 1832), noted, “A mere democracy is but a mob."
About Pete O'Brien
Peter O’Brien has more than 30 years of successful leadership and planning experience in a wide range of organizations afloat and ashore on three continents. Mr. O’Brien’s Navy career included ten years at sea, more than a dozen years stationed overseas and multiple ...