Tyranny of the Majority

Introduction

Tocqueville tells us of the right of the people to do as they will, but still holds the view that power and influence are held by the majority (Tocqueville 287). Justice is not dependent on the majority of any particular group, but on the views held by a majority of the people, which implies that the rights of an individual are limited to what majority of the people consider as just.

According to Tocqueville, people are observed to ignore the limits of reason on a small scale when the matters in question affect them directly, and total control of a situation belongs to the majority who are represented by the circumstance. An individual who possesses power or influence is likely to misuse his authority by causing harm to those who oppose him. In a similar manner the majority, who are seen to determine the course of action, can decide to wrong their adversaries (Tocqueville 287).

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Tocqueville goes on to challenge the mixed governments, stating that it is not possible to get several principles to work together with a view to achieving freedom. The lack of understanding is because there will always be one principle of action that outweighs the others. In view of this, in order to avoid complete dissolution of mixed governments, one social power is supposed to dominate the others, but its power or authority should be bound so as to uphold liberty and contain its influence (Tocqueville 288).

Liberty in the United States

Tocqueville observes that unlimited power is dangerous since human beings are not skilled on handling situations with justice and wisdom. According to Tocqueville, the main evil in many institutions in the US is a result of their excessive power, as opposed to their weaknesses.

He observes that the United States exercises excessive liberty, in that a lot of decisions are left in the hands of the majority. When matters are taken to the public for an intervention, the majority rule. The legislature is also observed to represent the majority, while the executive is appointed by the majority. Everything, including the jury and the public troops are observed to operate based on the say of the majority (Tocqueville 290).

Tocqueville observes a situation whereby the executive, legislature and government can represent the majority while remaining democratic, such that they are free from manipulation based on the passion of the majority. He identifies the lack of barriers in many institutions to control tyranny, and as a result, the government’s authority is undermined by the circumstances as opposed to the laws (Tocqueville 291).

Opinion of the majority

While arbitrary power implies the authority exercised with a view to benefit the community, tyranny refers to the influence propagated by the law.

The relationship between police officers and the majority is seen to reflect on the association between a master and a servant, in that the public can demand the attention or assistance of the officers at any time. The power of the majority in the US varies from that in Europe. In Europe, the supreme monarchs are incapable of stopping some ideas that are contrary to the authorities from spreading to their dominions.

On the contrary, the United States is very much influenced by the majority. This implies that discussions remain open until the majority make up their minds on what is to be. Once the majority arrive at a decision, the supporters and opposes unite and agree on the accuracy of the decision reached (Tocqueville 292).

The authority if a king is different from the influence of the majority in that the influence of a king is physical, whereby the subject’s private will is not subdued, while the power of the majority is both physical and moral. This is because tyranny focuses on the actions and will of the people, and it also tends to inhibit any challenges as well as debates.

According to Tocqueville, America has the highest limitation of true independence of mind and freedom of discussion. This is contrary to the situation in Europe, whereby religious and political theories stand the chance of propagation overseas. This is possible because European countries are not restrained by any authority (Tocqueville 293).

Effects of Tyranny on Character of the Americans

Tocqueville observed a difference between actions based on what an individual did not regard as right and pretending to approve what one did. The first scenario depicts a person who is weak, and therefore does things with the flow in spite of his own opinions, whereas the latter looks at a person justifying his wrong actions in order to please the crowd or group.

In free countries, everyone is expected to hold an opinion regarding a particular item or situation. In democratic nations, public life is constantly integrated with familial matters and the sovereign authority is available on either side. In addition to this, the attention of the sovereign authority is predictably attracted by loud utterances. In the situations mentioned, more people are observed to speculate on the shortcomings and live at the cost of its passions as opposed to total monarchy (Tocqueville 295).

The situation is a result of the stronger enticement and easier admission that more often than not, leads to degradation of the character of the citizens. The situation in America is such that the authority of the majority is final and overwhelming. This causes people to give up their rights as citizens and those who do not see themselves as inhuman. Tocqueville observed few individuals who showed candour and independence of opinion, which was an attribute possessed by many people, in the American history.

The few distinguished characters are not comparable to most other Americans, who seem to have a single line of thought, leading to the same judgements and results. Most Americans are observed to possess certain traits that reflect ignorance of democracy, and display bad behaviour that damages their national character (Tocqueville 299).

Tocqueville observes patriotism to be a virtue possessed by a few American. He observes total monarchy systems where the king is observed to show great intelligence and virtue, to an extent where his courtiers do not question his decisions, as he is seen as totally virtuous.

This is contrary to the situation in America, where philosophers do not sugar coat their words, and flatter their crowds before unleashing the harsh truth upon them. The trend in America is one that is seen to lead to use of dictatorship as opposed to democracy, and praise leading to thirst for power. According to Tocqueville, this trend can be only avoided by limiting the authority bestowed upon an individual, since power is known to corrupt mankind (Tocqueville 303).

