The Right Opinion

Democracy and Majority Rule

By Walter E. Williams · Nov. 21, 2012

President Barack Obama narrowly defeated Gov. Mitt Romney in the popular vote 51 percent to 48 percent. In the all-important Electoral College, the difference was larger, with Obama winning 303 electoral votes and Romney 206. Let's not think so much about the election's outcome but instead ask: What's so good about democracy and majority rule?

How many decisions in our day-to-day lives would we like to be made through majority rule or the democratic process? How about the decision to watch a football game or “Law and Order”? What about whether to purchase a Chevrolet Volt or a Toyota Prius? Would you like the decision of whether to have turkey or ham for Thanksgiving dinner to be made through the democratic process? Were such decisions made in the political arena, most of us would deem it tyranny.

Democracy and majority rule give an aura of legitimacy and decency to acts that would otherwise be deemed tyranny. Most people would agree that having our decisions on what television shows to watch, what kind of car we'll purchase and what we'll eat for Thanksgiving dinner made through the democratic process is tyranny. Why isn't it also tyranny for the political process to determine decisions such as how much should be put aside out of our paycheck for retirement; whether we purchase health insurance or not; what type of light bulbs we use; or whether we purchase 32- or 16-ounce soda containers?

The founders of our nation held a deep abhorrence for democracy and majority rule. The word democracy appears in neither of our founding documents: our Declaration of Independence and Constitution. In Federalist Paper No. 10, James Madison wrote, “Measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.”

John Adams predicted, “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There was never a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”

Edmund Randolph said, “… that in tracing these evils to their origin every man had found it in the turbulence and follies of democracy.”

Chief Justice John Marshall observed, “Between a balanced republic and a democracy, the difference is like that between order and chaos.”

In a word or two, the founders knew that a democracy would lead to the same kind of tyranny the colonies suffered under King George III. Our founders intended for us to have a republican form of limited government where political decision-making is kept to the minimum.

Alert to the dangers of majoritarian tyranny, our Constitution's framers inserted several anti-majority rules. One such rule is that election of the president is not decided by a majority vote but instead by the Electoral College. Nine states have more than 50 percent of the U.S. population. If a simple majority were the rule, conceivably these nine states could determine the presidency. Fortunately, they can't because they have only 225 Electoral College votes when 270 of the 538 total are needed. Were it not for the Electoral College, presidential candidates could safely ignore less populous states.

Two houses of Congress pose another obstacle to majority rule. Fifty-one senators can block the designs of 435 representatives and 49 senators. The Constitution gives the president a veto that weakens the power of 535 members of both houses of Congress. It takes two-thirds of both houses of Congress to override a presidential veto. To change the Constitution requires not a majority but a two-thirds vote of both Houses to propose an amendment, and to be enacted requires ratification by three-fourths of state legislatures.

Today's Americans think Congress has the constitutional authority to do anything upon which they can get a majority vote. We think whether a measure is a good idea or a bad idea should determine its passage as opposed to whether that measure lies within the enumerated powers granted Congress by the Constitution. Unfortunately, for the future of our nation, Congress has successfully exploited American constitutional ignorance or contempt.



Capt. Call in New Mexico said:

Another great article, Mr. Williams!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 12:15 AM

Howard Last in Wyoming said:

Mr. Williams, remember Adolph was democratically elected.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 1:00 AM

Alex in NJ said:

"Unfortunately, for the future of our nation, Congress has successfully exploited American constitutional ignorance or contempt."

True dat.

