What is Democracy? (14): Tyranny of the Majority?

Or, rather, what it is not: the tyranny of the majority.

Absolute sovereignty of the majority, and therefore oppression of the minority, is said to be a natural tendency of democracy. John Stuart Mill, in his classic On Liberty, noted that democracies tend to believe that

“too much importance had been attached to the limitation of power itself. That . . . was a response against rulers whose interests were opposed to those of the people. Once the people, this is no longer a problem. The nation did not need to be protected against its own will”.

A democracy is more than just the rule of the majority. There is no real democracy without the rule of law and protection for human rights, as it is described in previous posts. After all, a tyranny can also have the consent of a majority.

A democratic law is a limited law. Even in a perfect democracy, it is possible to limit the will of the people. The people or the majority of the people cannot exercise their power in an unlimited fashion, otherwise we would not have democracy but the tyranny of the majority. If my rights are violated by a tyrant or by the majority, it is just as bad. The majority can decide and can impose its will on the minority, but this does not mean that the minority has to accept everything, including rights violations. A minority is not entirely powerless in a democracy. It can use its rights and the laws that protect these rights in order to defend itself against certain decisions of the majority.

8 thoughts on “What is Democracy? (14): Tyranny of the Majority?”

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