History of Liberty and authority

The battle between liberty and authority was a common feature between subjects and the government, in the old times. The governing tribe or caste was seen to be antagonistic to the people they ruled, and the position was also hereditary. The power that the rulers possesses was necessary though dangerous according to the people, since it could be used to harm people who objected their rule, in a similar manner to how the same power could be used to defeat an enemy.

Liberty was therefore necessary for the patriots, and it was exercised by limiting the power that a ruler was allowed to exercise. A rebellion was justified if the ruler infringed the political liberties or immunities allowed. The governing power was also controlled by the public, whereby constitutional checks were established, requiring the consent of the community before implementation of some acts (Mill 12).

This grew to a point where the public felt that they needed to be of the same opinion as the rulers, and their governors should not be independent powers. This led to their desire to revoke their magistrates at will, so that these rulers could not abuse their powers to the disadvantage of the public. This sprung up the temporary ruling system, where rulers were elected for specific periods of time (Mill 14).

Custom

Throughout history, people have believed that their feelings regarding nature are better than reasons, which are thought to be redundant. People’s opinions on how to conduct themselves are based on the principal of their individual feelings, and their actions are based on sympathy to a level which they would appreciate it, if they were in a similar position.

People are observed to be unaware that their choices are based on their personal liking, since most of their actions are not supported by reasons. Those people who provide reasons for their actions are in most cases are aimed at gaining the favor of the audience. There are some ordinary individuals whose actions are based on genuine reasons that are guided by their notions of morality or taste (Mill 17).

According to Mill, the opinion of an individual is affected by the various factors that affect their wishes in regard to the behaviour of other people. These factors vary from reason, to superstition, to prejudices. Their decisions can be influenced by their social relations, desires or feelings, like envy or contempt. Their self interest also affects their opinions.

The morality of individuals is dependent on their class interests, as well as their opinions on the superiority of their class. Common examples are the differences in morals between princes and subjects, and men and women (Mill 17).

Society and individual

According to Mill, consciousness is a factor of the autonomy of conscience, reflection and emotion. It also demands total freedom of opinion and sentiment on all subjects, realistic and tentative, technical, ethical or theological. The liberty of thought is different from that of conveying and distributing personal views in that the latter involves other individuals. Liberty of tastes and pursuits looks at the structure of an individual’s life in order to conform to one’s own character.

It involves one doing whatever they wish without consultation, no matter how perverse it may seem to others, as long as it does not cause harm to other people. Mill also looks at another king of individual liberty that involves the freedom to unite, as long as it does not cause harm to other individuals. The people exercising the liberty to unite should avail themselves of their own will, with no deception.

According to Mill, a society that does not appreciate these liberties cannot claim to be free, or to exercise freedom. In addition to this, Mill says that the only true freedom is that which allows people to pursue their own good in their own way, provided that it does not hinder the freedom of others. According to Mill (19), every person needs to guard himself, and

“Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest.”

Social tyranny according to Mill and Tocqueville

Tyranny is not bound by the actions of the political functionaries if is propagated by the society itself, and not the individual inciting or proposing it. When the society decides to carry out its own directives in things that it should not involve itself in, that can be termed social tyranny (Mill 38). Both Mill and Tocqueville share the opinion that this kind of social tyranny is more frightening than other kinds of political oppression.

This view is because there is no strategy is place to enforce penalties for wrong choices upon the society, and the wrong choices can therefore result in more devastating effects. Most of the population does not see the command of a government as their command or its views as their views. It is for this reason that the majority view the government as invading on their individual liberty.

The public is always in readiness to demonstrate their disappointment in the government whenever it acts in a manner as to impose control over the people in ways that they are not familiar with. Since there is no way to test the ways in which the government impinges on the liberty of the people, the society decides based on their personal preferences.

In doing this, the public chooses a side in any particular issue, in most cases the side that is contrary to that of the government, whereby they determine whether the actions of the government are right, and whether what it does, or what it fails to do, conforms to their thoughts. Both Mill and Tocqueville agree that the absence of rule or principle results in each side viewing the other as being on the wrong, though the involvement of the government brings about imbalance since it may have been wrongly summoned or condemned.

Conclusion

The tyranny of the majority is observed with fear since the society executes it own mandates. Wrong mandates or interference in certain issues may be cause more harm than political oppression, since the society is not answerable to anyone, as opposed to a governor or ruler, who is elected. Protection of the community against public figures is not enough, but the society should allow be protected from its tendency to impose its own ideas and practises as rules of conduct, instead of imposing civil penalties (Mill 69).

Both Tocqueville and Mill agree that there should be a limit to the justifiable level of intrusion of communal judgment with personal liberty. The line between personal independence and social control is a difficult one to establish. The first step requires that some rules of conduct be set, by both law and public opinion.

Works Cited

Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty. Kitchener, Ontario: Batoche Books Limited, 2001. Print.

Tocqueville, Alexis de. Democracy in America. Pennsylvania: Electronic Classics Series, 2002. Print.

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