Sad, but true.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 1:29 AM

Tod the tool guy in brooklyn ny said:

Parental authority is given by the Lord, there is no Democracy, involved there. My mother was a good parent and a Christian. Adversity and hardships made her a better person, and gave her the strength and fortitude to raise 7 children. Our God is One of Order, direction, and purpose. Yahweh will be Faithfilled today, and forever, even within- our declining Empire of Amerika.Giant government=Tiny citizens. LOL W.W.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 6:24 AM

wjm in Colorado said:

Democracy and Mob Rule are the subject in Ann Coulters' book Demonic. A very good read. Too bad it is not required reading by our students, instead they are indoctrinated with revisionist history and lies that teach an intentional praise of Marx and belittle Capitalism. Children are wards of the state, molded and indoctrinated in anti-American marxist statist ideology, and they vote accordingly. This is where the battle to save America must begin, with education instead of indoctrination. Public Schools, as they now exist, are the ultimate form of Child Abuse.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 10:01 AM

Capitalist Dad in Madison WI said:

Great civics lesson on how it's supposed to be. Unfortunately, the Constitution has been comatose, if not dead, for quite awhile. It no longer gets in the way of how the central tyranny does business. We need look no further than Obamacare. The correct way to try to pass this monstrosity would have been to propose an amendment granting the federal government a role in managing health care. OMG! If we did this the great unwashed masses might thwart the brilliant plans of our masters in Washington DC -- can't have that! Congress rejects the so-called Dream Act, so Obama simply issues a royal edict. Congress rejects cap and trade, so Obama orders the bureaucratic tyranny to kill coal mining, oil drilling, etc. through regulatory diktat. We don't need to debate the differences between a democracy and a republic. We no longer have a representative government! Just representative trappings hiding the underlying tyranny!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 11:44 AM

Old Desert Rat in Las Vegas, NV said:

Each question an excellent one. Our small freedoms being "legalized" away leave our larger freedoms vulnerable. Freedom of speech is already on its last legs, can religion and the right to congregate be far behind?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 11:56 AM

Kevin from Arkansas in USA said:

Exactly, Mr. Williams. Outstanding article.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 1:43 PM

Wayne in Hinesville, GA said:

Don't forget that to the Demorats the Constitution is a "living document" and has to be interpreted by the times in which we live. Total hogwash perpertrated by so-called "Progressives" in order to push their agenda. Total control of every aspect of our lives by a "benovelent" government" is their aim.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 2:08 PM

Howard Last in Wyoming replied:

Old Sarge: sort of like playing poker with living rules.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 4:56 PM

John Work in CO said:

Mr. Williams,

I always look forward to your commentary. Clear, correct, and to the point as usual. Thank you.

I'm sure you remember what Jefferson had to say about the Tree of Liberty. In the next four years we will find out whether there are enough true Americans or that we have become willing, craven slaves. I fear that I already know the answer.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 2:24 PM

Stephen in NH said:

The 17th Amendment was the beginning of the downfall of America.

The Founders assigned the responsibility of protecting states rights and sovereignty to the Senate. This is why senators were appointed by the state legislatures, rather than being directly elected by the people. The Founders felt that appointing senators through the state legislatures, senators would not be compelled to involve themselves in issues related to the people, but instead, concentrate on issues affecting states' rights.
A benefit not often mentioned was appointments could be rescinded by the state legislature, in effect, firing a senator on the spot [unlike todays guarantee of a six year term].

When it came to legislation, it took 100% of the Senate to pass a bill. Think about that one for a moment. Prior to the 17th Amendment, had something similar to ObamaCare come to the floor of the Senate, all it would have taken was one Senator who saw OC as a burden on his/her state to oppose it, and ObamaCare would have died then and there.

Yet, despite the best intentions of the Founders, the 17th Amendment changed all of that.

Now, both the Senate and the House are elected by the people. This has made them a reflection of the popular will without any reference to the sovereign interests of the states, or any of the checks and balances the states were to have through their Senators.

Looking back, one can only imagine all the legislation that never would have seen the light of day had those who voted to approve the 17th Amendment questioned why the federal government so desperately wanted to get the amendment passed.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 7:15 PM

Mike Schuerger Sr in Medina, OH replied:

I agree about the 17th Ammendment being bad.

But where in the world did you get the "100% of the Senate" to pass legislation idea from? That was never the case.

Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 10:00 PM