Friday, July 17, 2009

Tyranny of the Majority

The Founding Fathers of the United States detested democracy. The prevailing thought among them was that direct democracy was essentially mob rule, where one interest, merely by having a slight majority, could despotically impose their will on rest of the people. The term often used to describe this situation, coined by Alexis de Tocqueville in his Democracy in America is "Tyranny of the Majority."

Over the years, the American Republic has been morphed from a representative form of government into a more direct, democratic one. For example, in the original Constitution, the House of Representatives was meant to represent the people of each state, and the Senate was designed to represent the state legislatures. The Senators were chosen by the state legislatures, not by direct vote of the residents of the states. This relates directly to the founders' concept of Federalism, and that the states were essentially sovereign nations that needed representation in the federal government. This was changed by the 17th Amendment to the Constitution in 1913.

This change, along with several others generally and the rise of two party politics specifically, has reduced the insulation between government decisions and the people as engineered in the original Constitution. This sets up a situation where the majority in Congress can realize its tyranny on the minority.

Our country is undeniably polarized. Look at any Presidential election in the last 20 years...the winner is never separated from the loser by more than five percent, and often half that. Popular vote totals are often even closer than electoral vote counts. That should set up a situation where the middle ground is straddled closely, and little radical change in either direction occurs.

However, the exact opposite is true. When asked if people want federal bailouts, cap and trade legislation, or federalized healthcare, the results are usually close. Yet the current Congress, because there are a majority of one party, have been ramming through the most radical expressions of all of these ideas that they can conceive. Why? Because they have learned how to tyrannize the minority. This is not representation, it is an outright hijack of government to serve one group's agenda.

I don't have any illusions that things would be any less fair under Republicans (though I will say that things seem to be more civil when they are in charge), and that's the problem. The overall system is broken, and nearly half of the people in this country feel completely unrepresented and without a voice. This can only end badly. Like revolution badly, if people feel pushed hard enough.

I believe the answer is a return to original Constitutional principles, including scaling back federal power in line with the concepts of Federalism as designed in out system. Without that no citizen has any real protection from federal power. Even if you like what the government is doing right now, it is only a matter of time before that beast turns against you.

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