The Michigan Daily - Orientation Edition 2004 - 10
The tyranny of the majority
DANIEL ADAMS SPITTING INTO THE WIND
March 3, 2004 -
John Stuart Mill called it
the "tyranny of the major-
ity." Alexis de Tocqueville
called it the "omnipotence of
the majority." Both were refer-
ring to the great black mark of
democracy -the tendency for
the masses, if granted the right
of self-governance, to inflict
gross injustice on those in the minority.
This is the limitation on the effectiveness of
majority rule and by extension, the limitation on
the promise and, potential of democratic govern-
ment. Itsis for precisely this reason that those who
gave birth to American democracy created a
republic and did not grant common citizens a
direct say in policy. In the words of Alexander
Hamilton, "We are now forming a republican form
of government. Real Liberty is not found in the
extremes of democracy, but in moderate govern-
ments. If we incline too much to democracy, we
shall soon shoot into a monarchy or some other
form of dictatorship."
Over time, however, we have seen direct
democracy creep back into the picture, brought on
by the arbitrary and occasionally tyrannical mech-
anisms of the republican system. The corruption
and scandal that many equate with big-party poli-
tics has left Americans longing for the true prom-
ise of democracy.
Too often, progressive movements throughout
the 20th century have clung to direct democracy as
the embodiment of this ideal - a means by which
average citizens could go around the party appara-
tus and secure policy changes by means of majority
rule, the backbone of the democratic principle.
While this utopia is indeed intellectually attrac-
tive, the preferences of the entire electorate can
prove an awfully treacherous compass by which to
steer a nation. In most common manifestations of
direct democracy, this isn't a huge concern. For
example, the passing of school bonds or the chang-
ing of a local ordinance are issues that are great
fodder for public referenda - easy to understand,
and relatively inconsequential if botched.
However, in the case of the Michigan Civil
Rights Initiative (the proposal that if passed would
end racial preferences at all Michigan public uni-
versities), we aren't dealing with mere municipal
housekeeping - we're talking about an immensely
complicated and consequential issue, one that
affects thousands if not millions of minorities and
whose roots go as far back as the start of the slave
trade on the continent.
While I can accept that there are those few citi-
zens who are qualified to handle an issue of this
magnitude, all nine of them happen to be U.S.
Supreme Court justices. As for the rest of us, I sus-
pect that those flag-waving, profiling, cross-burn-
ing, "want to stick my combat boot in the collective
ass of Muslims worldwide" Americans have multi-
plied to an extent as to make a referendum on the
issue nothing more than a modern-day lynch mob.
I'm talking about the Americans who purport to
love democracy but have never read the Bill of
Rights. Those who love their military, but the clos-
est they've come to service is a camouflage jump-
suit and a duck blind. The Americans who sing of
purple mountains' majesty but would profile,
harass and otherwise discriminate against a man
based solely on the color of his skin.
And I don't want these Americans ruling on an
issue of racial equality.
Ironically, last June, I was hoping that the
Supreme Court would strike down racial prefer-
ences - on principle, I find that drawing distinc-
tions based solely on race to be morally suspect.
MARci 3, 2004
SAM BUTLER THE SOAPBOX
However, that doesn't mean that the citizens of
Michigan should take it upon themselves to cir-
cumvent the ruling of the court. Ask yourself: If
Brown v. Board of Education had been put to a vote,
would blacks and whites still be living in a "sepa-
rate but equal" America?
Besides, even if it were possible to assume
that the vast majority of Michiganders fully
understand the complex moral arguments under-
lying the debate, it is doubtful that a rational white
majority would put the interests of a disenfran-
chised minority ahead of its own self interest.
Indeed, the preliminary polls conducted in the
state have indicated that a majority of Michigan
voters support the initiative - in an EPIC/MRA
poll conducted in December, 63 percent of those
polled indicated that they would vote to ban the
use of racial preferences at universities and other
public institutions. Do those 63 percent know
what is best for this university, minorities in gen-
eral or the state as a whole? If Ward Connerly's
petition gathers enough signatures to get on the
ballot, they had better.
As Mill wrote in "On Liberty," "Society can
and does execute its own mandates; and if it issues
wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates
at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it
practices a social tyranny more formidable than
many kinds of political oppression." Indeed, if in
this case we are to let the public opinion trump the
highest court in the land, we subject the state's
minorities to this very breed of tyranny.
Adams can be reached at email@example.com.
University of Michigan BusinE
Welcomes Incoming Freshma
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it you are considering the BBSA Program, here is a list of pre-req iit
courses to schedule during your freshman and sophomore yea rin:
English 1 2,S Economics "101 Economozs 102 Calculus 115 Accou fting:
Attend an Information Session
Tuesday, September 7th
Room D1276, Business School
For more details, please visit www.bus.umich.edu/bba