Minority Rights: Protecting Against Political Tyranny

“If it be admitted that a man possessing absolute power

may misuse that power by wronging his adversaries,

why should not a majority be liable to the same reproach?

Men do not change their characters by uniting with one another;

nor does their patience in the presence of obstacles

increase with their strength.

For my own part, I cannot believe it;

the power to do everything which I should refuse to one of my equals, I will never grant to any number of them.”

Alexis de Tocqueville, “Tyranny of the Majority,” Chapter XV, Book 1, Democracy in America

Majority rule cannot be the only expression of “supreme power” in a democracy. If so, as Tocqueville notes above, the majority would too easily tyrannize the minority just as a single ruler is inclined to do.

Thus, while it is clear that democracy must guarantee the expression of the popular will through majority rule, it is equally clear that it must guarantee that the majority will not abuse its power to violate the basic and inalienable rights of the minority.

The minority, therefore, must have all the rights necessary to compete fairly  — speech, assembly, association, petition — since otherwise there would be perpetual rule and the majority would become a dictatorship.

For the majority, ensuring the minority’s rights is a matter of future self-interest, since it will have to utilize the same rights when it finds itself in the minority seeking again to become a majority.

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